Nacho Caravia Nogueras
This allotment is close to the Sagrada Familia
Urban farming is not a new concept. Large cities like New York and London have dozens of gardens and veggie patches wedged amongst the city sprawl and looked after by a handful of members of the local community. The good news is that they also exist in built-up Barcelona. The bad news is that you have to wait until you retire to be able to access them.
The Xarxa d’Horts Urbans project started 10 years ago, and has blossomed into 11 small-scale gardens dotted all over the city. “We had to decide who would benefit the most from the project,” said Pep Ordóñez, a Parcs i Jardins employee in charge of the initiative. “And we decided it would be the over-65s.”
Space for allotments is decreed by the municipal district, after being made available by a demolished building or reclaiming of public land. Seniors find out about the proposed spaces through their local civic centre or casal, and if interested, enter a lottery in order to win a 40-metre parcela (lot) for a period of five years. They are given a key to the plot’s gate and during that time it’s up to them to plant what they like (though flowers—because of their high maintenance—are discouraged).
Each space has its own distinct personality, dictated by its location and “the culture of the neighbourhood” according to Ordóñez. In Sarrià (Torrent de Remei 2), one of the most rural of the network, Collserola-dwelling jabalis (wild boar) wander down to forage amongst the vegetables. The Sants-Montjuïc gardens (Foc 132) have a chicken coop and in Sant Martí (Menorca 25), where the land forms part of an old masia estate, there is a small farm with sheep, rabbits and ducks. It is hoped more allotments will become available as land does; the next one will be located behind the Monasteri de Pedralbes. “That will be our high-class hort,” chuckled Ordóñez.
On a steamy July morning about six seniors are toiling at the Sagrada Familia allotment, which is nestled between L’Eixample’s typical high-rises at the intersection of Consell de Cent and Padilla. This particular allotment is only six months old, so the users are just seeing the fruits of their first harvest, which, because it take years for the already poor soil quality to improve, is a little disappointing to many of them. “A lot of them tell me, ‘La tierra es mala’ [the soil is bad],” said Ordóñez. “I try to make them understand it takes time.”
Bene Heréz, holds out a handful of rather sad-looking green beans. Even if they’re not the best-looking beans, she said she still enjoys her twice-weekly visits here with her husband Joaquín. “There not much I can do with these, but it passes the time a bit and it’s better than watching TV all day.”
Other plots are more successful. Close by are some healthy-looking tomato plants, sprouting lettuce heads and clusters of pimientos del padrón and strawberries.
Like most things worthwhile, you get out of an allotment what you put in. But more than abundant crops, their objective is to create a community amongst the users. “Many of them look after each other’s garden in their absence, and the garden’s produce is often shared out amongst them as well,” said Ordóñez. “But really we started this so that elderly people could feel they were still being productive.”
Judging by the hive of green activity in this hyper-urban setting this morning, his plan is working.
Hort Collserola: Comte de Sert with Carles Pirozzini (Sarrià-Sant Gervasi).
Hort Sagrada Família: between Consell de Cent, Padilla & Enamorats (Eixample).
Hort del Cami de Torre Melina: Camí de Torre Melina with Avinguda de Manuel Azaña (Les Corts).
Hort de Sant Pau del Camp: Carrer de Sant Pau (Ciutat Vella).
Masia de Can Cadena: Carrer de Menorca 25 (Sant Martí).
Parc de la Trinitat: Passeig de Santa Coloma 60 (Sant Andreu).
L’Hort de Turull: Passatge de Turull 10 (Gràcia).
Masia Can Soler: Carretera de Sant Cugat 114-132 (Horta-Guinardó).
Masia Can Mestres: Carrer del Foc 132 (Sants-Montjuïc).
L’Hort de l’Avi: Torrent del Remei, 2 (Gràcia).