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Urban gardening, giving help to pensioners and the unemployed

Ecological allotments at Arboretum Marbella.
Ecological allotments at Arboretum Marbella. / SUR
  • Marbella is currently setting up 1,000 urban gardens for private individuals

Urban gardening is in full swing in many countries in the world. One of the most prominent supporters of this idea was Michelle Obama, who created her own kitchen garden at the White House. She recorded her experiences in a beautifully-illustrated book entitled 'American Grown' and publicity in many well-known magazines and other media encouraged many other private individuals to devote themselves to the same purpose.

Years after her memorable visit, Marbella town hall, driven by the Departments of Sustainability, Parks and Gardens, decided to set up 1,000 small garden allotments, sized from 20 to 30 square metres, to be cultivated organically by individuals, collectives and aid organisations.

The project is based on the experiences of cities such as Barcelona and Madrid, and on what Arboretum Marbella has been doing for several years now at the Finca del Trapiche, which was given to them by the former council. In addition to the economic benefits of their mini gardens, Arboretum supports a great number of values such as the sustainable management of the environment, social cohesion, recreation, healthy eating and climate protection. The first 30 gardens were raffled free of charge in 2014 to unemployed people, social associations, schools and pensioners. At that time, 100 applicants were registered.

After two years and responding to the demand, Alejandro Oriol, founder and director of Arboretum Marbella, agreed with the town hall to set up a total of 500 urban gardens within the community area. This figure has now been doubled by the current council.

The objectives of the urban project are practically identical to those of Arboretum, but the town council also wants to support interested schools with advice and help in the development and management of their particular gardens and will involve the Department of Parks and Gardens.

Marbella is not the first town on the Costa del Sol which has adopted the principle of urban fruit and vegetable gardens. For example, Fuengirola set up a site for 23 public allotments in February 2014, despite a shortage of available land. They are exclusively worked by pensioners. "I had never had such a close connection with nature," says 68-year-old Rafael Martínez, describing his experiences as an urban gardener, and his neighbour, Inma Sánchez compared the atmosphere with that of a village square from the past. "It is here that you meet people and get to know each other, you discuss the news and have a lot of fun".

Rincón de la Victoriahas also decided to establish allotments in the town. The local council agreed last December with the regional government to implement this project at a site on the Camino Viejo de Vélez, where the Andalusian Department of Agriculture is located. The council has offered to support future allotment holders with workshops.

Vélez-Málaga, in the fertile Axarquía, and Casares, in the far west of the Costa del Sol, will also make their urban, mini-gardens available to pensioners.

Using the same concept, "Torremolinos wants to strengthen and intensify social integration and self-sufficiency, and at the same time, make a valuable contribution to education," said mayor José Ortíz.

It has been noted, especially among unemployed people especially that urban vegetable allotments seem to be a very helpful therapy for depression. "Every time I come here, I forget everything but my plants. I just concentrate on the soil, the smells and the weather conditions and forget my problems," says unemployed waiter José Mariano.

Similar statements are heard from other unemployed hobby gardeners as well.

Continued growth

In the provincial capital, use of green areas and various gardening clubs have emerged very rapidly over the past three years; they organise regular workshops, sightseeing tours and other events that further their philosophy.

In 2006, only 14 Spanish towns boosted their own municipal gardens. Seven years later, still in the middle of one of the most terrifying economic crises in history, the number of towns where allotments are cultivated has grown to 216, the number of gardens to 15,243 and the total area to over 166 hectares. In addition, during this period, several initiatives for private urban gardens have been developed.