Before coming to Budapest, I chose to study the city’s growing network of community gardens to help answer my question of how local food systems—in this case, community gardens—can help contribute to food security. Given the broad range of individuals, local governments, NGOs involved in the creation and management of community gardens across the city, I specifically sought to better understand how different stakeholders can work together to create a resilient local food system. Then, during my first interview in Budapest, with an individual who personally founded seven of the current 26 community gardens in the city, I was explicitly told that community gardens are not part of the “food system” in Budapest. Disregarding later counterarguments to that statement I heard from other interviewees, my research on community gardens in Budapest provided key insight into the persisting challenge of how to sustain a community-based local food systems and the benefits and challenges of different forms of start-up leadership, financial support, and continuous management.
During my time in Budapest, I visited community gardens that were created and are managed by four different local stakeholders:
1) Kortárs Építészeti Központ / Contemporary Agricultural Centre (KÉK) – KÉK defines itself as “an independent architectural cultural centre operated by young Hungarian architects, artists and civilians,” yet its work as a well-resourced, established NGO extends to many different sectors and projects within Budapest. It’s urban gardening program, established in 2012 has been developed with collaboration with five local governments, real estate companies, and other private companies, such as Telecom and the IBIS Aero hotel. There are currently two key KÉK employees plus one intern in charge of managing day-to-day activities plus ensuring continued funding and external support for of each of KÉK’s current five gardens. KÉK’s goal with its urban garden program is to be an important community space for its members as well as provide a learning experience for the broader Budapest community: KÉK hopes that based on its community gardens’ network, “methods, tools, desirable behaviours related to the sharing or circular economy can be disseminated.” They hope that the educational activities of these gardens will “contribute to the development of innovative, sustainable and inclusive economical and social environments on local level.” KÉK’s garden members pay a symbolic annual fee, and the gardens rely on KÉK’s continued access to external grants to remain financially viable. Furthermore, given KÉK’s dependence on outside sources for funding and land-use, some of their gardens may not be sustainable in the long run–two have already closed and one more is set to close this year. Yet KÉK still views the gardens no longer in operation as successes due to how they contributed to KÉK’s and other community stakeholders’ knowledge bases about how best to create a functional community garden and shared social space within Budapest.
2) Városi Kertek Egyesület (VKE) – Rósta Gabor, founder of VKE, was first inspired to develop community gardens in Budapest from his own research on WWII U.S. Victory Gardens, which provided greater self-sufficiency to urban and suburban community members at home during World War II. While today, Gabor still views the gardens as a functional space for members to grow high quality food, he believes the gardens provide “mostly fun, mostly well-being. They contribute to people’s quality of life” more than food security. Gabor’s association, VKE, assists in the development of community gardens by guiding collaboration with local governments and district communities. VKE actively seeks out potential new garden locations and engages the municipal government and local community members. The local government then commissions VKE to construct the physical gardens and instigate community development; strengthening community relations is VKE’s current primary goal. Gabor is currently challenged to figure out how to make the transition easier after the first 1.5 years of a garden, when a garden’s leadership changes from that of VKE to the garden members themselves. Nonetheless, one of VKE’s gardens’ strengths is that they are embedded into the city’s infrastructure–they are “overlegal” in Gabor’s words–and thus experience minimal risk of displacement or discontinuation.
3) Grundkert – A Grund, a grassroots community organization, established its first garden in Budapest’s 8th District in 2012. In the past five years, Grundkert has moved location twice (its current garden is called ‘Grundk3rt,’ correspondingly), and many of its members have changed; yet it’s still supported by its land-granting sponsor, FUTURA, and provides an active community space for its members to garden and socialize. Grundk3rt’s successes are notable given its location in the most dense, poorest district in Budapest. Furthermore, the community-organized garden upholds a very democratic structure and its leaders respond directly to its members needs. However, the garden coordinators do hold the large responsibility of organizing all garden events. Furthermore, the garden lacks a certain sense of cohesiveness; when I asked two garden members about Grundk3rt’s goal, they stated that they had recently had a meeting to discuss that, but they forgot what the conclusion was. Nonetheless, they both emphasized how the garden has enhanced its members livelihoods by providing them with a space to connect with nature, engage meaningfully with other community members, and expand their cultural awareness.
4) District XI Municipal Council – Kelenkert, a garden in Budapest’s eleventh district, represents another way community gardens in Budapest are created—through direct collaboration between a local district council and the community. Yet despite Kelenkert’s community-based founding, the local counselor, Ludányi Attila, was integral to garnering community and government support for the project. In 2014, Attila noticed his district’s desire for more community activities and share social spaces. So, Attila created a community group, which brainstormed how they could develop a shared social space to foster the district’s community building. When the community group came up with the idea to start a community garden, the local council supported the idea, gave them the land, and gave them some money to cover initial startup costs. All yearly garden costs are covered by the membership fee, which is 2500 HUF (or about 10 USD) per year. Attila described that the garden’s two greatest challenges are maintaining a socially cohesive community along with meeting the garden’s budget. Right now, the garden’s community activities are contingent upon the volunteer efforts of one or two individual members. Furthermore, while the budget is tight, Attila has not considered raising the rent price for the members because the current price is “what [they] need”—in order to promote the garden as a welcoming, community space.
To sum of some key points of the rest of my research on community gardens here, a table….
|Gardens I Visited||Organization||Best-Case Practices||Challenges|
|Kortárs Építészeti Központ / Contemporary Agricultural Centre
|Leonardo Kert, reGarden – újraKert, Kerthatár Közösségi Kert, Kisdiófa utcai Kert||KÉK is “an independent architectural cultural centre operated by young Hungarian architects, artists and civilians” (KÉK website). The KÉK foundation runs many different programs
The KÉK Community Garden Foundation receives funding from independent grants along with direct funding and support from various private organizations, schools, and local authorities that own the land its gardens are on
|“Via [our] gardens, we aim to introduce practices for innovative urban exploration which contribute to the liveable, sustainable urban environment, urban climate-adaptation; to the dissemination of eco-consciousness; to the toolkit of environmental education and to the understanding of notions related to the urban life such as “heat island” and “reducing ecological footprint”; to community development; to the strengthening of supportive relationships, and to the reduce of those isolation and alienation processes, which are typical in urban environments; to the establishment of an inclusive society” (KÉK pamphlet).
To gain and disemminate a knowledge-base of how to open and run a community garden in Budapest, so motivated individuals and organizations can do so on their own.
|KÉK has started nine gardens, two of which have permanently closed, and other one which is set to close this year.
|The gardens sponsored by private companies are independent of any political conflict. They are also potentially sustainable amidst a rapidly growing business environment in which CSR is important to many businesses’ missions and profitability.||Current gardens are perpetually reliant on KÉK staff’s active management and interventions with how each garden functions
Many gardens have already closed, while KÉK doesn’t see this as inherently negative given their gardens’ stated use as a learning experience (which can occur without the gardens being permanent). The gardens’ ability to remain open is contingent upon the landowners’—many of which are private companies—continued desire to use the land for the garden
|Városi Kertek Egyesület
|Első Kispesti Kert, Aranykatica Kert||NGO created and managed by Rósta Gabor; receives funding from local governments;||Gabór aims for his gardens to “give people a purpose—to make people feel proud, like they can accomplish things in an age of individualism and [excessive technology use and the internet].” Gabór also seeks to provide a learning and community space with the greatest emphasis on community development. Notably, Gabór’s garden goals have changed overtime: he was inspired to create his first gardens by American Victory Gardens during WWII, and he hoped they would provide a substantial, additional high-quality food supply to its members. today. Yet today, his greater concern is creating a space that ultimately increases people’s wellbeing due to their increased connection with a supportive, lively community (Gabór, personal communication)
|Has started six gardens and has two more planned||Each of VKE’s gardens is “overlegal” (Gabor) due to their direct sponsorshop, funding, and land allocation granted by the local authority; the gardens are instegrated within the city’s official infrastrutuce and thus experience minimal risk of displacement or discontinuation (destruction)||Even though Gabor officially leaves his position as garden manager after 1.5 years, his Ngo, VKE, is required for all administrative purposes, and thus the gardens remain over reliant on him|
|Grundk3rt||Grassroots organization made up of local community members; three garden coordinators||“Good question…” a former coordinator (and current regular member) of Grundkert said when I asked her what Grundkert’s goals as a garden were. She and another garden member remembered having one meeting to discuss this exact topic, yet they couldn’t remember what they came up with. Generally, these two garden members emphasized the garden coordinators’ attempts to make the garden a lively social space and its function as a refuge for its members in the summer heat.||Grundkert has moved location twice, so this is its third garden location||Community-organized, and therefore responds to the community’s needs||Lacks a sustainable management system; relies on volunteers’ intensive time and energy resources
Gets water illegally
|District XI, Civil Council|
|Kelenkert||Budapest’s Municipal Councils are associated with the relevant district’s local authority; the local council representation is in charge of Kelenkert and was essential to its founding||“First goal is to provide a community” (Ludanyi Attila, Municipal Council Representative); the surrounding flats have a lot of older, single women, so the garden provides a social community and activity for community members. The garden also provides an ideal learning space for young parents to teach their children about food production and ultimately show them “a better future”||There are a few other gardens within Budapest’s District XI, yet none run by the same local representative||While the Municipal Council Representative played a key role in establishing the garden, he focused on organizing the community first, which provided a stronger community base and connection during the process of and after the garden’s creation||Difficult to maintain a cohesive Community.
Difficult to remain within the current budget (but thinks that currently, “the price is right” for the rent)