Grow Gothenburg connects gardeners with people who own unused land

Last year's Shareable article about Gothenburg as a Sharing City featured Grow Gothenburg, which had just been initiated at the time. In order to learn how this project is coming along, we talked to Jonathan Naraine, one of the people at The Foodprint Lab who started the project.

Wolfgang Hoeschele​, Shareable: How did this project get started?

Jonathan Naraine, The Footprint Lab: Doing urban farming tours around the city, we found that there were a lot of interested people, but not enough places for them to grow plants. So we wanted to enable more sharing of spaces — either green spaces, or gray spaces. In 2016, collaborating with the city of Gothenburg, we created an interactive map of local urban farming. We realized that the city has municipal land to offer for gardeners, but there is so much more land in private ownership. So we had the idea, let's make it easy for more people to share land.

How good is the fit between the land offered and the needs of the people looking for land?

We have had good matches by happenstance. Last year, we helped facilitate establishing a student farm near Chalmers University. For example, a student who was living close to the Chalmers campus happened to find us, she was just curious what's happening in Gothenburg. Within a couple of weeks, she met the group, they needed new people. She and then many more people found the community garden, when they had been on the verge of no longer functioning.

A commercial grower had been looking for space for many years, going back and forth searching for places. Then through our platform, she found municipal land that suited her very well, and she started a CSA there. This spring, we had a project with a big property owner, matching three different sites via the website. Many people have been selected to start new community gardens and commercial farms. This creates a win-win situation for the property owners by creating social and green meeting places on unused land, and people who want to farm get access to land with less investment costs.

Photo courtesy of The Foodprint Lab Architects

Is there an issue with high rents in Gothenburg?

In Gothenburg the rents are definitely high. In Sweden, if you want an allotment garden, you generally have to buy it, they cost a lot and are not accessible to everyone. On our site, we recommend property owners to have low fees. Many of them don't charge rent at all.

What are some of the important challenges you faced?

One is the setting up of the structure, how the platform works. We set it up such that we enable people to connect, but are not responsible for what happens afterward. We needed support from lawyers to ensure that this is legally sound. How to reach out to people is also an issue. Digital tools are really good, but we also need meetings to build community and spread the word — often by people who don't farm themselves.

What about your own site — do you plan to make a living from it, or do you simply want to help people share their land?

Both. Sharing is the main reason we are doing this. So we don't charge for the service. But we also want to make a living as architects, helping the urban farming community to become an integrated part of the city. We are trying to find a business model that works. Also, we are working on designs around urban farms, in the city and the surrounding rural areas. The vision is to make the whole region more self-sufficient, and to make sure that everyone who wants to farm has that opportunity.

Have other people started similar initiatives as a result of learning about your project, and do you know about their experiences?

People contacted us from Oslo, they wanted to start something similar, but it's still at a very early stage. We want things to be shared, and for this approach to spread. If anyone is interested, we are happy to help.

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