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In the garden with: Lutz Kosack (“The edible city”)

Dr. Lutz Kosack – Photo: Stadtverwaltung Andernach

Urban agriculture, the cultivation of crop plants in the city, is currently a topic worldwide. An increasing number of urban gardeners want to grow their own vegetables and start-up companies are experimenting with determining how one can cultivate lettuce and cucumbers, etc. on roofs and on factory floors. A pioneering role in this movement is played by the small town of Andernach on the Rhine, Germany. In 2010 they started planting vegetable gardens and fruit trees in public green spaces in keeping with the motto “The edible city” (“Die essbare Stadt”). Co-initiator of the project was Dr. Lutz Kosack from the Urban Planning Office. He is also a lecturer at the University of Bonn at the Institute for Crop Plant Sciences and Resource Protection.

Mr Kosack, the “The edible city” project is a true success story. Did you see this coming when you started in 2010?

Kosack: Nobody could have anticipated the development that this project has experienced. Up until 8 years ago, the public green spaces in Andernach looked just like everywhere else: lawns and classic flower and plant beds. It was our idea to put an end to the uniform green color, to bring crop plants back into the city, to present them with all their differences and to make biodiversity experienceable for people. In the first year, for example, we cultivated 101 ´different types of tomatoes. Medlar, pomegranate and much more now grows along the old castle walls …and one can find chard or kale in the beds, types of vegetables with a high decorative quality. This is because it is important to people that the green areas of the city remain attractive. There is a focal theme each year. Sometimes it’s bulb plants, sometimes beans, or even hops. In this way, long-forgotten species return to Andernach, the preservation of which everyone can contribute to: we even call upon residents to take the fruits and seeds of the rare sorts with them and plant them in their own garden.

Andernach, Germany: “The edible city” – Photo: Stadtverwaltung Andernach

Right from the start it was not only city employees that carried out the gardening work, but also the long-term unemployed and volunteers. Of course, there were also skeptics at first, who warned of vandalism. However, instead of putting up “Access prohibited” signs, we simply said “Picking allowed“. This was well-received by residents and prompted increased interest in the project. In addition to the designing of the green spaces, we also set up planters in front of the businesses in the town center of Andernach. These always make some reference to the surrounding businesses: thus, for example, one finds the appropriate herbs in front of the Greek restaurant, and carrots are cultivated in front of the optician, because they are said to promote good vision. These planters are very popular and the business owners are happy to assume responsibility for their care. People in Andernach now identify completely with the “The edible city“ project, and it plays an important role in many areas of the social life of the community.

The project also met with enthusiasm not only from the residents of Andernach …

Kosack: Yes, the media interest was incredible. There were reports on TV, in countless daily newspapers, magazines such as “Spiegel” or women’s magazines like “Brigitte”. Even “The Wall Street Journal“ and “The Telegraph” reported on it. That was of course fantastic for city marketing. Whereby, I have to say, some of the reports were exaggerated: the impression was made that Andernach was a “fairy tale town”, to which anyone could travel and harvest all of its vegetables … Of course, Andernach has also been visited by many interested people and groups in recent years – there were 170 tours in 2017 alone. The people don’t come only from Germany. There were also delegations from Austria, Switzerland, the USA, Japan, Morocco, Australia, Canada or Japan. And final papers in various disciplines have in the meantime been written about the project at 60 universities. There are also currently deliberations to work together in future with various cities around the world that want to establish similar projects.

Andernach, Germany: “The edible city” – Photo: Stadtverwaltung Andernach

Those who get to know it quickly note how excited they still are about the “The edible city” project, and what pleasure they experience from the diversity of crop plants. Are you also an enthusiastic gardener in your private life?

Kosack: Principally, yes. However, because of a move I presently don’t have my own garden. We are looking for a new apartment, and of course then one with a garden. A piece of land behind the house, which I can plant and harvest myself, does enrich my life. Now that I don’t have this, I increasingly notice how important the public green spaces in the city are, especially for people who don’t have their own garden.


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