Urban agriculture

Les Avanchets: The Swiss City that Became a Garden

J.M. Towers

The phenomenon of urban agriculture - the growing of fruits and vegetables on the terraces or gardens of homes - is gaining more and more fans around the world.

There are more than 800 million amateur farmers in residential areas dispersed around the world. Only in Switzerland, approximately 900,000 of them cover 50,000 hectares—the equivalent of 3,000 medium-sized farms— where they grow all kinds of fruits and vegetables in urban environments.

An example of this booming activity is evident in Les Avanchets, in the commune of Vernier, Canton of Geneva, where most of its inhabitants grow their own produce, showing the world how beautiful can a city become when it has an orchard in every garden, balcony or terrace.

The Swiss, who have always maintained a deep symbiosis with nature, have long practiced this unique way of producing vegetables and fruits. It was a legacy from the end of World War II when the authorities offered land to farmers and unemployed workers. Eventually, these gardens became part of a real culture of urban agriculture among the citizenry.

The renowned French photographer and environmentalist Yann Arthus-Bertrand took snapshots from the heights of Les Avanchets, a village where the locals have chosen a unique way to grow organic food for their consumption or to exchange with their neighbors.

Residents believe that urban gardens are an accurate response to the multiple needs of citizen, communities, and the environment. These orchards allow them to invest their free time in useful pass times and establish contact with other people living in the district.

Also, they use sustainable farming methods; children are taught how a fruit or a vegetable is grown and—at the same time—ancient and traditional methods come together towards sustainability, social cohesion, and a better quality of life for all.

These urban orchards, in turn, generate enduring attitudes of solidarity and friendship, such as bartering with neighbors or selling the surplus products to contribute to local charities.

Although these days urban agriculture is at its peak all over the world, its roots lie in the industrial cities of the early 19th century.

In countries like Britain, Germany, and France, local authorities and large factories were forced to provide land to workers to meet their needs and improve living conditions in working class neighborhoods.

The orchards for needy Londoners (poor gardens), emerged during the industrial effervescence in the 19th and early 20th centuries and served to provide support, health and social stability.

They were conceived to alleviate overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and lack of resources in working class neighborhoods. In fact, the first known association of urban gardeners emerged in 1864 in the German industrial city of Leipzig.

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