A memorable visit to one of SPNI’s community gardens
You don’t have to have ‘green thumbs’ to notice that community gardens are on the rise in just about every urban area in the world, and this is true for Israel too.
A lovely manifestation of sustainable urban-living, community gardens enable residents to grow their own fresh and healthy produce, spend quality time with others while working outside, and practice sustainable agriculture methods such as biological pest control, water conservation, composting and waste management.
Successful community gardens have numerous benefits, helping create thriving neighborhoods and fostering a positive social ripple-effect.
Sounds great doesn’t it? But I urge you to keep in mind that a prosperous community garden is the result of careful planning and constant work - establishing a community garden is a complex task, especially given the hectic, socially isolated and screen-addictive culture we live in.
Recognizing the value of community gardens as a driving force that strengthen communities and improve quality of life, especially in underprivileged areas, SPNI professionally supports more than 250 gardens nationwide (see map for details) in partnership with local municipalities, governmental offices, and both public and private organizations. Some of the gardens are located in absorption centers for new immigrants.
I had the recent opportunity to visit one charming garden found on the roof top of ENOSH’s employment center in the bustling heart of Bat-Yam, a large city just south of Tel Aviv.
ENOSH, the Israeli Mental Health Association runs this center which is housed in a 3 story building. It includes a natural soap factory and gift shop, operated by the community members. The products are all hand-made out of natural oils and herbal essences. Gila Nevo, the center’s manager shared her future vision with me - to grow fragrant herbs in the community garden to supply the factory.
The rooftop garden was established by SPNI in collaboration with the community members and MIVNE, a commercial real estate company that not only funds the project but encourages their employees to work in the garden once a week.
On the day I visited hydroponics system was being set up on the roof and a small greenhouse was built on the ground, putting a less attractive spot next to building to good use.
The vertical hydroponics system will be used to grow all kids of leafy greens, in addition to the already existing vegetation such as chard, peppers, tomatoes, many herbs and flowers that are planted in beautiful wooden cases and hanging baskets around the walls of the roof.
Since the community center is overlooked by much taller apartment buildings curious residents started to participate in the community garden creating a heartwarming ‘side effect’ that I evidenced on my visit.
One such sweet lady was present that day and together with a community member and a MIVNE employee we started a spontaneous discussion around chard leaves’ picking. Soon enough we discovered a shared fond for Jewish-Turkish cuisine, and even exchanged recipes.
At the end of my visit I was given sweet basil seeds from the garden’s flourishing shrub, and they have already sprouted in an upcycled planter I made from an old closet drawer.
This type of relaxed and friendly interaction between people of different backgrounds, ages and mental health status carries many benefits far beyond the immediate experience.
The community members that participate in the program eagerly voiced their enthusiasm and said they felt wonderful being responsible for maintaining the garden and that taking care of the plants brings happiness and satisfaction into their lives. In addition Gila informed me that the center is now inviting the neighbors to come and create their own planters, filled with herbs and vegetables to take home!
The reward of such delicate yet determined operation by all the partners involved is what SPNI is looking to cultivate in Israeli society.
I plan to visit more community gardens and get a first-hand experience of the magic that they spread.
If you wish to support community gardens make a donation now and write community gardens in the comment box so we can allocate your contribution to these lovely projects.