Brussels Community Garden – A regenerative food system

When I travel, I am looking for evidence of connections that can help regenerate our food system.

At the end of June, I boarded an early Eurostar departure from London and arrived mid-morning in Brussels. I spent the rest of the morning looking around the Botanique Gardens.  In the afternoon, after checking into my hotel, I set out to meet a local guide, who would share with me some community projects.

Reno was waiting at the Place de la Bourse. We walked down to the Brussels-Charleroi canal. Having crossed over the bridge and walked to the Quai du Hainaut. There tucked behind the Bel ‘O cafe in the space between two sets of housing estates is a community garden. The photographs below show how the area between the two housing blocks has been transformed over the last century.

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History of the site
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Development of the Community Garden

Food Systems and Connections

The community farm covers 1500 square metres and can provide up to 100kg of produce. A team of 10-15 volunteers works on the community farm. The fruit and vegetables are supplied to local cafes, restaurants and supermarkets. Vegetables and fruits are grown in shallow raised beds and inside a greenhouse. There are fruit trees (apples and pears) forming a natural boundary. Chickens are used to provide manure and to control pests. Composting also takes place on site.

The community farm has created an edible space where people can come and socialise and learn new skills, often leading to future employment opportunities. Social connections are an integral part of a regenerative food system. The act of creating a gardening space also connects this community to this ‘place’. It demonstrates how local food systems can make a difference in local communities. The last link the community farm creates in a food system is with consumers. The produce grown here is both sold and used as ingredients in the BEL’O cafe. The cafe menu is seasonal and based on what is available in the garden. The supply chain is transparent and short. The cafe is also a social enterprise providing training in hospitality skills. The furniture in the cafe has been made next door as part of a skills training programme.

Reflections

Community Gardens reconnect the local community with the food system. Wherever I travel, I am inspired by food gardening projects. They create a sense of place in a city, they create a setting to help alleviate social isolation, they reconnect people with nature and where the food that they eat comes from. The instant availability of food has led to people forgetting all the resources that go into bringing food to the table. Each project that I visit is an example of how we can remember and work together to change the food system and the narrative that we have about our food.

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