Just a reminder: The role of urban gardens, family gardens and school gardens.


My publication in January 2010:


by Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem (Ghent University, Belgium)

The role of urban gardens, family gardens and school gardens (Willem Van Cotthem / IRIN / FAO)

For years we have been promoting family gardens (kitchen gardens) and school gardens, not to mention hospital gardens, in the debate on alleviation of hunger and poverty.  We have always insisted on the fact that development aid should concentrate on initiatives to boost food security through family gardens instead of food aid on which the recipients remain dependent. Since the nineties we have shown that community gardens in rural villages, family gardens in refugee camps and school gardens, where people and children grow their own produce, are better off than those who received food from aid organizations at regular intervals.

2007 – Family garden in Smara refugee camp (S.W. Algeria, Sahara desert), where people never before got local fresh food to eat

Locally produced fresh vegetables and fruits play a tremendously important role in the daily diet of all those hungry people in the drylands.  Take for instance the possibility of having a daily portion of vitamins within hand reach.  Imagine the effect of fresh food on malnutrition of the children.  Imagine the feelings of all those women having their own kitchen garden close to the house, with some classical vegetables and a couple of fruit trees.

No wonder that hundreds of publications indicate the success of allotment gardens in periods of food crisis.  See what happened during World War I and II, when so many  families were obliged to produce some food on a piece of land somewhere to stay alive.  In those difficult days allotment gardens were THE solution.  They still exist and become more and more appealing in times of food crisis.

2008-10-25 – Allotment gardens Slotenkouter (Ghent City, Belgium) at the end of the growing season

There was no surprise at all to read, since a few years that is, about a new movement in the cities : guerilla gardening.  Sure, different factors intervene in these urban initiatives, be it environmental factors (embellishing open spaces full of weeds in town) or social ones (poor people growing vegetables on small pieces of barren land in the cities).

Today, some delightful news was published by IRIN :”Liberia: Urban gardens to boost food security” :

“MONROVIA, 19 January 2010 (IRIN) – Farmers are turning to urban gardens as a way to boost food security in Liberia’s Montserrado County, where just one percent of residents grow their own produce today compared to 70 percent before the war.


The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is targeting 5,000 urban residents of Montserrado, Bomi, Grand Bassa, Bong and Margibi counties, to encourage them to start market gardens or increase the amount of fruit and vegetables they grow on their farms. Participants had to have access to tools and some land.  The aim is to improve food security and nutritional status while boosting incomes, said project coordinator Albert Kpassawah. Participants told IRIN they plant hot peppers, cabbage, calla, tomatoes, onions, beans and ground nuts. Health and nutrition experts in Liberia say increasing fruit, vegetables and protein in people’s diets is vital to reducing chronic malnutrition, which currently affects 45 percent of under-fives nationwide.


FAO assists primarily by providing seeds and training in techniques such as conserving rainwater and composting. The organization does not provide fertilizer, insecticides or tools – a concern to some participants. “You cannot grow cabbage without insecticide. It doesn’t work,” Anthony Nackers told IRIN.  Vermin, insects and poor storage destroy 60 percent of Liberia’s annual harvest, according to FAO.  And many of the most vulnerable city-dwellers – those with no access to land – cannot participate at all, FAO’s Kpassawah pointed out. But he said he hopes the project’s benefits will spread beyond immediate participants, since all who take part are encouraged to pass on their training to relatives, neighbours and friends.  And there is ample scope to expand techniques learned from cities to rural areas, he pointed out. Just one-third of Liberia’s 660,000 fertile hectares are being cultivated, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.


Let us express our sincere hopes that FAO will soon be able to show to all aid organizations that sufficient food production can be secured by the population of any developing country.  What is possible in urban areas of Liberia can be duplicated in any other country.  What can be achieved in urban gardens, can also be done in rural family gardens.  Why should we continue to discuss the alarming problem of those vulnerable children suffering or even starving from chronic malnutrition, if  school gardens can be a good copy of the successful urban gardens in Liberia?

Don’t we underestimate the role container gardening can play in food production (seehttps://containergardening.wordpress.com) and the pleasure children can find in growing fruit trees and vegetables in plastic bottles.  Pure educational reality !

We count on FAO to take the lead : instead of spending billions on “permanent” food aid, year after year, it would be an unlimited return on investment if only a smaller part would be reserved to immediate needs in times of hunger catastrophes, but the major part spent at the world-wide creation of urban and rural family gardens.

We remain in FAO’s save hands. We wonder what keeps United Nations to envisage a “Global Programme for Food Security” based on the creation of kitchen gardens for the one billion daily hungry people who know that we have this solution in hand.  Let us spend more available resources on “Defense”, the one against hunger and poverty!


Back in 2009: If they do it in Washington, D.C. and Sulphur, LA, why don’t we do it in the drylands ? (Google / GW Hachet)


In September 2009 I wrote:


by Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem (Ghent University, Belgium)


If students of the George Washington University in Washington D.C. can do it in the street “to teach people who and where their food comes from through service learning.“, and people in Sulphur, LA are laying out a community garden, why don’t we construct a vegetable garden for every hungry family in the drylands?  Wouldn’t that be the best investment ever to combat desertification and hunger in this world?

I hope this idea will be picked up by many student organisations and NGOs before the international agencies are taking the initiative to launch a “world programme on vegetable gardens“.

After all, if all over the world the so-called “guerilla gardening“-movement, allotment gardening and community gardening (see some former postings on this blog) shows that people react upon the food crisis by creating their own vegetable gardens at any available open space in the cities, time has come for decision makers to officialise this guerilla movement and multiply the small vegetable gardens at the largest possible scale.

As no special skills are needed, small kitchen gardens can be created everywhere in rural areas, but also in urban environment.

All those in favour, raise your hand (and your voice).

Willem Van Cotthem

‘Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the totality of those acts will be written the history of this generation.’

John F Kennedy


Read at : Google Alert – gardening




Read at : Google Alert – drought


Local food in urban gardens in Mexico City

Photo credit: Food Tank

Mexico City’s thriving local food system emphasizes sustainable urban agriculture.

10 Unique Urban Agriculture Projects in Mexico City

Mexico City gets a bad rap as one of the world’s largest and most polluted cities—but there’s more to the story than smog and soot. A thriving urban agriculture movement has developed among residents seeking a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle. Here are 10 of the most creative and innovative projects transforming the local food system in Mexico City.

Read the full article: Food Tank


Drought-hit hungry households could easily grow food in containers

Photo credit : WVC P1070394 – 2011-09

Vegetables and herbs grown in 8 weeks time on bottle towers

A simple solution for the global hunger problem

by Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem (University of Ghent, Belgium)

Container gardening has become a universal success.  Nowadays people are growing their own fresh food in all sorts of containers (bottles, buckets, pots, bags, sacks, drums, gutters, …).

More and more people are aware of the fact that families do not need a big garden anymore to produce a sufficient quantity of food.  Today, all over the world people are gardening in small spaces, often applying vertical growing systems, e.g. on towers or on pallets.

Growing food in containers on pallets (a vertical garden in a small space) - Photo WVC  P1110546 - 2014-10
Growing food in containers on pallets (a vertical garden in a small space) – Photo WVC P1110546 – 2014-10

In 2010 I have developed my first “bottle towers”, using superposed soda bottles and food grade pots to grow lots of vegetables and herbs.

The success of this simple and cheap technique to help hungry or malnourished people to fresh food and herbs can easily be measured on the basis of numbers of views of my videos, showing how to build the towers (in English and Spanish).

Should you want to convince yourself about the global applicability of this low-tech method and the affordability for all the drought-hit families, please check out my videos:

(1) Building a bottle tower for container gardening  (332,281 views):


(2) HOW TO BUILD A BOTTLE TOWER (142,712 views):




(4) Cómo cultivar plantas en botellas (258,111 views):


(5) BOTTLE TOWER GARDENS  (1,427,421 views):


(6) HOW TO GROW PLANTS IN BOTTLES (196,989 views):


(7) Growing food in containers at home (321,100 views):


(8) Growing plants in a barrel  (268,663 views):



The future of rooftop gardens

Photo credit: Pictures.Dot.News

New York’s Riverpark Farm

Citizens Take Back Power in the Food System


In their article entitled Deepening Food Democracy, Jill Carlson and M. Jahi Chappell highlight an innovative new take on democratic rule, known as deep democracy that is being used to address the problems in the food system. In theory, deep democracy is a system of governance in which all voices must be heard in order to fully understand and act upon a current issue. Instead of rule by a simple majority, deep democracy is accessible to everyone. It particularly ensures that marginalized and minority populations are involved and heard in the process of creating policy and implementing change. No issue, even the most divisive, is off-limits, according to the authors: in smaller, local contexts there is less emphasis on winning or losing, less expectation that everyone will agree. Instead, say Carlson and Chappell, the deep democracy formats allow for all citizens to share knowledge and experiences and engage in valuable compromises that result in the best scenario for the most people.

So while vertical farm concepts are to be applauded, their construction deserves much more.

New York has been the focus of intensive urban planning, especially in relation to urban farming. Fantastic concepts have been designed that create imagery of giant lush vertical forests, and amazing futuristic spaces, all of which have a very distinct focus on the US city. Perhaps because of its chic nature, stereotypically trendy population and dense population, New York has become something of a Mecca for urban farm concepts.

What some designers are missing in the maze of bright greens and blues of stylish concept images, is that for some time now, New Yorkers have been making the most of their extensive rooftop space and creating their own ground up rooftop farming systems.



Read the full article: FoodTank


Many Bangaloreans (India) are turning to gardening to beat stress and veggie prices (The Hindu)

Read at :


Don’t just go green, grow green


Do tomatoes, instead of onions, bring tears to your eyes? Are you uneasy about all those chemicals in your veggies? Do you ache to bring a green relief from the concrete eyesores that hem you in? Perhaps a solution could be turning a corner of your home into a kitchen garden.

Garden City has always had gardening enthusiasts. But, as gracious homes with vast backyards make way for glass-and-chrome edifices, Bangaloreans are looking at more modest spaces to have a go at gardening. So today’s green thumbs have a go at it through vegetable and fruit patches they grow in their backyards, terraces and even balconies. Kitchen gardens don’t cost much and don’t require a lot of time too. Depending on the varieties you want to grow, just an initial investment of Rs. 2,000 can get to started.




A small kitchen garden for citizens with a small backyard, a tremendous tool to alleviate child malnutrition and hunger, a successful tactic to avoid high food prices. Fresh food growing in recycled boxes, pots and buckets.  For anyone anywhere !



My new experimental pallet garden in Zaffelare, Belgium, with various containers and a lot of vegetables (Photo WVC)
My new experimental pallet garden in Zaffelare, Belgium, with various containers and a lot of vegetables – Check out my album, see link above this photo  (Photo WVC)

Kerala’s growing obsession with vegetable farming in homes (The Caravan)

Read at :


Terrace Farming

Kerala’s growing obsession with vegetable farming in homes


ON A RECENT TRIP to my hometown Thalassery, in Kerala, I set out of my parents’ house to do the rounds of my relatives’ houses, as one is expected to do on such visits. At the house of one aunt, I enquired politely after the health of the flower garden in her front yard. “This is nothing,” she said, before grabbing me by the hand and leading me up the stairs behind the house. “The best things are here now,” she declared when we had reached the back terrace. On the cramped terrace lay 25 white sacks filled with fresh amaranthus, green chillies, tomatoes, brinjal, ladies’ fingers and green beans. “Try my vegetables,” my aunt said. “After that, your Delhi vegetables won’t suit you.”

My aunt’s pet project had always been her flower garden; this passion for homegrown vegetables was new. But she wasn’t alone—I found that everyone I visited either had a vegetable garden, or was planning to start one. Vegetable plants had even become a hot topic of conversation, their growth, health and, sometimes, death discussed with the kind of excitement usually reserved for the rise and fall of gold prices.

This was surprising, since Kerala has over the past few decades moved away from its traditional farming culture. A 2001 report of the state’s Department of Agriculture had noted that 68 percent of vegetables traded in the state came from the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Many men and women of my parents’ generation had worked in white-collar jobs, and let their ancestral land lie fallow, never really seeing farming as a source of a regular food supply. The occasional household terrace garden was enough of a novelty to feature as a story in Grihalakshmi or Vanitha, popular fortnightlies aimed at women. In the last few years, these gardens appear to have become commonplace.

The present change has its origins in a Rs. 7 crore project run by the central-government-funded State Horticulture Mission (SHM), termed ‘vegetable initiative for urban clusters’. In Kerala, the project aims to produce, in the current financial year, 22,500 tonnes of vegetables, worth Rs. 33.75 crore, through rooftop cultivation in urban areas, and an additional 18,698 tonnes of vegetables, worth Rs. 28 crore, in peri-urban areas.

– See more at: http://caravanmagazine.in/lede/terrace-farming#sthash.ot4J7GAy.dpuf