Food forests and neighborhood vegetable gardens have social significance – Growing food together is healthy, creates pride and creates a bond

Green is good for you, we all know that by now. But can you also improve your health by actively seeking out greenery or by being involved in greenery yourself? Wageningen University is investigating this together with practical partners in the PARTIGAN project. In PARTIGAN, the greening of the living environment and the contact and use of greenery in the city – Nijmegen and Arnhem – are central. Specifically, we look at green citizen initiatives: food forests and vegetable gardens that residents themselves start up and maintain in their own neighborhood together with other residents. Because what does it do to residents when they start working here? What do these green spaces mean to them, and does that affect their health?

Green and health
People from the city have on average poorer health than people from the countryside and this difference is greatest for mental health. The availability of greenery may be one of the explanations for this difference.

A green living environment is associated with better mental health and lower mortality. Greening the living environment appears to be a promising instrument for improving public health. Green initiatives can play an important role in this: places where residents can get to work with sowing and harvesting and experience for themselves what it is like to grow food (which often goes to a good cause).

A photo experiment
But how do you find out what these places really mean for the voluntary gardeners? During her bachelor’s thesis for the Health and Society program at WUR, Berber Bergstra investigated this using the participatory photography method Photovoice.

Bergstra gave participants four photo assignments in various vegetable gardens in Arnhem and Nijmegen, namely:

  1. take a picture of your favorite spot in the garden,
  2. take a picture of your least favorite place/something that bothers you,
  3. take a picture of something you learned in the garden,
  4. take a picture of something you would like to share with others (neighborhood, community, friends, family), something you are proud of.

This resulted in beautiful, varied photos and stories that we are happy to share here.

Favorite: nature
A place in nature is still the most favorite for many, where the peace and infinity, but also the function for insects are important. One participant indicated a meeting place as their favorite place. She says that it is the place where she meets other people and that it gives her energy to be together.

“It gives energy to be together,
everyone needs other people around them.”

favorite Waalgaard“The vastness of the orchard, the beautiful greenery, the grasses that are allowed to be there.
All this gives me peace, a feeling of infinity. The Waalgaard is for me standing with your feet in the clay
and working with your hands but at the same time pure poetry.”

Least Favorite: Weeds

Things that are experienced as difficult by the participants are also related to nature. The weeds that keep growing, but also the task of weeding the weeds is seen as the least favorite task. Weather influences also prove to be difficult, but this must be accepted because nothing can be done about it. In addition, human influences, namely the mess they can make, are difficult. It is indicated that a tidy place radiates peace and care.

least favorite 1“If I hate something,
is it clutter in the garden? I love to
to make the garden look neat and tidy.”

least favorite 2“You will have to accept that weather influences play a major role
and so you always have to wait and see what this does to the harvest.”

Learning in the garden
All participants learned nature-related things from other people in the garden. This concerns new techniques related to gardening such as permaculture. One participant links this to life and claims to have learned in the garden that you have to work out dreams. Participants also mention that they find it important to help other people. Urban agriculture Mooiweg in Arnhem supplies crops to the Food Bank, whereby careful selection of the crops is an important aspect.

learned 1“The Permaculture method wants to get close to nature
as possible, so that the system ultimately
keeps itself in balance.
I could learn a lot about this and from this.”

learned 2“I learned here how to care for crops
and harvest. Because we deliver to the food bank it is important
to carefully select the crops before harvesting.”

Proud of the garden

Bergstra’s research shows that the voluntary market gardeners are proud of ‘their’ green initiatives. Bringing together different people is seen as important, not only for the people within the initiative, but also for society as a whole. The atmosphere at the initiatives, the healthy food, the work as a volunteer, the favorite places, the diversity of people, and the initiatives as a whole lead to great pride.

despite 1“This project, supported by many people who want to
to diversity, healthy nature, healthy food and local sales
of food is so beautiful and captivating!”

despite 2“I want to show my family where I work as a volunteer.
I’m sitting in my favorite place meditating on this
different kinds of insects that eat
of different kinds of flowers.
What a beautiful picture.”

Green and healthy

Photovoice has been a great help to get an idea of ​​the meaning of green initiatives for the people who come there, and what this can mean for their health.

The green initiatives are seen as educational places where many different people come together and everyone can do what he or she wants. They are places where peace can be found, but where you can also mean something to someone else. The participants are proud of the initiatives and want to share it with people around them.

Green initiatives are an example of places in the city that can promote the physical, mental and social health of residents.