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In Montenegro urban agriculture projects are blossoming during the pandemic

Whether due to job losses or as a way to escape the dull reality of quarantine measures, or both, many citizens of Montenegro have started cultivating gardens, parks and any other available land during the COVID pandemic.

Since this spring, new urban farmers in Bar and other towns have either launched or joined existing civic initiatives that promote urban gardening and cultivating healthy organic food.

Some of these associations, such as the Plantadjun and Experimental Garden projects, already produced their first harvests at the end of this summer. They gave away some of their produce as donations to charities and religious organizations that feed people in need.

The small and mainly mountainous country of only a little above 600,000 citizens has limited agricultural capacities. Only 13.7 per cent of the country’s territory was suitable for arable production, the industrialization across Yugoslavia at the end of World War II led to depopulation of the villages and increased tourism over the past decade has contributed to the decline of agriculture. Imports of fruits and vegetables has grown from 37.7 million euros in 2009 to to 76.3 million euros in 2019, while exports dropped from 6.9 million euros to 6.4 million euros during this time.

Among the pioneers of the urban gardening revival in Montenegro was the Ekologika garden, established in 2014 in a neighborhood of Mareza, six kilometers from the centre of the capital, Podgorica. The founder Aleksandar Novovic, a political scientist, invited residents of nearby urban areas to use his family’s land for free, without any help from public funds, with the sole aim of promoting eco-friendly urban gardening.

This idea was further developed by several civic society initiatives and projects, such as Plantadjun, which promotes urban gardening as a way to support socialization and the cultivation of healthy food. Its pilot project, which started in January this year in the municipality of Bar, received much publicity in local and national media as a success story, especially after the outbreak of COVID 19.

The project used private land, without paying any rent for it. Each of the participants, or Plantadjuns, was supposed to cultivate a 25-square-meter plot; in this first year, the produce was either used for private consumption or was shared with friends and neighbours to promote the project.

Next year, all Plantadjuns will be obliged to give 10 per cent of their produce to the owner of the land, and another 10 per cent for the sustainability of the project; this will be sold on local markets and the funds reinvested to buy seeds for the next planting season.

Project coordinators will monitor the entire process and supervise the measuring, collecting and distribution of the produce.

Project teams will also organise the preparation of the soil for sowing, including ploughing and fertilization, as well as obtain necessary materials such as seeds, water, tools and a tool shed.

The project was supported this year by the Ministry of Science of Montenegro and Bar city administration. By the end of the season, Plantadjuns had collected over 1,000 kilos of vegetables, mostly zucchini, potatoes and tomatoes.

After providing numerous food donations for people in need during the summer season, Plantadjun and Ekologika partnered up in November with Paradigma, an NGO that fosters sustainable, eco-friendly practices and movements.

“When it comes to sustainable agriculture, most people only look at it through its environmental and economic aspects; they neglect the social aspect, which is also very important,” Bar city administrator Cazim Alkovic says, “Especially in these times of the further impoverishment of the population.”

Source: Urban Farming Takes Root in COVID-Hit Montenegro

Daycares in Finland changed children’s immune systems with forest floor play-yards

Are we more prone to illness because modern environments have become more sterile and divorced from nature? Recent research from Finland suggests that children’s immune system can be boosted by letting them play in soil more often.

A team of Finnish researches studied ten daycare centers in two cities in Finland (Lahti and Tampere, both with populations above 100,000). Each of standard urban daycare centers contained yards of approximately 500 sq. m. with little or no green space.

In four of these daycare yards – “intervention daycares” – part of the gravel was covered with forest floor (100 sq. m.) and with sod (200 sq. m.). Intervention daycares received segments of forest floor, sod, planters for growing annuals, and peat blocks for climbing and digging. Three non-modified yards (“standard daycares”) were the control group, while three were nature-oriented daycare centers served as a positive control.

Vegetation in the transferred natural forest floor in the intervention daycares consisted mainly of dwarf heather, blueberries, crowberry and mosses. The sod consisted of fescues and meadow grasses.

Nurses of the daycare centers guided children to be in contact with the green materials brought into the yard. Guided activities included planting plants in planting boxes, crafting natural materials, and playing games. In addition, green materials were available to children during free outdoor activities. Children played in the yards between half an hour and 2 hours, twice a day. The intervention lasted for 28 days.

The research found that bringing nature into daycare playgrounds made the children’s microbiome (the collection of microorganisms that naturally coexist within and on our bodies) more diverse. Simultaneously they found better immune function in the preschoolers in the intervention daycares, with a less inflammatory state. The children’s blood samples showed a better ratio of an anti-inflammatory immune system protein called IL-10, in relation to a pro-inflammatory protein called IL-17A.

In recent years more people have become aware around the world about the importance of maintaining a healthy gut microbiome and are using more probiotic foods to improve their gut flora.

However, environmental ecologist Aki Sinkkonen from the University of Helsinki points out that probiotics usually contain only one or two types of bacteria, whereas exposure to soil brings a much more diverse microbial environment.

While the researchers and other scientists say this is a preliminary study with a small sample, and the exact mechanism is not fully explained, it does show that microbe diversity in the top layer of soil seemed to be critical, and the children digging around, planting vegetation actively was important.

So if you’re a parent, the solution to healthier kids might be more dirt and bugs, not less.

(Read more details about the research.

Motown to Growtown: Detroit’s Urban Farmers (First screened in 2012, and a 2019 update)

Residents of the US city of Detroit are now producing organic food locally, reducing the environmental footprint of their food by cutting down on carbon emissions from transport and on chemical inputs. They are also helping revive communities as new green spaces and farmer’s markets crop up, providing neighbourhoods with fresh fruits and vegetables.

Plots of land range from backyards, to seven-acre (2.8 hectares) community farms, to plans for large-scale commercial farms.

70-year-old Edith Floyd, an urban farming veteran, has expanded her farm from 9 lots to 32 and has added a large hoop house, where she can grow fruits and vegetables year-round. “We have broccoli, collards, green peppers and celery,” she explains.

A few miles away, Mark Covington and his mother have also grown their farm. “I want to say we only had eight lots and now we have 24 that we either keep cut or we grow something on,” Covington says.

He now keeps bees, which he says has tripled food production, and he has a host of new farm animals.

Both farmers have their communities in mind; Floyd contributes to a food bank, and people who have court-ordered volunteer hours can fulfil them on her farm instead of paying a fine or going to prison.

Covington has purchased a nearby house for a community education centre, and also provides fresh food to the area. “This is an asset to the city. Not just the neighbourhood but the city,” he says.

One individual’s roadside beautification project turned into a farm (Kerala, India)

Photo Source: Mathrubhumi

The COVID pandemic has hit people hard around the world, not only in terms of health risks but also their most basic economic security and well-being.

Some are using this as an opportunity to become self-sufficient by growing food for their own families or as community projects, showing the way for others. 

Perinjanam is a coastal village in Thrissur district in Kerala, and one of the smallest villages in the state, just half a kilometer wide. The name of the village is believed to be originated from the Tamil expression for “people with good knowledge”. Anilkumar Kattil, a tourist bus driver who lost his job during the lockdown, and his neighbours certainly fit that description. 

About four years ago 55-year old Anilkumar decided to improve the sides of a road passing through his village, as he noticed people dumping waste by the road. He cleaned up the waste, cleared the weeds and started growing plants in grow bags. He found encouragement from the panchayat (local government) and fellow residents.

He began with flowering plants before moving on to planting vegetables. At various times, he has planted Chinese potato, okra, brinjal, turmeric, ginger, chillies, capsicum, spinach, bitter gourd, snake gourd and pumpkin.

After losing his job due to the lockdown, he found more time to tend to the organic farm.

As of now, one side of the road has lush paddy growing and the other side has vegetables and flowering plants.

While Anilkumar has spent money in buying the seeds and saplings, now he also receives support from his neighbours, many of who also benefit from the crop.

He is occasionally offered money, which he refuses, saying that this garden is on public land and not his private property. “I know what I’m doing is small, but I hope my efforts send a valuable message across,” he says.

We hope so, too!

Photo credit: Mathrubhumi

Indian Schools Asked to Set up School Nutrition Gardens

Smt Sulochana Singhania School Thane (Mumbai) - organic farming

All schools in India have been asked to set up “school nutrition gardens” by the central government. The gardens will have to be managed by the students, with the help of staff and teachers.

The Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD), which governs the education sector, issued guidelines for developing and maintaining kitchen gardens in schools in both urban and rural areas. The Government’s aim is to improve nutrition in schools, and also to connect children with the sources of food in an era of rapid urbanization and mounting environmental issues.

However, some schools have already embarked upon this journey well before the official guidelines came into place.  One such is the Smt. Sulochanadevi Singhania School, Thane (Mumbai, India).

Students have been introduced to not just growing food within the school themselves, but grow it organically, without synthetic chemical inputs.  The aim of the project has been to grow chemical-free, nutrient-rich vegetables and to provide an opportunity to learn by doing. The project is to teach the students how organic farming discourages environmental exposure to pesticides and chemicals, helps to build healthy soil, fight the effects of global warming and encourages biodiversity.

Smt Sulochana Singhania School Thane - organic farming

The students have sowed a wide variety of vegetables including cucumbers, chillies, lady’s fingers (okra), tomatoes, brinjals, spinach, bottle gourd, bitter gourd, ridge gourd, and capsicum, to name a few. The students have also planted paddy, to get hands-on experience of rice farming.

(Photos courtesy Smt Sulochana Singhania School, Thane, Mumbai. Check out more pictures on the school’s Facebook album.)

Malaysia: Deputy Agriculture Minister on Urban Farms

Malaysian deputy agriculture minister Sim Tze Tzin has taken up urban farming in his constituency of Bayan Baru.

The small garden outside the double-storey unit that serves as Sim’s service centre now boasts eggplants, cucumbers and other herbs.

Sim said the country is facing a fundamental problem of food prices being driven up by insufficient supply. Most of the 8 million hectares allocated for agriculture in the country are being used up by commodities such as palm oil and rubber. The deputy minister believes that Malaysians need to change their way of thinking, with so much emphasis already being placed on commodities.

Sim stressed that the land given out in the 1970s for the production of commodities as a poverty eradication measure was the right move, as prices were high.

We have to slowly convert some land for agro-food like the existing Felda schemes, it is time now to diversify to include growing food, like padi, vegetables and fruits,” he added.

Source: Deputy agriculture minister gets hands dirty with urban farming

These Indian farmers are taking a firmer hold on their future with organic farming

Women farmers in the Balaghat region of Madhya Pradesh state in India are moving actively to organic farming with indigenous seeds, so as to earn better and to produce healthier crops. They are actively supported by civic society organisation Pradan as well as farmer groups and government officials.


Ikea Is Working On Urban Farming Products

Ikea wants to sell you more than furniture – it wants to sell sustainable living, and that includes what you need to grow your own food.

Ikea is reported to be developing a new line of products with British industrial designer Tom Dixon, to be formally announced in May 2019 and released in stores in 2021.

The retailer has already introduced a hydroponic system to grow lettuce on your kitchen countertop, and the company’s innovation lab, Space10, experimented with a flatpack urban farm to fit in your backyard.

The collaboration with Tom Dixon would possibly to make it easier to grow plants in small spaces in city homes and to maximize the amount of food production in the smallest possible space.

With this, Ikea is jumping on to the trend of products focused on people farming in an urban environment.

Source: Ikea and Tom Dixon plan to launch urban farming products

Strawberries grown in Dubai

The UAE’s harsh climate is not conducive to farming let alone the cultivation of a fruit like strawberry. But all that is going to change now. By year-end, Dubai residents will be able to enjoy strawberries grown right here in the city.

French start-up Agricool, which is behind the ambitious initiative, said their hydroponic farming method, has already started to bear fruit in Dubai.The first batch of 4,500 strawberries, grown inside a recycled shipping container called ‘cooltainer’ at Sustainable City, was distributed to residents recently.

Georges Beaudoin, head of international operations at Agricool, said he is happy with the outcome. “We planted strawberry saplings in early July and harvested them in September.

“The strawberry plants are planted vertically and watered by a drip system with LED lights mimicking sunshine…the best thing is the strawberries are free from pesticides.”

Beaudoin, who runs successful cooltainer farms in Paris, said he hopes to produce seven tonnes of strawberries annually. “That’s about 530,000 strawberries,” he added.

Beaudoin said they came up with the cooltainer concept to maximise efficiency and overcome urban space constraints.

“The strawberry plants are planted vertically and watered by a drip system, with LED lights mimicking sunshine.

“The red light is for photosynthesis, which helps in the growth of the plant. The purple light helps in flowering while the white one softens exposure to ensure the fruit does not over ripen,” said Beaudoin.

“The best thing about these strawberries is that they are fresh and free from pesticides,” he added.

Source: Coming to a store near you: Strawberries grown in Dubai

Old coal mines could be turned into farms

Abandoned coal mines across the UK could be brought back to life as huge underground farms, according to academics.

Mine shafts and tunnels are seen asthe perfect environmentfor growing food such as vegetables and herbs. Advocates say subterranean farms could yield up to ten times as much as farms above ground.

President of the World Society of Sustainable Energy Technology, Prof Saffa Riffat, believes the scheme would be a cost-effective way of meeting the growing need for food. We have a major issue with food production and supply with the world’s population expected to reach nine billion by 2050,” said Prof. Riffat, of University of Nottingham.

The idea has already gained support from mine owners, including the Land Trust and Coal Authority, while the Chinese government has also expressed an interest. There are an estimated 150,000 abandoned shafts and 25,000km-sq of disused mines and tunnels in the UK.I’m very excited about the enormous potential. Rather than import so much food by air, rail and sea, we could grow a lot of it here and in huge quantities,” said Prof Riffat.

We need to do this for our future. We have a growing demand for food, especially in the cities, but less space to grow it. Tunnels and shafts would need less energy with heating, so are very attractive for food production. They’re almost perfect,” said Prof Riffat.

One 7m-sq shaft can produce 80 tonnes of food per year, according to Prof Riffat, approximately eight to 10 times the amount of food grown on the same area of land above ground.

Any schemes involving former coal mines would inevitably throw up many technical, legal and financial challenges that would need to be overcome.”

Source: Old coal mines can be ‘perfect’ underground food farms – BBC News