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    Reconnecting with nature
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    Community Garden in Podgorica
    Urbana Basta Podgorica - A Community Garden in the Capital of Montenegro
    Urbana Basta Podgorica is the largest in-situ community garden in Europe,with 10,000 m2 of endemic and exotic trees, shrubs, fruit and vegetables. Located in the Montenegrin capital’s Tološi Forest,the garden is cared for following the 12 principles of permaculture, by volunteers of all ages and social backgrounds.The area used to be known as the “Thorn field”. Now it provides organic food for the volunteers and for disadvantaged families, access to nature and increased biodiversity in the city.
    Mainly urban
    It refers to a physical transformation of the built environment (hard investment)
    As a representative of an organisation
    • Name of the organisation(s): Paradigma NGO
      Type of organisation: Non-profit organisation
      First name of representative: Brit
      Last name of representative: Boone
      Gender: Prefer not to say
      Nationality: United States
      Function: Director of Paradigma NGO, Founder of Urbana Basta Podgorica
      Address (country of permanent residence for individuals or address of the organisation)<br/>Street and number: Cetinjski Put BB, PC Krusevac
      Town: Podgorica
      Postal code: 81000
      Country: Montenegro
      Direct Tel: +382 67 017 517
    Social Media
  • Description of the project
    The Urbana Basta Podgorica (UBP), or Podgorica urban garden, has been designed for the well-being of the city. It is a multipurpose project led by and for Podgorica’s citizens and visitors. The UBP is equally about bringing beauty and a healthy environment to the central part of the city - a place open to everyone and where community events can be held; an opportunity for people of all ages to learn gardening and other skills; a space where organic foods are grown for the disadvantaged and for the garden’s volunteers; an aid in reducing the city’s heat-island effect and mitigating the impacts of climate change; and a driver of increased biodiversity.

    At just over 10,000 m2, the UBP is the largest in-situ community garden in Europe. The concept is based on permaculture gardening principles, employing a number of old and new practices that maximize nature, diversity and output, while eliminating chemicals and inorganic processes.

    A unique concept for European community garden design, the garden’s symbiotic plan incorporates both food forest and market garden areas. The food forest has a wide range of endemic and exotic trees, shrubs and ground foliage, creating a multilayered canopy. The trees are mostly fruit or nut-bearing, as food production is a primary driver of community well-being. The market garden is a collective effort that provides year-round harvest for disadvantaged families, distributed through local humanitarian organizations, and for garden volunteers. This area hosts a 24 m2 greenhouse, shading structures, automated watering and compost bins.
    The UBP has been designed with the goal of creating a self-sufficient, sustainable human/agricultural ecosystem. It has been built on the basis of the 12 permaculture principles, which form the foundation of its sustainable and inclusive approach. Several of the principles and resulting actions have a far-reaching impact on UBP's sustainability. Principles 5 and 6, for instance, are to "use and value renewable resources and services" and "produce no waste." These principles are in full effect both in the food forest and in the garden areas. For example, all living pine trees were left in place, dead pine trees were chipped or used as seating or mulch. Needing wind protection, a wide range of trees and bushes were plantes, which provide more and more diverse organic materials as well as annual harvestable organics. The multilayered canopy developed through tall trees, shorter fruit trees, various bushes and plants provides shade and improved conditions for water management.

    Going beyond producing no waste to reusing waste, loads of cardboard were taken from refuse for setting up no-dig vegetation that is perennial in the forest and annual in the garden areas. Mushroom compost was brought in from a mushroom farm as a compost starter. Plant residual is being recycled in various compost strategies, along with coffee waste from multiple coffee shops, kitchen scraps brought in by garden volunteers, and occasionally, waste from a local donkey farm. Cover crops are utilized throughout the forest area and in some garden places to increase organic material. Also, with use of clovers, alfalfa, peas, beans that are nitrogen fixing and or nutrient regenerators, we are creating additional in-situ green compost and adding nutrient dense materials to compost bins.
    UBP is conceived as a space in which diverse flora and people thrive. From afar, observers see a tour-de-force of nature. Stepping into the garden, visitors are met with walkways shaded by a bevy of trees and experience the calm of the garden and its microclimate. The garden shelters people from the activity, noise, wind and, in summer months, the heat of the city. Functionally, the garden is volunteer-based, providing a year-round opportunity for volunteering, unstructured garden therapy, spending leisure time and community gatherings.

    The garden comprises a hectare of thriving organic space, with 300+ trees, shrubs and vines. It is the most diverse, food-producing public space in the country. With a wide range of fruit and nut trees as well as multiple evergreen and deciduous non-food-bearing varieties, the arboreal diversity is unique. The microclimate within the garden enables flora diversity to span from zones 6 to 9, or apples and plums to oranges and lemons. The tree design simulates a wild forest area, provides a growing wind barrier around the perimeter, and enhances the community experience. An orchard of varied species of apple trees have been planted in a radial format, using the espalier pruning method to create hedge rows. This future fruit-bearing shade extends out from a performance area, where public events can be hosted in a nature dome.

    Further inside the garden and scattered through the forest are a range of perennials and annuals both common variants and unique flowers, foods and medicinal plants. Selected to attract pollinators, improve soil and provide food, the variety of food-producing plants is also unique for the country. Strawberry, pumpkin and melon patches are strategically located in the food forest along with a range of greens for sampling by pedestrians. The market garden area provides a structured, appealing food production area. The green towers in the greenhouse and rows of crops attract visitors and thinkers for a spell.
    As a community garden, the goal is for the project to be accessible for the entire society. Likewise, the project should be beneficial for all. The tagline for the Urbana Basta Podgorica is: "Growing food. Developing people. Building community." All of these objectives require expansive participation as the garden is completely volunteer-led and facilitated.

    Weather permitting, weekly volunteer actions provide the bulk of labor to prepare and maintain the UBP. These are open to people of all ages, ethnicities, religions, genders and sexual orientations. A number of children participate in most actions through direct involvement in planting trees or plants, harvesting, or through play - a game of tag or climbing dirt piles. UBP is about production, but also about kids driving wheelbarrows and teens swinging pickaxes to plant trees. We celebrate seniors helping plant vertical towers and couples planting a rosebush or caring for a tree. While the UBP actions have had as many as 60 volunteers at a session, the average was around 20 people on a weekly basis. Often the actions will include whole families or a parent with kids.

    UBP is possible through collaboration between Podgorica's city government, Paradigma and other NGOs, pro bono work from MDTR Architecture, and donations from local businesses. Volunteers do not incur any costs for participation in the weekly actions. When harvest is available, volunteers are encouraged to take produce with them. Bulk harvests go to provide for socially disadvantaged people in the city. This brings a social justice purpose to the garden.

    The garden gates are open on weekends or during the week depending on weather, logistics and volunteer scheduling. UBP encourages people to take a stroll in the garden, practice some forest bathing or read in a hammock in the trees. Public, non-garden events like concerts or movie night will be held in the UBP food forest this year.
    Citizens benefit from the UBP in a range of ways including: volunteerism, garden therapy, education, nutritional benefits for volunteer families, food supply for the city's socially disadvantaged and community enrichment.

    Excluding the infrastructure buildout completed by the city and the metalwork and water system installation commissioned by Paradigma NGO, the entire food forest and market garden were installed, planted and maintained by volunteers. A total of 742 volunteer days have been invested from inception through January 2023. Additional to this are the hours volunteers have spent watering and providing other services outside of planned volunteer days. This easily accounts for an additional 250+ volunteer days. In a culture that has been slow to embrace volunteerism, this is a significant accomplishment. The benefits for UBP volunteers are numerous including parents teaching their kids, volunteers sharing about the psychological benefits of having quiet time in nature while weeding or watering trees, and the endorphins generated for participants seeing directly how they were helping disadvantaged peoples.

    Food harvests have been sizable even in the first year. Through the time of application, 180 containers of vegetables were harvested. This does not include the fresh berries that went straight from the plant to a happy volunteer, the cantaloupes and watermelons that were reserved for volunteers after each summer volunteer day, or the pumpkins that would break the crates. Also not counted are the single-container harvests that have been encouraged to facilitate volunteers taking more food home for the well-being of their families and neighbors. UBP has conducted a big harvest at least once per month for distribution to the local food bank or soup kitchen. These donated harvests impact up to 80 families per month.

    Concerts and nature time are community impact outside of direct involvement.
    The Urbana Basta Podgorica project began with a couple who had started a private community garden just outside the city limits. Though they had sought to work with the city to get some land for the endeavor, the opportunity did not come together for a number of years. Basta Ekologica (Ecological Garden) grew in name and influence, though the number of participants was low and inconsistent. Conversations between the founder of Basta Ekologica, the lead team of Paradigma NGO, and the designers from MDTR Architecture, and with the mayor's office became promising. A design was prepared by MDTR with input from Basta Ekologica and Paradigma.

    In December of 2021, the Director of Paradigma NGO, Brit Boone, and the mayor of Podgorica, Ivan Vukovic, signed an agreement for 5 years that may be extended. The agreement was for the infrastructure of the UBP to be built by the city, according to MDTR's design. Infrastructure included fencing, lighting, pathways and a water well. The city was also to provide a small operating budget. Paradigma NGO was to construct a greenhouse, provide the vertical towers for the greenhouse, and manage the garden for the 5-year period. Paradigma has since added the drip watering system and shade cover structures for the garden area. Approximately 60% of the trees came from the operating budget, but the additional trees and many seeds and seedlings have come from corporate cash and in-kind donations. Also, a number of restaurants, bakeries and coffee shops have contributed food for volunteers and waste for compost.

    The level of cooperation to date is what has made it possible to realize this project. The participation of an array of stakeholders allowed regulation compliance, community buy-in, maximum creativity, and the tenacity required for the UBP to take shape. Moving forward, the lead team continues to seek ways to maximize stakeholder involvement and participation.
    This project has benefitted from inputs in the areas of agriculture, permaculture design, project implementation and marketing PR. At its core, this is a nature project that centers on food production through a managed garden and a less-tended food forest. With experience in multiple agricultural endeavors, the leadership of Basta Ekologika - the first community garden in Montenegro - and Paradigma NGO worked together to conceive the ideal elements for a new community garden concept. After a number of meetings and drawings with the concept team and the city mayor's staff, the architects Boris Radunovic and Ana Curk from MDTR Architecture began to develop the blueprints. After several back-and-forth consultations between the Podgorica City architect, Parks & Recreation leadership, MDTR Architecture, Basta Ekologika, and Paradigma, the plan was agreed upon. Critical disciplines for this included the agriculture experience of the original team, familiarity with permaculture by all parties, the city's compliance expertise, and a commitment by the implementing team to risk making small mistakes in order to accomplish forward movement.

    With experience executing complex projects, the Paradigma team oversaw the infrastructure implementation of the project with the City of Podgorica. While the electric lines and paths were being prepared, the first volunteer day was called to begin planting the trees to develop the food forest. At this time the project also gained an adjunct arborist volunteer from a local embassy, Andrew Richley. The Paradigma team has also provided digital marketing and public relations to attract and manage local and national media inquiries, local influencers, and develop interest stories.
    UBP is strategically located at the end of a row of parks in the city. With a sports park nearby and adjacent to a dog park on the east, and with a recycling center on the west, the community garden provides a unique biodiverse area that blends into this strategic greening strip. But the UBP project also gives a unique assist with current efforts to make the city more integrated with nature.

    The requisite hardscapes have been installed and techniques employed to produce a sizable harvest of non-certified organic produce year-round using regenerative agriculture techniques. Results should increase over the first years as land conditions and management improve, and as fruit and nut trees mature. Through January 2023, UBP can report:
    * 752 volunteer days given (minimum of 2 hours, does not include individual volunteer actions or informal evening activities with multiple visitors)
    * 334 trees, shrubs and vines planted (some loss that is still being replaced make 300 a realistic number of living organisms)
    * 5,500+ seeds or seedlings planted
    * 180 containers of food harvested (does not include pumpkins, watermelons, cantaloupes or berries)

    Garden participants represent the citizens who live in the capital city. The UBP leadership team consists of 4 nationalities, with half of the lead team being local citizens. A hands-on volunteer network continues to grow, forming a learning and sharing community. To date, UBP activities have attracted people from 6 continents and numerous countries.

    Multiple grade school groups and extracurricular clubs have taken field trips to the garden. The first garden concert was held for UBP volunteers in 2022, but 2023 will see the first large-scale events taking place in the UBP food forest. The first community-wide coffee was held on New Year's Day. Community impact has been significant already, but it will grow in the years ahead as the flora infrastructure and lore of the UBP grow.
    The UBP project is different from most other community gardens in Europe in 3 aspects: scale, design and purpose.
    First, at 10,500 m2, UBP is the largest in-situ community garden initiative in Europe to date. Paris has a garden that is larger, but it is located on a rooftop. The scale of this project allows UBP to create a strong impression on city residents that it is making a substantive investment in bringing the brilliance of nature to an urban area.

    Second, UBP stands unique in its design. Most European community gardens that our team has encountered are based on a plot allocation model. This is a great model to utilize exposed areas in cities, but it does not promote the diversity or unified concept of the integrated effort of the UBP. The sprawling food forest and market garden areas allow visitors to engage with nature that seems more wild at first and then more planned at scale. With the broad diversity of flora, something is always growing or putting on a worthwhile display for visitors to observe. The permaculture design also impacts the nature of the project. Managing a forest and market garden requires a more integrated, collaborative effort than allocating plots for individuals to manage for personal benefit. The UBP effort comes from a diverse community for the benefit of the whole community. As a regenerative project, it is a sustainable environmental feature.

    Third, the purpose of UBP makes it an innovative concept. A diverse lead team facilitates a host of volunteers from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds. This community-led effort opens opportunities for residents to participate and/or recreate in a special place. Volunteers benefit with a wide range of non-certified organic foods for the health and well-being of their family and neighbors, while the socially disadvantaged and the organizations serving them are assisted with fresh produce on a monthly basis.
    UBP's methodologies for working with people and for managing the community garden, can be summarized in the same way: this is an effort to grow individuals and organics. Our team facilitates and cultivates opportunities for people and produce to flourish. We seek to nourish community and flora so that all will thrive.

    For managing the garden, the overarching philosophy is the 12 principles of permaculture. These have been applied from the earliest conceptualization and design through the annual implementation. Using unconventional planting patterns that avoid monoculture, the UBP food forest mitigates pest and disease events that devastate traditional orchards. Also, our diverse species selection will yield fruit crops from trees, bushes and vines 8 months of the year. There are more than 30 species of trees in a layered, productive food forest containing not only fruit trees, but also ornamentals to enhance permaculture functionality in the areas of diversity, wind protection, soil improvement and increased organic content to improve conditions on an annual basis. The garden area also employs multi-speciation as a strategy for bug control as well as water and sun management. The garden area produces vegetables year round using a range of techniques and installed infrastructure.

    As a subset of permaculture, the practices of regenerative agriculture and no-dig gardening are core concepts that give clear direction on the "how to” issues of management. The regenerative agriculture theme has been studied extensively by key leaders through the teachings of Joel Salatin and Richard Perkins. The no-dig techniques have been obtained through published content and interactions with Charles Dowding and Steph Hafferty. These concepts include a wide range of topics including crop management, carbon capture, composting, silvopasture, consecutive planting, etc.
    Several elements of the UBP could be replicated or transferred to other places, beneficiaries and context. These include:
    - The holistic approach to sustainable food production, which incorporates elements of environmental sustainability, community engagement and inclusive design.
    - The multidisciplinary approach to design, which integrates urban agriculture, permaculture, architecture, community development and environmental science.
    - Regenerative agricultural principles in practice on a large-scale community garden consisting of a food forest and/or market garden and/or garden allotments.
    - Community engagement and participation throughout the planning and implementation stages empower the community and help to ensure that the project meets their needs and that they have a sense of ownership and pride in the garden.
    - The use of composting facilities and a range of composting practices to recycle community waste and repurpose all organic materials toward the purpose of eliminating the need to import organic materials while improving soil conditions as well as produce quality and volume.
    - The use of urban nature-centered gathering spaces, including small informal gatherings and public event opportunities.
    - The use of monitoring and evaluation to track the progress and impact of the project.
    - A food-production focus that benefits volunteers and the socially disadvantaged with new and healthy food options in order to help build a stronger community.
    - Infrastructure design such as the 3-ply lexan greenhouse construction and vertical garden towers that enable year-round growth in a small footprint area for use in high-density urban centers or to assist with food production assistance for the disadvantaged.
    - Food security – The UBP project addresses the challenge of food security by creating sustainable food production and providing fresh, healthy food for the local community. This helps to ensure that everyone has access to nutritious food and reduces dependence on imported food and problems that arise with complex supply chains.
    - Food quality – Time from harvest to table, elimination of traditional farming practices in favor of organic, regenerative practices eliminate herbicides, pesticides, plastics and other negative components in food while maximizing nutrients. This can have a major impact on human psychology and physiology.
    - Community development – Fostering volunteerism, education, nature-based recreation and beautification, all aiding in the development of healthy communities.
    - Urbanization challenges – The UBP project addresses a number of urban issues including:
    * Providing a green space that promotes biodiversity and provides a sense of community in the heart of the city, providing clear messaging on what a city values. UBP spaces include walking pathways, a place for small meetings, informal gatherings, and a concert venue.
    * Minimizing heat-island effects is an important element of any park or nature spot. An additional impact coefficient can be studied with time with the biodiversity and multi-level canopy that the UBP is already growing.
    - Climate change – Through carbon capture techniques, including no-dig methodology, composting, and recycling commercial kitchen waste, as well as robust bio-diversity, the UBP project is a model and aid in helping address climate change.
    - Poverty – The UBP project addresses poverty through food production for socially disadvantaged persons in partnership with the humanitarian organizations seeking to address food justice.
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