Honestly, I’d never seen something like this before I’d come to Poland.
A few hectares of garden, separated into tiny little plots and parcels of land, usually in the suburbs or deep within a city, between 50 to 500 meter square each, where Polish individuals and families, especially senior citizens, spend the summer growing and harvesting their own organic produce, and flowers. Every allotment will usually have a little wood cabin, for storage and even sleep.
I come from India, an agricultural society by itself, where most of the poor make their living out of hectares of personally owned land, and we, the middle and upper middle classes in a socio-economic sense, feed off their labour.
So when I saw people from middle and upper middle classes labour away here on their own little harvests, I was totally amazed. It’s something I would love to do myself, but I cannot imagine happening in India within our older generations. Maybe as a movement for our generation, it is more likely, but there are very few middle class senior citizens that will take to tending their own harvest.
My fiancee’s mom is a pro gardener with a green thumb, and the first time I got to the Ogród in the August of 2011, the garden was already full of everything you can possibly think of. Lettuce, rucola, few other types of red and green salad leaves, cherry tomatoes, raspberry tomatoes, rhubarb, wild strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, a whole lot of other berries, radish, spring onion, garlic, apples.
This is my first time in Poland in the month of May when the Poles spend the month preparing for the summer, planting and watering. So the garden is pretty bare right now, but when it is in full bloom, every day is salad day.
Anyway, I was curious as to how they came about and while I spoke my-wondering-out-loud mind, my fiancé’s father casually mentioned that it was a phenomena that grew out of Communism. With a bit of looking around, I found some pretty interesting stories and articles which can be summed up as follows:
- The Garden Allotment, started as a socio-economic phenomena that has been around for a couple of centuries. The oldest known Garden Allotments existed in Denmark in 1700’s.
- The Polish Garden allotments began in Warsaw in the mid 19th century, when government and charity institutions started to give out parcels of land to poor, especially those who had migrated to cities from villages looking for better employment. This helped them sustain themselves even in hard times.
- The Ogródki Działkowe grew in demand even more during the communist era in Poland, when supplies were still low although the war was over, and the harvest provided them food and income. When hard limitations were set on travel, the Poles would escape into their beautiful gardens for a breath of fresh air, and the bounty of their mini crops, for family reunions or hobby farming.
- Today the Ogródki Działkowe is nothing short of Urban Agriculture. Although not a necessity as before, a large number of Poles still spend their summers their in the nourishing surrounds of their garden. Today there are over 5000 Garden Allotments in Poland, spread over more than 40,000 hectares land.
What’s more of an interesting urban dilemma is what is happening today. With land being so expensive in many cities, and the gardens being located deep within them, the tension between “green fresh organic gardens” and ” much needed continuing urban development”, is on the rise.
Says my friend Karol Krochmal, the brain behind Spicy Elephant, a company organising off-beat bike adventures in North India :
“In some cities (Wroclaw for that matter) Ogrodki are pretty much in the city, where land is expensive and according to most, including municipality, should be dedicated to urban development. Nor surprisingly, however, owners of those areas who were given them (so not the classic case of ownership we know), started unions and want big money to give those lands back. It’s an interesting politically-economical dilemma cities have these days. The key issue here is the ownership status – theoretically the land belongs to the city and is rented out to people, but since those unionized, gained some power and now fight against the municipalities demanding full ownership. That’s what happens in Wroclaw and it’s somehow special here as the lands are strategically located in one of the most prestigious part of the city, but I guess every town has their own issues…”
I’m not a writer, but I consider myself more of a “sourcer”, and I will scrounge around until I find the best pieces of information that satisfy me. One wonderful article for your reading, if it interests you is right here and is called “Allotment Gardens : The Lungs of Urban Poland“.
Socio-economia-political dilemmas apart, every time I arrive my fiancé’s family’s Ogródki Działkowe , it is like disappearing into a little world of Alice in Wonderland, tiny, with berries and cherries and flowers, and the fresh air and the absolutely delightful feeling of eating that which has been created out of your own Labour of Love. I Hope they’re never given up.
Tip : If you know a Pole, try and invite yourself to their Garden for a sunny summer afternoon. Get something to grill if they have one. Offer to help them with their daily tending. And don’t wear expensive clothes when you are in the Garden (obviously). Breathe in lots of fresh air !