Urban Permaculture Garden in Mitrovica

When I was looking for a volunteering opportunity, I wanted to do something in relation with nature.

One can say that by getting involved in GAIA, I have found this opportunity. And this is true. But my mission takes place in a city, with its labyrinth of concrete and macadam … so I had to find a way to bring some nature closer to me.

A garden is obviously the best option. As I moved into our new house with my fellow volunteers, we were told that the small patches of grass that bear the name “garden” (“yard” would be more appropriate since we can find concrete paths between the patches of grass) should not be planted with anything. Disappointing! But we were resilient in our requests, and after a bunch of times going to our landlord’s to drink tea, eat pite and advocate our desire for nature, we won our case. Now we can plant the grass!

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Untouched garden of our house

So, I began to think about an intelligent way to set up our small corner of nature. I had just attended some brief lessons about permaculture and I had been watching a substantial number of videos on the subject, so I wanted to apply some of these principles. As our house is not necessarily intended for volunteers to stay on the long run, and also because my permaculture knowledge is still quite limited, I would not dare saying I’m doing permaculture here. Rather, I tried to design the garden in an intelligent fashion, so that it looks nice, gives us a yield, and be, as much as it could, a mini-ecosystem.

I started to observe how the garden is lit by the sun throughout the day, determine the hottest and coldest zones as well as the sunniest and darkest. I ended up with the following sketch.

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Zoning of the permaculture garden

While I was drawing this sketch, we started growing seedlings. Thanks to the cooperation of my grand-parents, we could get non-hybrid organic seeds delivered from France. We built shelves that were put in the house behind the big patio window – this turned out to be a perfect greenhouse. To facilitate the transition of the plants between inside and outside, we built a small greenhouse that was put outside and hosted the seedlings before being transplanted in the garden.

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Greenhouse and seedlings

I priviliged tomatoes in the most sunny area, of course. We also planted pumpkins, zucchini, butternuts, bush beans, leeks and chards. In terms of herbs and flowers, we have parsley, basil, savory, dill, rucola, chamomille, sage, lovage, morning glory, snapdragon, everlasting, scabiosa, marigold, dahlia, cornflower, sweet peas… We did some well-know companion planting: tomatoes with basil and marigold ; pumpkin, butternut and zucchini with beans.

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Sunbathing peppers

Of course we are not using any artificial product to fertilize, fight pests or intempestive weeds… we do everything by hand and we use black soap and nettle manure.
Now we are waiting for the harvest of vegetables, enjoying herbs in our dishes, the view of our flowers and looking eagerly at the ripening tomatoes …

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Morning glory and vertical herbal garden

written by Hugo, a member of GAIA’s Mitrovica Team.

Environmental Irrationality and its Affective Solution

What keeps us from taking action for a healthy and just environment and intergenerational human well-being?

This is the first blog post of a series on environmental decision-making and why it takes us as individuals so much strength to join the collective struggle for a climate-just and environmentally sustainable future. And why we must do it, nonetheless.

Wellbeing cannot be individually grasped. Instead, it affects the individual within a community in relation to a specific cultural-natural environment. This understanding of wellbeing foregrounds one’s inherent embeddedness in an environmental and social system. Do not be fooled that your unconstrained consumption of food, water and energy does not generate consequences in your closer environment. Often times these consequences hit home delayed and trick your mind in believing that they are not related to your own decision-making behavior. But they will, and they do already.

If science does not convince you then perhaps your grandparents. Why not ask them about the changes of harvest yields, the length of droughts, the frequency of flooding and their impact on farming lands, or how they destroy houses and streets? Climate change and biodiversity loss are manifesting themselves in our neighborhoods, be it in rural or urban areas. But it does so differently across places in the world and is felt by individuals and their communities differently – be it in your city or the world more generally speaking.

Let’s move from abstractions to everyday realities. I am part of the Mitrovica team of GAIA and we have been devoting our energy to the construction of a rooftop garden on top of the library building of the city. Together with children and friends of GAIA and 7 Arte we crafted DIY raised beds, water irrigation systems, raised seedlings with love and care, and organized weekly meetings. These events were mostly visited by high school students from the city and our friends. Although modest in numbers, we were regularly visited by a few children who showed clear interest in what we are doing and to what ends we are taking our time to build a garden on top of a building in an urban environment. We certainly spent lots of time discussing the environmental and climate challenges already affecting the river flows of the local rivers, Ibar which is considered the most polluted river in Kosovo or Sitinica that shares an equal degree of heavy metal and bacterial pollution due to irregular domestic and industrial waste disposal, and how prolonged periods of draughts are damaging the harvest yields of local farmers, but also the health of older generations. These local challenges were then contextualized in global patterns of environmental degradation and climate change – just to make sure that Mitrovica’s case is no anomality and can be understood in relation to much wider environmental and social challenges. Despite passionate talks about climate change and its impact on water resources, often enough I would come across the phrase – but what should we do, we are only students and its mostly big industries and the political elite that does nothing against the consequences of a fossil-fuel reliant economy, deregulated market economy and non-standardized waste-management.

It should come only naturally that you begin to wonder what can you do against these localized global and interrelated consequences of our current way of living, consuming and producing? The possibilities are nearly as overwhelming as the gravity of the issue itself. One can and should do its part according to their own needs and demands. Instead of being exhausted by the mere thought that an individual could mitigate the pollution levels released by an outdated coal power plant, as it is the case in Kosovo – look into your backyard and take some time to consider your own CO2 footprint. If it was only enough to watch “Before the Flood”, be blown off your feet by the cinematic visions of climate change induced environmental and human suffering to make us move our comfortable butt. There is undeniable scientific proof that our unrestrained consumption, shortsighted reliance on fossil fuels and our unsustainable use of nature resources is threatening our future. Perhaps, there is more to it.

Research about environmental decision-making points out to us that we deal with the environment similarly with the way we make decisions to consume and buy things in our daily life. A theory looking at these processes is called “Behavioral decision theory.” It refers to the nature of us being decision makers who are confronted with cognitive limitations, illusions and framing, self-control, updating, confirmation bias, identification with means/methods and heuristics/intuition. At the same time, our social, political and economic context that we live in is highly changing and unpredictive. Together, these dimensions of behavioral decision theory inform us with the different mental process that prevent us from taking action.

Well, this blog article will most likely not make you move as long as it tells you about distant threats that are far from your everyday reality and do not affirm what you believe to be true already. Bear with me because this blog is part of an ongoing series of blog posts that tries to bring afore different explanations on societal, cognitive, economic, political, cultural, religious or environmental factors that enable or disable our concrete contributions in the collective strive for climate just politics and a healthy.

What this means and how it affects your ability to make sustainable decisions that lead to environmentally friendly behavior and reinforces your positive attitudes towards climate and environmental action will be addressed in the next blog post.

It is getting hot in here -you know what to do!

Rosa.

Starting a community garden in Mitrovica

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.

Rosa