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Focus: urban vegetable plots
According to an inventory of collective and family vegetable plots (excluding private gardens and schools) carried out by Brussels Environment, there were 260 vegetable plots in the Brussels-Capital Region in 2013, which represented a cultivated surface area of 56 hectares (or 0.35% of its territory). Although there are areas lacking in vegetable plot availability both in the city centre and the periphery, account should be taken of the fact that, within central neighbourhoods, this lack often goes hand in hand with the reduced availability of green spaces and private gardens, as well as with strong population densities and lower average incomes per inhabitant. However, a recent survey made it possible to estimate that one Brussels household in 10 had a vegetable plot or a private orchard. Various studies and surveys highlight significant development potential for vegetable plots and urban agriculture in the Brussels Region, both in terms of production for own use and professional production. On this basis, conscious of the numerous positive impacts - environmental, social and economic - related to the development of market gardening and urban agriculture, the Brussels Region is pursuing an active policy designed to develop this potential.
The multi-functionality of urban vegetable plots
The development of urban vegetable plots and urban agriculture in general is increasingly viewed as the preferred lever to guide cities towards more sustainability and to help them confront some of today's major urban challenges.
Urban agriculture comes in a wide variety of forms: market gardening in open ground or off-ground, fruit trees, small-scale farms, beekeeping, aquaculture, educational farms, underground mushroom cultivation, etc. It concerns both individuals and citizen or entrepreneurial initiatives. Numerous hybrid forms are developing, combining the profit and non-profit sectors, professional production and self-production, all of them focused on local consumption and consideration for the environmental issues.
This focus is based essentially on non-professional family or collective vegetable plots, intended above all for self-production. These market garden practices pursue multiple aims, some of which are more or less priority aims depending on the actors: food production (self-production) but also recreational objectives (contact with nature, leisure, physical activity), social objectives (collective meeting and learning spaces for new behaviours, response to a need for belonging, support for therapeutic projects or professional reintegration, etc.) or educational objectives (principles of organic agriculture, seasonal cycles, local species, etc.). From an environmental perspective, vegetable plots also constitute green spaces which support biodiversity, help to improve the urban landscape and allow rainwater seepage. The practice of market gardening in the urban environment, within interstitial sites which are often very small, also makes it possible to create and maintain open spaces within neighbourhoods. All of these benefits demonstrate how the development of this practice can make a strong contribution to improving the quality of life of citizens.
Family and collective vegetable plots: situational analysis
Brussels Environment has drawn up an inventory of the area dedicated to urban market gardening and its characteristics, as well as an identification of the sites which could accommodate vegetable plots. This study related to vegetable plots which are used for growing by several people (collective and family vegetable plots), excluding vegetable plots in private gardens or schools. All vegetable plots have been surveyed, whether they are official (municipal plots, regional plots, plots on private land, etc.) or unofficial (plots on squatted land).
According to this study, the Brussels-Capital Region had 260 vegetable plots in 2013, representing a cultivated area of 56 hectares, or 0.35% of its territory.
The map below makes it possible to visualise the distribution and size of these vegetable plots within the urban fabric. Each vegetable plot is represented by a circle with a radius of 500 metres from its centre, a distance, as the crow flies, which represents about 10 minutes' walking time. This representation makes it possible, on initial examination, to identify areas where Brussels inhabitants have a lack of access to a nearby vegetable plot.
Location and size of collective and family vegetable plots
Sources: BRAT and BGI 2013
This map shows that vegetable plots are very unevenly spread throughout neighbourhoods: high concentrations or, on the contrary, areas without any plots, can be observed both in the centre and the periphery. The areas of shortage in the centre also often suffer from a lack of green spaces and private gardens, along with high population density and low average income per inhabitant.
Surface area of collective and family vegetable plots (total and per inhabitant) per municipality
Sources : BRAT and BGI 2013
The collected data also highlighted the following facts:
- around 72% of Brussels inhabitants have access to a vegetable plot which is open to the public and at least 500 metres from their house as the crow flies, although these vegetable plots are highly variable in terms of type and size;
- on average, every Brussels inhabitant has theoretical access to 0.49 m2 of vegetable plot (excluding private gardens and schools), although with large disparities between municipalities, as illustrated in the chart above;
- overall, vegetable plots are more plentiful and extensive in the periphery than in the centre;
- so-called "family" or "individual" vegetable plots (as opposed to so-called "collective" or "animated" vegetable plots) are proportionally more numerous in peripheral neighbourhoods;
- almost 90% of vegetable plots dispose fully or partially of open ground plots. Vegetable plots with cultivation in containers or bags are mostly located in central neighbourhoods;
- almost three quarters of recorded vegetable plots are fully or partially situated on a cadastral plot belonging to a public organisation and more than one third are in green or agricultural areas.
As a reminder, these data do not include vegetable plots situated in private gardens.
At the individual level, a survey intended to establish the "Baromètre Environnemental de la RBC" (Environmental Barometer of the BCR) (Ipsos public affairs, 2014) made it possible to calculate that one Brussels inhabitant in five grows fruit or vegetables for his or her own consumption. It should be noted however that this figure reflects highly variable realities (from growing a few fruits or vegetables in pots to operating a full-fledged vegetable plot). According to another survey on the behaviour of Brussels households with regards to the purchase and use of pesticides (Sonecom 2015), one household in ten has a private vegetable plot or orchard.
Increasing the available area for vegetable growing can be done in various ways, ranging from traditional or relatively traditional methods (the development of new plots including private gardens, the intensification and extensification of the use of existing vegetable plots, and off-ground cultivations on roof gardens or terraces) to more innovative projects which are considered more experimental and/or demonstrative at the present time (fish production combined with market gardening or aquaponics, mobile vegetable plots or mini-farms, cultivations on facades, etc.).
With regards to the potential of increasing market gardening in the ground, the BRAT study on the inventorying and evaluation of the development potential of collective and family vegetable plots revealed that a significant number of existing vegetable plots have high potential, either by extending the cultivated area, or by intensifying the area which is already cultivated. Sites or plots which could potentially accommodate new vegetable plots have also been identified and have turned out to be in very large numbers: wasteland, brownfield sites, green spaces, agricultural areas, areas adjoining railway lines, garden cities and the surrounding areas of large housing blocks, etc. However, there is genuine interest among a section of citizens in having access to vegetable plots, as demonstrated by the waiting lists held by municipalities and Brussels Environment (at the beginning of 2015 around 370 people had actively begun the request process and are waiting to gain such access).
The development potential of vegetable plots also exists at the level of private gardens and spaces. According to a survey on urban market gardens produced at the request of Brussels Environment (Dedicated research, 2011), 85% of Brussels inhabitants had a garden (private or at their disposal), a terrace, a balcony, a flat roof or a courtyard (more than 1 m² in size), and of these inhabitants, 22% already grew fruits, vegetables or aromatic plants, whereas 51% had previously thought about it, or vaguely planned it.
The possibilities of realising urban agriculture projects on roofs also appears to be substantial since, according to another study (Lateral thinking Factory, 2013), the Brussels Region has around 4,777 flat roofs (excluding houses) covering an area of around 591 ha (of which more than 80% had areas larger than 1000 m2).
Initiatives in the Region
Brussels Environment pursues a policy of developing urban vegetable plots, using various tools.
Although plots dedicated to family and collective vegetable plots have been developed in parks since 1995, it has only been since 2012 that a genuine structured strategy for the development of a "vegetable plot network" has been officially adopted. Closely related to the green network, the vegetable plot network aims to maintain existing vegetable plots and develop new ones, whilst ensuring as much as possible that these plots are evenly and adequately distributed throughout the Brussels territory. The vegetable plots in question are both cultivated in open ground and in containers, on balconies and even on roofs.
This strategy and the accompanying programme of initiatives is built around five strands:
- understand and monitor the Brussels situation in terms of market gardening;
- encourage the practice of market gardening;
- increase the surface area dedicated to market gardening;
- encourage the emergence of new economic activities in terms of urban market gardening production;
- support environmentally-friendly market gardening.
Various initiatives have been taken in this respect, in particular:
- supporting initiatives to create collective vegetable plots through calls for projects (37 since 2011);
- networking of people involved in the realisation of family and collective vegetable plots, so as to create a participatory dynamic and encourage knowledge exchange (meeting forums, ground visits, the development of communication tools, etc.);
- the management of vegetable plots situated in regional parks and the development of new vegetable plots.
With regards to this last point, Brussels Environment currently manages 9 vegetable plots of a total surface area of more than 2.5 ha divided between 249 individual plots. These are managed in an environmentally-friendly way (by signing occupation agreements with the beneficiaries of plots) and by making sure that the projects have a social and educational dimension.
Brussels Environment intends to continue this policy by developing new plots in new sites, or by enlarging existing sites, but also by improving the management of existing sites (by re-using abandoned plots, checking compliance with occupation agreements, dividing up plots which are too large, etc.). Between 2009 and 2014, 84 new plots with a total surface area of 9,121 m2 and spread across 6 sites, were created, in particular in central areas (e.g. the collective vegetable plot at Tour & Taxis). The improvement in management is also reflected in 124 new plots allocated between 2012 and mid-2014. Other projects are in progress, or are planned.
The more general promotion of the practice of market gardening and self-production has resulted in a wide range of projects, predominantly undertaken since 2011:
- calls for projects for sustainable neighbourhoods, sustainable food in schools (these in particular resulted in 59 vegetable plot projects in schools over the period 2011-2014 and the creation, at the "Sustainable neighbourhoods" level, of 13 collective vegetable plots over the period 2008-2014);
- development support or the introduction of a vegetable plot strand within local Agenda 21s;
- training for the broad public (369 people involved over the period 2012-2014) and Master Gardeners (80 volunteers trained over the period 2012-2014);
- subsidies to educational farms (more than 12,000 children benefiting per year) and to non-profit organisations active in the area of market gardening;
- classroom activities (around 1,000 pupils benefiting per year);
- the distribution of seed kits (5,000 in 2012, 7,500 in 2013 and 10,000 in 2015);
- introduction of a helpdesk (210 calls in 3 years);
- publications of "vegetable plots" info sheets;
- the organisation of a week of visits "Open vegetable plots" in May 2015.
Furthermore, the Brussels Region has organised initiatives for many years with regards to the Brussels food system, to make the transition towards more sustainability. Initially oriented to consumer demand (eco-consumption), these initiatives were subsequently extended to the development of a local and sustainable food supply. Various studies and projects designed to develop professional production in urban and peri-urban agriculture, both in and off-ground, have been supported as part of the implementation of the Food strand of the "Alliance Emploi Environnement" (Employment-Environment Alliance) (see focus devoted to the Employment-Environment Alliance).
We should point out in this respect that a study estimated that the regional potential for the direct and indirect creation of jobs in sustainable food was more than 2,900, in other words roughly the double of the jobs, in the space of 10-15 years, which had been estimated for the sustainable portion of the current Brussels food system (Centre for Brussels Region studies at Saint-Louis University, revision March 2014).
Finally, we can observe that a participatory process intended to develop a strategy and an action plan to encourage the Brussels food system to shift towards more sustainability was organised in 2015 and resulted in the adoption of the Good Food strategy in December of that year ("Towards a more sustainable food system in the Brussels-Capital Region").
State of the Environment's sheet(s)
Other publications from Brussels Environment
« Vers un système alimentaire plus durable : Les apports de/à la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale du projet URBACT II réseau thématique – Alimentation », 2015 (.pdf, in French and Dutch only)
Info-sheet « Alimentation et environnement - Perceptions, connaissances et comportements des Bruxellois en matière d'alimentation durable : Sondages et analyses », 2015 (.pdf, in French and Dutch only)
Study(ies) and report(s)
BRAT, ECO-INNOVATION, BGI 2013. « Evaluation du potentiel maraîcher en Région de Bruxelles-Capitale (phase I) – Identification des références d’agriculture urbaine pertinentes au regard du contexte bruxellois», study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 70 pp. (.pdf, in French only)
BRAT, ECO-INNOVATION, BGI 2013. « Evaluation du potentiel maraîcher en Région de Bruxelles-Capitale (phase II) – Inventaire des sites d’agriculture urbaine existants en Région bruxelloise », study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 46 pp. (.pdf, in French only)
BRAT, ECO-INNOVATION, BGI 2013. « Evaluation du potentiel maraîcher en Région de Bruxelles-Capitale (phase III) », study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 23 pp. (.pdf, in French only)
DEDICATED RESEARCH 2011. « Les maraîchages urbains, écologiques: freins, leviers à la réalisation et état des lieux – phase quantitative », telephone survey performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 61 pp. (.pdf, in French only)
DEDICATED RESEARCH 2011. « Les maraîchages urbains, écologiques: freins, leviers à la réalisation et état des lieux – phase qualitative », study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 61 pp. (.ppt, in French only )
IPSOS PUBLIC AFFAIRS 2014. « Baromètre environnemental de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale – résultats 2014 », study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 112 pp. (.pdf, in French and Dutch only)
GREENLOOP 2013. « Etude sur la viabilité des business modèles en agriculture urbaine dans les pays du Nord », study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 72 pp. (.pdf, in French only)
GREENLOOP 2013. « L'incidence des pollutions urbaines sur les productions alimentaires en ville», study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 35 pp. (.pdf, in French and Dutch only)
SONECOM 2013. « Baromètre de comportements de la population en matière d’environnement et d’énergie en Région de Bruxelles-Capitale », study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 57 pp. (.pdf, in French only)
SONECOM 2015. « Sondage sur le comportement des ménages en matière d’achat et d’utilisation de pesticides dans la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale et dans les zones de captage », study performed on behalf of Brussels Environment, 79 pp. (.pdf, in French only)
VERDONCK M., TAYMANS M., CHAPELLE G., DARTEVELLE G., ZAOUI C. 2012, révision en 2014. « Système d’alimentation durable – Potentiel d’emplois en Région de Bruxelles-Capitale », study performed by the « Centre d’études régionales bruxelloises (FUSL) » and GREENLOOP on behalf of Brussels Environment, 88 pp. + appendices (.pdf, in French only)
Plan(s) and programme(s)
BRUXELLES ENVIRONNEMENT & BRUXELLES ECONOMIE ET EMPLOI « Stratégie Good Food « Vers un système alimentaire durable en Région de Bruxelles-Capitale »: De la fourche à la fourchette », 2015 (.pdf, in French and Dutch only )