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Death of an urban garden

or, some remarks on Byhaven 2200, Permaculture and Volunteer Projects

The old pizza oven. May 2018.

In May 2018, Copenhagen Municipality bulldozered the urban garden called Byhaven 2200 which had existed for 6 years.

Byhaven 2200 had not been able find a group of committed people who would form a stable core team, handle the contract, and carry on the project.

On the occasion of spring 2019 coming,

here is some reflections on what the reasons might be
for the death of an urban garden –
a successful urban garden, a poster child even for the movement.
These thoughts shared hoping they might be useful for other gardens and people, and other volunteering and community projects.
It is my personal take on things, so no doubt others will disagree.

Og man kunne jo starte med spørgsmålet om sproget –
hvorfor på engelsk og ikke på dansk?
Det kommer vi tilbage til.
Jeg skriver på engelsk så at alle kan forstå mig –
og du forstår mig jo også …

And yes, one could start with the issue of language – english, danish?
It brings us straight to the first point:

Being local

A local urban garden needs to be local, needs at least a core group of local people – and local here means
people who live close enough to just say
“i ll have a quick look down to the gardens”, meaning, a maximum of 5 minutes away.
People who can look down on the garden from their windows.

In the beginning, the garden had a core group of such people,
and we could easily activate 20, 30 people to show up on a work day.

But people moved – some moved on to related projects outside the city,
some to commercial ventures.

And while it was obvious, that many neighbours and local residents enjoyed being in the garden, harvesting a little bit, and having a slice of pizza with us, it is also true that there was never a strong active group of locals participating.

The seed effect

Good projects inspire new ideas, continuations, growth – that is wonderful.
They are like seeds radiating out.

In the process, the center of the seed might dry out.

I have observed this in many independent volunteer driven projects so far,
whether it was in gardening, music or mindfulness –
growth dries out the seed.
The seed vanishes.

Other

A general problem of our times seems to me the phenomenon of always wanting

something other

than what we actually are pretending to be involved in.

You are in an urban garden, but you really want to have a farm.
You are in an urban garden, but you really want a career in permaculture.
You are in an urban garden, but you really want to do interviews for your university.
You are in an urban garden, but you really want to play guitar.
You are in an urban garden, but you really want to study sociocracy.
You are in an urban garden, but you really want to make pizza.

This is not a criticism in people who want these other things –
mmm, i loved making pizza instead of digging for roots …

But it is a problem for a garden that needs tending –
when you get three requests per week for interviews on the social experiment of a garden,
but you cant find three people to move soil, build sheds, or harvest.

This is amplified by another phenomenon – the garden died …

A facebook death

At the time of its death, the garden’s facebook group had 1870 members,
the “active gardeners” subgroup had 130 members.
Yet, we could not activate five people for a work day,
or find five people to take responsibility to become the new contract owners.

Clicking the “like” or “join” buttons is (too) easy –
showing up on a rainy day to work in the garden is not.

And facebook has another negative effect on: conflicts, when taken to facebook to be discussed, certainly will grow and not be solved. Have a read of the Byhaven page in retrospect.

And to new gardens, do yourself a favour: do not have a facebook group.

Alcohol(ocals)

The garden, being in the middle of the Nørrebro town quarters,
has always been been exposed to all the natural phenomena you find in a city.

A rather stable group of locals, some of which have lived here for decades and many of whom are alcoholics to varying degrees, was present at the garden more or less constantly.

Many of them considered this place “their place”, the bench “their bench” – and in a certain way, they were right at that.

Their relation to the garden project was ambiguous:
On the one hand, the garden project had driven out the local pusher scene,
created a somewhat homely place – a place to be.

Global

On the other hand, the fluctuating group of urban garden people, many of which did not speak their language, seemed to be scary, or irritating at least.
And why would those people have an agreement, a contract with the municipality, when they were just students passing through, and not even spoke the language?

Aversions varied between mild irritation and downright racists slurs and insult.
Bottle collectors of colour, likewise, were not popular with the group,
And again, there are two side to this:
Bottle collectors might be used to rich kids not minding them taking their empty bottles.
If your trove of empty bottles is your next drink, it is not up for taking.

Seen from the garden project’s side, synergies with the group of locals were ambiguous too:

The local group helped with the garden in many ways –
i remember the locals finding and shlepping the big heavy slab of stone that became the kitchen work desk.
Painting the kitchen cabinet, collecting cigarette stubs, keeping the place in order.

But they also scared people away –

while there were many fantastic and sweet people among them,
the mood often would turn aggressive and loud, as the hours and the bottles passed.
That was something that one could take, if one was local and somewhat robust, but it did scare off new people, and handling the conflicts consumed a lot of energy, effectively making some core people leave the garden.

Permaculture, disconnected

Permaculture, if understood in a holistic way, needs to be connected to its local context, and would have to take on the human factors and tensions.
Permaculture at the garden often seemed to hover above ground, instead of being rooted in the ground.

Symptomatically, and connected to the Facebook Factor, days after the bulldozers came, there was no discussion of events on the garden’s group page, instead a stream of event ads kept coming –

an ad for “Inaugural Earth Activist Training” posted to a dead garden,
and a book:
“Our new website for the Book on Permaculture is ready! Permaculture is a holistic approach …”


The role of the municipality

When the bulldozers left, they left behind an empty plain. The garden had once listed a total of 110 species of useful plants, and many of those did very well without human support –
the garden turned into a wild oasis of urban flora.

Thee garden after it was abandoned, before destruction. May 2018
This needed to go … May 2018
Some plants grow unattended. May 2018.

But, while supporting the garden in some ways -as they had along the way, with funds and work – , the municipality had always wanted “order” –
and “openness”, interpreted in a way that said:
there should not be any shelters, hidden corners, places for people to be.
But it seems humans in and around the garden always valued exactly that –
hideaways behind edges, tables surrounded by flowers, a kitchen under the cover of a tree.

After. No plants, no people. August 2018.

(At one point, the garden team was ready to build a Buckminster Fuller style greenhouse dome.
Prototypes were built and the construction plan worked. Knowing the municipality would not allow any structure that humans might re-purpose as a night shelter, we kept the dome really small – no space to stand up or lie down in. Still, we did not get a permission.)

When the remaining group of volunteers in April 2018 failed to constitute itself as a contract partner for the municipality, the decision

When the remaining group of volunteers in April 2018 failed to constitute itself as a contract partner for the municipality, the decision was made to destroy the whole garden, except for 2 or 3 beds.
In one of these, a little A4 notice, to invite future generations of garden activists.

An invitation. August 2018.

And now?

When i gave a first draft of this article to a good friend, he rightfully remarked that it was missing a conclusion, a perspective.

I am not sure i have one.

It is certainly possible to re-start the garden, re-establish the wealth of species, and maybe learn from some of the mistakes we made.

Build a new pizza oven, a new table, and plant seeds again.

But it all depends on people. And whether there are people who actually want to make that happen is unknown to me. It looks like things are not getting easier, with the Copenhagen Municipalities fresh plans to dismantle its support for all green volunteer projects, by removing the position of the volunteer project coordinator.

But it has been argued that volunteer projects do not necessarily need a volunteer coordinator, and a living urban garden does not necessarily need the municipality’s support, beyond the mere permission to use public space.

It all depends on people and the will to do it.

Orkney dumplings and more: the edible seaweeds of Stromness

Dumplings, Orkney Style
Dumplings, Orkney Style

   

In July 2018 we spent 2 weeks in Stromness, Orkney, in a house close to the southern tip of the mainland, known as Ness Point.
We used the opportunity to see what species of seaweeds we would be able to find on the coast there.

Good advice by Mark Williams  helped us choose the right times and tides for our excursions.
Also, note his points on how to harvest seaweed responsibly

  • Never pull, always cut.
  • Take just the upper one third.
  • Never take rare species. Check what they are!
  • Spread your picking. Don’t take all from one spot.
  • And, let me add, take any trash and plastic you find on the beach with you, too.

 

We walked the rocky coast from Ness Point, by the little white lighthouse, below the golf course and up to Warbeth beach, past the Stromness cemetery.

The lighthouse
The lighthouse

Map: The coast at Ness Point
Map: The coast at Ness Point

 

The upper tidal zone of the rocks is largely dominated by Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus), and a mix of other wracks, such as Toothed Wrack (Fucus Serratus), with light green spots of Gutweed (Ulva intestinalis) strewn in.

Coastline at NessPoint - with lots of Bladderwrack
Coastline at NessPoint – with lots of Bladderwrack

In some places, large pools of rotting wrack produce quite a stench … and, don’t walk into those (like i did once, by accident, with sneakers on .. they smell of rotten seaweed to this day …) …. Small birds however love those nutrient pools, as they likely find insects or such there.

Rotting pool
Rotting pool

                        

You will also find a lot of torn off pieces of Kelp (Laminaria digitata) and leaves of Sugar Kelp, Saccharina latissima.
Smaller patches of Osmundea pinnatifada are found on rocks from high to lower tidal zones.

It gets more diverse and interesting as you go down, where you will find Sea Spaghetti, Himanthalia elongata,
and Dulse, Palmaria palmata.

 

 

 

Bladderwrack, Fucus vesiculosus

Bladderwrack
Bladderwrack

Bladderwrack is known to be a valuable source of oils and ingredients for cosmetics, perfumes, and so forth. Essential oil made from this wrack retails for about $15 for a milliliter, or £15000 for a liter.
It is really good for the skin – just try pop one of these little bubbles and spread the juice on your skin!

While it does not taste bad and can absolutely be used as a somewhat salty spicy addition to salads and fried meals, it was not exactly our favorite among the seaweeds.

 

Bladderwrack
Bladderwrack

 

 

 

 

 

Gutweed, Ulva intestinalis

The worst part of Gutweed in foods is the fact that it just loves to keep sand in its fine hairy light green leaves – you will have to rinse it thoroughly and repeatedly, and again, and then some – unless you want to chew sand.
But once its rinsed, it makes a wonderful salad or, dried and fried, a crispy snack.

Gutweed patch on rock
Gutweed patch on rock

Gutweed and wrack
Gutweed and wrack

Salad of Gutweed and some Bladderwrack

 

Kelp, Laminaria digitata

Kelp was once the center of big industry in Orkney, from the early 18th to the early 19th century.
Kelp would be collected, burned and sold as fertilizer, and source of potash and soda.
You can read more about it here:
Kelp Burning in Orkney

Kelp-making - a book at the Library
Kelp-making – a book at the Library

Kelp production in the 18th century
Kelp production in the 18th century

At Ness Point, you will find a lot of kelp washed ashore, but if you look to harvest some for food, go futher down on the rocks, and cut the tips (only!) of some of the plants still sitting on the rocks.

Kelp stems washed ashore
Kelp stems washed ashore

Under the name Kombu, Kelp is a common ingredient in asian cuisines, and the leaves we found in Orkney, are of very good quality and taste.
Our favorite way of preparing them is to use dried sheets, soak them in warm water for a bit, and then use them in miso style soups, as filling for dumplings where they blend nicely with shrimps or meat, or use them as vegetables in noodle or rice dishes. Kelp also adds a nice salty taste to bread.

Kelp Bread
Nordic Bread with Kelp

 

Sea spaghetti, Himanthalia elongata

Well, it looks like spaghetti, just greener.

Sea spaghetti
Sea spaghetti

Sea spaghetti
Sea spaghetti

Sea spaghetti - with its typical hold-fasts
Sea spaghetti – with its typical hold-fasts

You will often find it together with kelp, in the lower tidal zones, where it sits on rocks, clinging to them with its very characteristic button-shaped hold-fasts.

It looks like spaghetti, and you can eat it like spaghetti: boil it for 15 – 20 minutes, keep the water which will have turned somewhat green and quite intense in taste. Use it to season your dishes, or to boil pasta in.
We love blending sea spaghetti with pasta, adding a little cream or soya milk, making a beautiful green and white mixed dish.
We also got the advice to boil sea spaghetti in milk, but we have yet to try this.

Dulse, Palmaria palmata

Our absolute favorite, the star of all the seaweeds, vegan bacon! Dulse!

It is a bit harder to find – look out for relatively small (10, 12 inch) red-brownish leaves with very characteristic finger-shaped tips.
Again, make sure you only cut a sensible amount – never take the whole plant.

Fried dulse
Fried dulse

Fresh dulse (the red leaves)
Fresh dulse (the red leaves)

Making white pizza with vegan bacon (dulse)
Making white pizza with vegan bacon (dulse)

You can use these fresh or dried. The wonderful umami flavor, very close to “real” bacon is strongest when you fry fresh or dried leaves in butter.

ID problems for danish nationalism

Yes, problems for, not with danish nationalism.

There is an interesting new book* which looks at the way
the Viking myth was constructed in the 19th century, at a time when danish nationalists urgently needed some kind of alleged history to bolster up danish self esteem – thus,  what originally was little more than a job title (Viking) had to become a race, a nation even – and of course a somewhat superior one.

There is, however, a problem with this attempt at Viking-Danish identification.

As is widely known, the birth hour of Danmark, the creation of Danmark as a nation state, is marked by the oldest written documents (stones, that is) we have about this, The Jelling Stones.
They also mark the conversion of Denmark from Norse paganism to Christianity.

The irony here is that Danmark succumbing to the foreign Christian rulers actually marked the (beginning of the) end of Northern greatness and dominance – an act of economically driven opportunism and, arguably, cowardice.
The time of northern greatness was not danish, the time of northern danishness was/is not all that great.

Christianization of the Nordics – here, Orkney – From the Orkneyinga Saga

(I remember the danish national tv’s series on danish history (“Historien om Danmark”) constantly battling with this, too – they kept talking about “danish” people and regions at a time when there was no such thing as Danmark.
Even the Egtved Girl (c. 1390–1370 BC), a Nordic Bronze Age girl (and an immigrant from Germany [sic], btw) was labeled “danish”.)

So, modern danish nationalism, claiming to be firmly rooted in Christianity, and Viking pride have a really hard time walking hand in hand.

This is a friction painfully felt when right-wing nationalist Danish People’s Party politicians both try to discriminate against Muslim danes (because, we are Christians here!), write christianity into the governement programme, and at the same time try to snuggle up to Viking renaissance and Asatro (the same Asatro that was sidelined, if not killed, by the Christian conquest).
You somehow can’t have both. 

 

 

  • Anders Lundt Hansen: Sølv, blod og kongemagt – Bag om vikingemyten. Udgivet af Gyldendal. Udkommer 28. maj.