Nurturing Nature and Community in Frankfurt

In many cities, there is a great need for more living space, but at the same time, cities also need more green space to counteract air pollution and, above all, the warming caused by climate change. In Frankfurt, there is a group of active citizens who are campaigning for the park in the centre of the city not to be built on and founded the association ‘Bürgerinitiative für den Erhalt der Grünen Lunge am Günthersburgpark e.V.’ (BIEGL Güntersburgpark) in October 2015.

In 2019, Maren Zimmermann and Lea Fleur Sorgler emphasised the importance of the park for the city and the climate by starting to create edible gardens. Initially, they leased an unused allotment with a few people, cleared it out and redesigned it using permaculture approaches. Then more and more garden plots were added and the number of edible gardens grew and grew.

When I visited the gardens in September 2023 together with Steffen Baitinger from my Self-Organised-Learningpath study team Wildwuchs, we were very impressed by the diversity and beauty of the gardens and the people. In every garden we passed, the people seemed cheerful, open, lively and cooperative. You often saw people explaining things to each other that they had probably never done before. There were also people who simply took an hour of their time to show us around… We then asked Monika why this project appealed to her and she said that it was the moment when she felt ‘that everyone in the group was allowed to say anything and felt seen’. Monika explained that many people don’t have a gardening background, but everyone can contribute something and be taken seriously, heard and seen.

Each garden is designed differently and is managed by 10-12 people, but certain elements of permaculture are always recognisable (herb beds, mandala beds, wood chip paths, compost heaps, ponds, insect hotels, raised beds, compost separation toilets, bird nesting boxes, insect hotels, dead wood, stone piles…) indicated with beautiful signage. There are also seating areas everywhere where the gardeners can rest, work and chat.

The number of gardens throughout Frankfurt has now risen to 19, including a garden on the campus grounds and an edible garden near the retirement home in Bregenzer Straße (Pflegegarten Fechenheim). The city farm (1 ha), which Bettina showed us round, is also relatively new. As the vegetable heroines don’t take sides, but instead do what they are passionate about, this has probably attracted a lot of people and has been incredibly effective in terms of publicity. They have worked with all kinds of people. Even with bankers or landscape gardeners, who then dug a pond for them on the city farm.  

Meanwhile, there are also many educational workshops on site in the individual gardens, such as in the Mirabelle plum garden, where we met Chris Kircher, who is also in the SOL. In any case, part of the park has been secured, provides a better urban climate, is a place of learning and community building and has great harvests. Frankfurt’s Green Lung has thus become an example for other cities of how to work together to create a sustainable edible city. 

Community-led initiatives like Grünen Lunge in Frankfurt highlight the power of grassroots movements and the impact that dedicated citizens can have on preserving and enhancing urban spaces, while fostering a sense of community. These initiatives are agents of change and need the acknowledgment and support of policy makers.

Find out more at https://gemueseheldinnen.de/  and in the book ‘Urban Farming’.

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