Nestled on the 6th floor of the public library of Mitrovica, GAIA’s community garden has been sprouting its roots across the grey firmament of the building since the beginning of this month. The idea to create a public gardening stemmed from the desire expressed by our local volunteers, Mev, Mimoze and Genti as well as our cooperating partner 7 Arte, to foster new green spaces within the urbanized landscape of the city.
Mitrovica is facetious to say the least. The city buzzes with events organized by the civil sector and young people filling the public spheres which contributes to an overall vibrant atmosphere. Students are eager to participate in events and volunteering with local organizations is very common. The city is also known for its bridge that reaches across the Ibar as well as across the different communities living in the city. Its socialist legacy, embodied by the Trepca mine, is well anchored in the public memory of different generations – while the traces of the immense human suffering of the Kosovo war remain encapsulated by the continuing presence of foreign peace keeping forces patrolling the streets.
Mev, Mimoza and Genti our local GAIA volunteers brought forth the challenge; that green spaces are gradually shrinking as construction sites mushroom on all corners of the city. Mitrovica’s urban landscape is growing – which is a positive development overall, but at whose and at which costs? A large share of families is living in apartment nowadays and do not have the possibility to have their own garden to grow their own vegetables and avoid industrially treated fruits and vegetables. This rapid urbanization leads to a trend that food consumption and production are increasingly separated from consumers as well as local food practices. Especially younger generations gradually become desensitized to traditional knowledge concerning gardening, harvesting and cooking held within their families. Finally, urban development through deregulated construction projects heavily bears down on the natural landscape of the city. New buildings hardly ever consider environmental impact assessments and infrastructural needs in their building process. It all boils down to the desire for economic growth at the expense of eco-health and the nature’s ability to regenerate from exploitative development practices. In the context of Kosovo, this debate needs to be thoroughly addressed through the inclusion of a well-informed and critical civil society. Without going into much more detail, the peace garden serves the purpose to sensitize young and old to the underpinning rational of permaculture in an urban and developing context and thereby offers a locale in which the right to development and its wider socio-ecological dimensions can be addressed.
The garden opens twice a week to have young adults and school classes from across Mitrovica participate in ongoing activities. These range from constructing raised beds out of recycled materials, planting seeds and transplanting them into flower beds. Permaculture approaches to gardening inform our ideas and guide our decisions towards using the patterns and resilient features in the natural and urban ecosystem of our garden. This journey began by forging a synergy with 7Arte, a local cultural initiative that has been eager to establish its own garden and share their library and terrace with us. It further translated into using materials that would usually end up on the waste dump for raised beds and decoration, and inventing our own irrigation system to water feed our seedlings. In order to connect our actions with the larger context of climate change and environmental stressors, the open days offer visitors to engage in open discussion formats on environmental challenges faced globally and felt locally. These topics change each day and vary between the use and functions of natural remedies such as herbs, the interrelation between water, energy and food security in Kosovo, eco-health and air pollution in Kosovo, the perils of hydropower in preserved terrains, climate change, and the use of pesticides and its havocking impact on bee stocks and pollination cycles. It is truly encouraging that everyone brings with them valuable knowledge and experiences about their social and environmental livelihoods and seeks to relate their experiences with more regional and globally felt challenges. By redirecting the discussions through a system-thinking perspective we hope to co-create an environment in which we can learn strategies and define tools that support the transition from a dependent consumer to becoming responsible producer within their own arm length.
One of our biggest challenges is to make motivated gardeners from Mitrovica feel comfortable enough to take over one of our open days and make it theirs, teach us about their needs perception and interests to increase the sustainability of the project. The open days will be continued throughout the summer months and hopefully see more flowers laughing in our garden.