By Karlijn Bos
Karlijn completed her first semester in Strasbourg before attending the University of Uppsala in the second semester. In the following guest article, she describes the realisation of a community garden in Uppsala as project of the course Eurocompetence II in her second semester.
Eurocompetence II might feel like a distant future for some, while it is a long-closed chapter for others. The course, part of the Euroculture curriculum, is taught in the second semester and focuses on project management. Whereas the course is part of the schedule of all eight consortium universities, the structure varies across universities. Although this project has some criteria, there is a lot of room for innovative thought and creativity. In this article we present to you how a course like Eurocompetence II can lead to practical implementation and actual change in a community, like with our project in Uppsala, Sweden!
The need for a community garden
So: with the desired outcome of successful project management, we commenced.
But in this context, why then establish a community garden? Simply put: Sweden is expensive, especially if you’re a student on a low budget. Even though the university and its nations provide many cheaper opportunities, getting around is difficult, even more so if you want to have something called a “social life.” The recent increase in pricing over the past couple of months stressed this even more. To prevent students from having to eat dry pasta at the end of every month, the idea was that a community garden would be the perfect place to pick up your own groceries – for free!
Another reason for the need for a community garden is that Swedish winters get very dark and cold. This causes people to go inside more (obviously, who is an outside person with -10 degrees?). However, the spring and summer can be quite enjoyable, so we thought the garden would be an excellent place for students to mingle and make new friends—people they might often not meet during their studies or parties. Who doesn’t make lifelong friends while struggling in the mud and gathering food like the cavemen we are?!
Finally, all fits perfectly into Sweden’s reputation as a climate-friendly country, and particularly that of Uppsala. With that, the idea of our Eurocompetence II project was created!
So, a community garden. Sounds simple, right? Well, initially, not really.
The first great, not unimportant detail: all four of us did not know the slightest thing about gardening (yes, this is really smart when it forms the basis of your project…), let alone gardening in a generally cold country like Sweden. The initial stage of our project was therefore finding out everything about gardening and, more importantly, on what is needed to create a successful garden where you can grow your own vegetables.
We then had to do some practical research, which led to the discovery that there are actually a lot of obstacles you face when creating a project like this. Where are you going to do it? Who is going to finance it? Who would be responsible, given the fact that we would all leave Uppsala again after June?
With all these questions buzzing in our heads, we decided that we would play it safe. It was perhaps a bit naïve to think that we could show up out of nowhere, create a garden and then just leave again. The biggest problem, or so we thought, would be the bureaucratic procedure for obtaining funds and municipal approval to develop it. Also: by the time we came to this point, it was already April, and all of us would leave in June.
Therefore, we decided to shift the focus to creating a blueprint. This blueprint would contain all the information people could possibly need to create a community garden, regardless of where they would live – thinking about what to buy, or who to contact.
With a little less enthusiasm than before, we presented this project during class. However, our professor pushed us to contact Heimstaden anyway, the organization that is in charge of the different flats in Uppsala. The thought behind it was that even if we did not get the project approved, we would be able to get some input on our ideas from a professional organization. And so we contacted them, and we were able to schedule a meeting with them.
Truth be told: we did not actually have any expectations when going into the meeting. Even more truthfully, we just wanted to have some input for our project so that we demonstrate that a community garden could potentially, in a far far future, work.
Even with such low expectations, we still presented our plan and our concepts. However, only after 5 minutes of the meeting, the representatives of Heimstaden said, “Let’s do it!” We were amazed by their enthusiasm for our suggestions. They actually wanted to implement our ideas and came up with a lot of additional suggestions themselves.
All our initial worries about time, money and bureaucratic processes were immediately taken away. They would handle all the expenses and even do all the necessary shopping for us. And – the best part – they told us that we could turn the garden into a rooftop garden by building it on one of the Flogsta rooftops! All we would have to do is create a list of the goods required and begin the process of finding managers and volunteers for the garden.
We then found out that Heimstaden was actually already in the process of finding a way to connect better with the students. Our project came exactly at the right time!
In the end…
As a result, we got to work and began looking for people who wanted to be involved in the garden and, even more importantly, project managers who would take over the management of the garden when we left Uppsala. Again, the response was overwhelmingly good – even some of our fellow Euroculture students participated (shoutout to Bart!). We even had to reject people to work in the garden, because we decided to only take on a specific amount of volunteers.
After having recruited everyone, Heimstaden did all the shoppings and we worked a few afternoons to start up the garden.
The end result? A beautiful garden on top of building 11 in Flogsta, free fruits and vegetables for the volunteers and a community that is supported by the project managers! And, as mentioned, this was not only for the semester that we spent in Uppsala. The garden still exists and the group of volunteers is even bigger than it was before.
Value of the project
The realization and continuation of the community garden shows that study projects can actually have a real impact. The idea was initially derided as “cute” and even made some people chuckle a little because a communal garden may sound like somewhere your grandparents may spend their final days, but it is actually so much more than that.
It demonstrates that, even in a rather theoretical master programme, a course can lead to practical impact. With our small garden, we truly did leave a mark in Uppsala, and it’s a great feeling when your work results in something like that!
After reading this article, I am sure you are dying to get involved (as you should be!). The great news is: YOU CAN!
If you are a student in Uppsala and you live in Flogsta, just contact email@example.com or look it up on Instagram @ flogsta_communitygarden. On this page you can also see what the result of the garden is!
Are you still not convinced? Here is a short summary of all the benefits the Flogsta community garden offers:
- Free fruits and vegetables that you grow yourself
- A group of +/- 20 students that you can socialize with
- Access to the rooftop of building 11 at Flogsta. Note: this is something that you usually do not get because of the rules of Heimstaden!!
- And, last but not least, if you become manager of the garden, you can even put it on your CV! Heimstaden grants certificates for this.
For students outside of Uppsala who got excited about the idea: the blueprint is good to go, so do not hesitate to contact us!
Picture Credits: Author