Local Initiative: Global Bio gardens Solidarity Project

Community Gardening as a tool and space for Intercultural Dialogue

About the project:

CGE Erfurt e.V. is supporting the local Global Bio Garden initiative by operating as the applicant organisation for a Solidarity Project funded by the European Solidarity Corp program of the European Union. For 12 months the Global Bio Gardens initiative will receive financial support from the program, as well as access to an expert external coach for twelve days over the year. CGE Erfurt will work as an intermediary between this initiative and the ESK program, as the Global Bio Gardens works towards long-term sustainability.

About the Global Bio Gardens:

GBG: Cross-disciplinary perspectives on extraordinary global challenges

The group was originally created during the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown in Germany. A group of international students from the University of Erfurt and the Willy Brandt School, who were cut off from their families as a result, came up with the idea of a garden where people could do something productive and become more food secure during a time when resources were limited. During this time, it was also significantly more difficult for international students and new residents of Erfurt to get used to life in Germany and to find a community for social exchange. From this, the want to learn more about food security and sustainable gardening, and the need for an inclusive, international community, Global Bio Gardens (GBG) was born.

Therefore, the gardens have existed next to the University of Erfurt campus since mid-April 2020 and currently involve around 70 people. Most of them are international students from more than 15 countries, and a handful of others are migrant families looking for a community and some space to garden. The GBG initiative found a local expert on Demeter agriculture, Ms. Rose, (https://rose-saatzucht.de/) and she offered a piece of her land adjacent to the university, Demeter seeds, and pre-grown saplings. Later, she extended support and provided the project with agricultural experts from Erfurt University of Applied Sciences to GBG to teach the participants sustainable agricultural practices.

Many participants originally saw GBG as a recreational pursuit; however, many are now also concerned with food security issues and interested in a more sustainable way of farming. Some of them are now pursuing sustainable gardening practices in their home countries where their families also run farms. More importantly, however, the project transformed into a safe, co-working space in which a diverse group of individuals with international backgrounds could come together, exchange knowledge and experiences, and come to know one another and their cultures.

Our motivation for this project stems from our group’s desire to improve inter-community solidarity and intercultural understanding. Consequently, we hope to achieve the greater objective of confronting racism in our local community. As a group consisting of both international individuals and locals, we hope to stimulate dialogue among people with different backgrounds with the aim of reducing tensions and intolerances for migrant communities in Erfurt. A strong community can contribute to the solutions of multiple societal problems, such as preventing extremism, promoting tolerance, and protecting the environment, and our small project has the objective to tackle these things in a simple, yet meaningful way. Communities become stronger through collaborative work, and our objective is to strengthen Erfurt’s community by supporting integration processes through community gardening.

From the beginning of this project, it became clear that it could be much more in the city of Erfurt where international collaboration projects such as this one are lacking. By bringing together diverse perspectives, a multitude of experiences, and countless out-of-the-box ideas using the medium of a community garden, our community can challenge the issues of loneliness and “other-ness” that many migrants in Erfurt feel.

As a leadership team, we are a group of young, international activists, and we have many ties within the local Erfurt community. At the heart of our personal lives lies inter-community and intracultural dialogue, and, therefore, migrant and international resident integration is at the center of our purpose here in Erfurt. We believe that we can create something bigger than the right-extremism and hate movements within our local community and act as a small piece in the puzzle of other small organizations in Thuringia fighting against the same issues. We have already started the discussion, and with this grant, we would not only get to continue it but watch it grow and cultivate it to its true potential.

According to the Thueringen Monitor, which is a tool that measures racist sentiments in the state of Thuringia, Germany, there is still an alarming amount of right-extremism leanings in the region. This number has not significantly declined in the recent past. As a young group of international people living in Erfurt with colleagues coming from diverse backgrounds, we have personally experienced or have direct contacts who have had racist encounters in Erfurt. We hope to counter this and, inevitably, change this in our community with our community garden project by bringing together a diverse group of individuals for collaborative work and intercultural exchange.

We hope to offer a physical space in which anyone is welcome to enter and collaborate, but we particularly target residents in Erfurt with migrant backgrounds or young international students from local universities. but we specifically target local Erfut residents with migrant backgrounds or young international students from local universities who have interest in sustainable gardening and intercultural exchange. Since our target group is twofold, we have the following strategies. To target migrant residents in Erfurt, who have either recently arrived or have already been established in Erfurt, we will collaborate with partners who play an essential role in creating synergies at the community level in integrating migrants into the labour market and community.

To target local, international university students between the ages of 18-40, we will continue to collaborate with the International Department at the University of Erfurt to become more visible to incoming students and also be present at events that showcase local projects that students can take part in. Our project is visible from the campus, putting us in direct contact with many university students we can come into conversation with. We will continue using our digital platforms to address our target groups and our current members. Our WhatsApp group, for example, targets over 60 people fitting the above description, and our social media platforms a comparable number of individuals.

By opening this space for dialogue, we will informally educate community members on how to become culturally sensitive, exchange dialogue with diverse groups of individuals, and help individuals with the processes of integration. Inevitably, we hope for our community members going out into the greater community and to further catalyze dialogue about tolerance and diversity. Additionally, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been made aware to us that international residents or migrants who are new in Erfurt have had a difficult time establishing a community here and finding help from local individuals with the bureaucracy of staying in Germany as non-national individuals. Therefore, our project will help international individuals better integrate into society and feel comfortable in Erfurt by reducing the stresses of living in a new country. Having a project for collaboration and a community to surround a person makes the stresses of relocating less stressful, and local Erfurt citizens are a part of the project to help international individuals with bureaucratic processes to make the transition smoother. Therefore, we hope to create a network of support for international individuals in Erfurt, as this is not currently readily available for such individuals.

Through the practice of organic farming, we will contribute our part to reducing the impacts of climate change. It is an organic community garden project using Demeter-certified seeds, and no chemical fertilizers are used in the process of gardening. The project encourages participants of migrant backgrounds to learn how to grow and harvest their own produce, which overall reduces the high emissions of delivery services and the materials used for packaging groceries in the energy-intensive industry. The participants of the GBG project produce vegetables and herbs for their daily use. The produce is not enough for running kitchens entirely, but it has managed to add the aspect of sustainable living to participants’ lifestyles and, thereby, significantly reduces the carbon foot print/ecological footprint of participants and teaches individuals how to do this for a lifetime. This means long term impact.

If you wish to get involved in this initiative over the year, you are welcome! Please email: nesirky@cge-erfurt.org

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