04.06.2016 - Ankara
Ankara, the capital of Turkey, with its 4.6 million inhabitants is a huge city. Gözde and I are sitting in one of these blue minibuses with the crazy drivers that are part of the messy public transport system. Through the window I see endless rows of concrete houses flash by as we make our way through the heavy traffic.
This is probably the last place you would imagine when thinking of sustainable agriculture. However, after leaving the bus Gözde is proudly presenting me the Community Garden she and some friends have created four years ago. Since then they managed to integrate agriculture into an urban landscape as well as bring together neighbours in an otherwise anonymous town.
'At the beginning, this area was full of rocks. But year after year the soil is getting better.'
In 2012 a small group of friends from Ankara had the idea to grow some crops in their hometown. After attending a workshop about permaculture in Europe they had plenty of concepts but no place to put them into practice. Until Çiğdemim Derneği, an association located on the outskirts of Ankara came to their rescue.
Now there was green light for the first Community Garden in Turkey. But the same way Gözde and her friends encountered stones in the soil of their garden, they also encountered some disapproval from the locals at first. However, by integrating the neighbours into the project and teaching their children about gardening and permaculture this disapproval rapidly turned into acceptance. After one year even the local government started supporting the garden by providing fresh water and a fence to keep out the stray dogs. Soon the project became a real success and inspired people to create similar gardens in other Turkish cities.
'In Febuary we start planting the seeds in our greenhouse. Then, when spring arrives, we are setting them out on our fields.' Gözde is giving me a tour of the small garden. Tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, salad. Apples, strawberries, different spice plants and many many more. I get informed about the used drip-irrigation system to save water and about the synergy effects of different plants. To make use of these effects, flowers and aromatic herbs are planted all over the garden to keep away vermins from the crops as well as attract useful insects like bees. This permacultural principle makes any kind of pesticides redundant. 'Even though our harvest is smaller than it would be with the use of pesticides, the taste of our crops is just uncomparable', Gözde states.
Sustainable agriculture and an effective water resource management is one side of permaculture. The other side is the social (or cultural) aspect. Almost every weekend the group of friends, that now after four years already grew up to 20 people, is meeting to work together in the garden, bringing food and instruments to make it a social event. They invite locals to hang out together, get to know their neighbours and learn a thing or two about the production of the vegetables most of them only know from the supermarkets. 'The kids were really excited when we let them plant their own tomatoes. Still they are passing by every now and then to take care of their plants", Gözde says with a smile on her lips.
To spread the word about sustainability the small team is also showing movies about that matter. For example two weeks ago when people gathered to see The power of community - how Cuba survived Peak Oil - a documentary about Cuba's transition from large farms or plantations and reliance on fossil-fuel-based pesticides and fertilizers, to small organic farms and urban gardens.
Gözde's wish for the future is to intergrate more children from Ankara's poor districts into the Community Garden. Since many of them don't get a school education she hopes to be able to give them a perspective by letting them work on the field and sell the products in the city. A different way of education and social integration.
At the end of our visit we take some tea leaves from the garden and go to a nearby bar on the university campus to order two cups of hot water. As the leaves are slowly sinking into the cup, the water takes on a dark green colour. Sitting in the shadow of a tree we continue our talks about the garden and my bicycle journey. The tea just tastes delicious.