What do Malmö and New York have in common?

Left: Hassan Jasem and Faiza Sirhan with their grandchildren in the outskirts of Malmö, about to dig up their vegetable garden. Right: Elisabeth Bee Ayers, one of the driving forces at BK Farmyards in Brooklyn, New York, a network that links people with cultivable land and no time with people who don't have any land but are longing to put their hands in the soil. Photos: Christian Jimenez.

It might seem like a strange question. Malmö, a city of about 300.000 inhabitants in the South of Sweden – and New York, with a population of more than 8 millions (not that far from the total population of Sweden!!).

But when the Swedish journalist Johanna G Jimenez and the photographer Christian Jimenez, born and brought up in New York, took a closer look, they realized that Malmö’s oldest urban community garden had it’s roots in the American big city.

Slottsträdgården in Malmö. Photo: Christian Jimenez.

They followed the tracks and found Lisa Ising, from Malmö, who visited the community gardens in New York in the 1990:s and then went back home and started one there: Slottsträdgården.
Nowadays the 12.000 square meter big vegetable and food garden is run by the local authorities, with help of a lot of volunteers, and Malmö has become one of the Swedish cities where you find most urban community gardening.

In the book Johanna and Christian have made, Staden som åkermark (The city as farmland), they dig deeper into the subject, visiting community gardens in both cities, exploring the different functions they have for people and what kind of role these gardens could play in the future.

I may be a bit of a countryside-romantic at the moment (springtime is just so heartbreakingly beautiful in the countryside…), but the part of me that enjoys living in the city and doesn’t mind staying here is enormously encouraged and inspired by this book. Living in a city doesn’t mean keeping your hands out of the soil.

The examples are abundant: People of all kinds, using forgotten spaces between houses, on the top of buildings or collecting people’s food waste for compost, wandering about in verdant mini-paradises and harvesting all kinds of delicious vegetables and fruits. Together.

That little word – together – is important.

When I recently interviewed Johanna G Jimenez for an article in Effekt, she told me that the community gardens are good for so much more than just producing food and greening the city: all these projects also mean a lot to strengthen the sense of belonging in a neighbourhood and to make people get to know their neighbours. In Malmö, the project “Barn i stan” (Child in the city) is one example of how growing food can create new connections between different generations in a neighbourhood with a bad reputation.

Now you won’t only find vegetables growing between the houses, but also a new belief in the future.

The book The City as Farmland – Urban Cultivation in Malmö and New York.

  • Otto

    Hi Sara … yes, as many others reading your weekly posts, we are students in your class on sustainability. I haven’t missed any posts since discovering you blog last December. Your readers commend you on the array of interesting topics as they relate to a holistic approach to living in sync with nature. Your analysis of community, gardening and the “together” factor as it relates to the New York experience is noteworthy.

    Currently, land being developed in this city is parceled inadequately to accommodate for good environment conducive for growing things. The homes are large (> 185 square meters) and consume almost the entire lots, often high fenced affecting the amount of light for adequate gardening. What is interesting though is that older inner city districts with socioeconomic challenges are transforming vacant land into community gardens. Your point on “child in the city” and new connections is profound and perhaps what Jimenez observed in New York and brought back to Sweden.

    An interesting trend in our city is the bylaw being challenged to have urban chickens. I think your readers will find this news cast/video by Global TV interesting (see link). I must confess that I have raised local chickens here in my youth and may again consider it based on the outcome of Crystal and city legislators. As typical, we often digress in our social well-being for preferred economic base in pursuit of high-density, larger homes, exponential real estate value with an enticing tax base for civic leaders. Together is important and touching the soil is healthy and healing.


    Thanks Sara … and keep the blogs coming.

  • sarajeswani

    Thank you for those flattering words, Otto, truly warming!
    The news cast you link to is really interesting, I didn’t know people were taking up the battle to have chickens in their backyards!
    Here in Sweden, you are allowed to have a few hens in your garden, just as long as you have no rooster. So far there I have seen very few urban hens, but that could maybe change with the current locavore-trend!