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June 27, 2012

Shared space as a unifying force

A Scot living in financially stricken Spain has picked up on one of the themes in the Community Empowerment Bill consultation – the prospect of communities taking over vacant or underused land for the purpose of growing food. He reports on his own community’s experience of ‘acquiring’ some land in Barcelona which had been earmarked for housing until the financial crash.  He describes this protest as being about much more than growing food –in unexpected ways, it has brought the community together.


Blog from Barcelona

The Scottish Parliament has been asked to make it easier for people to grow food on land left unused by public bodies and private businesses.

Under the proposed Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill, allotmenteers should be allowed to turn underused spare ground into collective farms.

The benefits are manifold. The gardens will provide cheap food in hard times. Working the land will give the under-employed useful and enjoyable tasks to pursue. Health and esteem will be improved. A spirit of community fostered.

For once, I know a little whereof I speak. I have just been out in the allotment getting in an early harvest of curly kale. This is over in Barcelona where I have become a part-time protest gardener, or hortelano indignado as we call it here.

A year ago a group of locals took over a plot of land which had been earmarked for a block of flats before the property market collapse. The really good bit is that the unused land belongs to one of the big banks.

Our fellow hortelanos are growing all sorts of lovely stuff such as peppers, figs and melons. Under instruction from Her Outdoors we put in a crop of curly kale, much to the amusement of the natives.

I overheard the following conversation: “That green stuff looks interesting. Is it edible?” “Not really, but my grandma used to make me eat it. It’s the Scottish people who are growing it.”

We are not sure what they will make of our next venture which is to grow turnips, a rarity in these parts, and corner the expat neeps market during the Burns supper season.

The curly kale is, of course, a delicacy and it will be a different matter when it is served pan-fried with pancetta and pine nuts at the next community food fiesta.

The protest garden is not just about fruit and veg. It is a meeting place and a forum for the anger at high unemployment, inadequate social security benefits, and the seemingly unlimited funding of dodgy banks.

It is about solidarity. The residents of the old folks home across the street are wheeled in regularly to inspect the produce. It’s a haven for children.

The garden has a poetry and music group which is odd but nice of a balmy evening when watching the curly kale grow.