The fast pace of modern cities often leaves limited time to slow down and enjoy the little things. At the same time, our growing wealth has all but removed the need to share spaces and resources, having a profound impact on the way that we interact with our neighbours. Taste Aarhus addresses both concerns, using urban gardening as a tool to bring people together, activate underutilised spaces around the city and engage people in the practice of growing their own food. The project is run by Aarhus Municipality, with support from Nordea-Fonden (The Nordea Fund), and began in 2015. It employs a project manager, a gardener, a chef and a communications expert.
There are two types of garden project in Taste Aarhus. The first are initiatives that take place within institutions such as elderly care homes, kindergartens and assisted living facilities. These gardens are generally not open to the public and require a staff member within the institution to take a leading role.
Their main aim is supporting social opportunities and skill development for participants. In many cases they also contribute to more liveable and social neighbourhoods. The second type of gardens are community based. These are initiated and run by community members with a small amount of financial support available from Taste Aarhus in the start-up phase. To participate in the program, gardens must be democratically organised. That is, they should have a chairperson, treasurer and three other officials who support the group to reach a consensus about how the garden will function.
A second condition is that each garden must arrange a minimum of two public events per year. This is not intended to create a lot of work – events can be as simple as ‘Come and join us to pick berries and eat them in the sun’.
A final condition for participation in the project is that at least some of the food grown should be available for the general public. The latter requirements can be seen as a way for the gardens to give back – most of the community garden projects happen on public land. They are also a great way to ensure an open approach that maximises the potential for further community participation.
Taste Aarhus also includes raising awareness about edible objects growing in the wild around the city. Much of the awareness raising about the project happens in the gardens themselves and in other outdoor spaces around the city.
Community members can also access information and meet the team by visiting the Green Embassy, the centrally located, innovatively designed headquarters of the project.
At the time of writing, there were approximately 300 active gardens in the Taste Aarhus project. That such a small team can manage a portfolio of this size is credit to the core values underpinning the project. The support provided by the Taste Aarhus team is largely advisory in nature. The actual hard work of making the garden happen is up to each individual garden group to coordinate for themselves.
When it comes to financial support, each garden group is expected to submit a budget based on what they hope to achieve and the groups are generally expected to make a little go a long way. It is also important to note that support is provided primarily in the start-up phase, meaning that once they get off the ground the garden projects are largely self-sufficient.
This model facilitates a high level of ownership and has resulted in a dynamic range of projects popping up all over the city.
Taste Aarhus provides an excellent example of how, with a relatively small amount of resourcing, a municipality can leverage the existing enthusiasm of the community to create dynamic new spaces for engagement around the city. In the context of a changing climate, this work also forms an important basis for thinking about how cities can be more self-sufficient in the future.
Growing food within the city presents a great opportunity to connect people with the food-production process while at the same time reducing food miles and providing a productive outlet for organic waste.