Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Wie Gartenarbeit begeistern kann

[ How Gardening can be inspiring ]

Coming to Germany this year, I anxiously anticipated what new interests I would find that would inspire me for the future upon my return home. At the beginning of the year, I doubt I would have expected gardening to be something that would catch my attention. Even so, little by little, it has grown into an interest that may not just be a future hobby, but something that may influence my career.

I am not even sure where everything began. It may have started while I represented the Federation of German Industries and did thorough research about their dedication to the future of green technology at the Bonn International United Nations Conference. It may have also been working with the green party and discovering so many of the benefits of alternative energy such as wind and solar power. Even at the FDP, with possibly more political views that I didn’t agree with than did, it gave me an opportunity to ponder what were the best solutions to boost an economy in a world recession, while also being responsible about how actions can affect the future.

This was green technology, and as my interest peaked, I found it linking to many other interests of mine. Connecting this to back home, Michigan’s potential in the Green technology sector is profound, with many priceless assets that could blossom into a new industry for the future. Detroit has also been on my mind all year, since after working there through different jobs and internships ranging from education to community development, I have also been searching for ideas on how to return and get right back into the mix with new and productive ideas.

Detroit is an interesting place – an area of land larger than Manhattan, Boston AND San Francisco combined, however its population has dwindled to below the million mark making it only housing a fraction of its potential; in some cases it has become a wasteland with an international boarder and valuable land that is virtually left standing unused. It is also crucial to realize that the city of Detroit, an internationally known city, has no grocery stores that provide fresh fruits and vegetables – the citizens either going without, or spending very high prices at small corner stores for produce that is anything but fresh quality. Possibly this is where the connection arose – Michigan and Detroit have potential for new industries in environmentally friendly technology, however there are locations that don’t even have the abilities to provide its citizens with fresh produce. Somewhere along reading various articles on the subject, one trend kept reappearing as a possible solution to this issue – urban agriculture.

Maybe it is surprising that living for a year in the world’s 3rd largest economy would spark my interest in agriculture, however, the prospects of utilizing urban space, growing fresh produce [ that can be sold locally, thus helping promote small business as well as reducing the necessity to ship produce thousands of miles to reach the grocery store] and ultimately evolving the format of an urban economy became fascinating to me.

Detroit makes it into the world news normally with images of poverty stricken neighborhoods with the crowning RenCen in the distance – an image of a failing system: an auto industry that has had more than its share of controversy, surrounded by a once great city, now left behind. The potential of the city has not gone unnoticed however and many realize that Detroit can not only be an exemplary city for the US, but also for the world if it can optimize on the risks, and possible huge benefits of being an experimental society.

This would be an appropriate point to reintroduce my next steps in Germany. As my political oriented praktikums came to a close, I still had a few weeks left in my half year of working in Germany, and once again I was left searching for a short term internship. Using the connections that I had garnered thus far, I found some small, but nonetheless relevant NGO’s based in Göttingen. I began doing side projects for GreenPeace as well as a group called Internationale Gärten. Through GreenPeace I learned more about the activist approach to alternative energy. The Internationale Gärten was something that really represented where my new interests had led me. The group works with refugees and immigrant populations in Germany [ in Göttingen there is a notable amount of Turkish and other immigrants from bordering Baltic states ] and they provide plots of land for the groups to simply create gardens. These gardens however don’t just provide food, but provide a community area that is shared, and also a way to integrate into their new foreign home and practice a new language.

The times that I assisted were challenging and also inspiring. There were language barriers and a bit to learn about how running a garden works, but I found the ideas that I came across to be very motivating. Going to work, I would find other pockets of Göttingen that I had previously never known had existed. There were small blocks of gated gardens, each no larger than a normal back yard, and each had a small shed, fence and its own diverse set of crops or flower beds. These were community gardens rented out by those that live in Germany’s very typical community housing complexes – many live in these apartment type buildings and individual homes are rare to come by in a city the size of Göttingen or larger. I would find myself, even outside of work hours, going out for jogs and then taking a moment [ turning into an hour ] weaving through these little plots of land, each unique and personalized.

The blocks all had a community center, possibly where produce was shared or sold, but also where the people that had land there could get together and simply hold events. Here I was thinking that I saw something new – a semi-urban area with community gardens [not farms in the middle of nowhere] that utilized a sense of city style communities as well as the benefits of being self sufficient. Then I received an article forwarded to me from the states – not a major headline paper, but my university paper, the Michigan Daily.

Inside the article there was a look into a growing trend in community gardening – and as stated in the article “a practice that came over to the states from Germany” that was now finding popularity around the country and especially Ann Arbor, Michigan. This process involves investing in small plots of land and then receiving some of the benefits from what was produced – in this case, investing in these community gardens, and then receiving fresh produce and products grown and sold locally once a week.

The connection back home was already closer than I thought. Back in Detroit, with plots of land leaving many specialists puzzled on how to renew, there has been a new interest in this urban agriculture, along with incredible digital renderings of what this future could look like. It has all been incredibly motivating for me bringing all of these connections together. I cannot say that coming back from Germany I am going to aspire to producing several dozen acres of corn per year, but I am excited to promote ideas of self sufficient communities that produce their own foods and share ideas from diverse backgrounds on how to best utilize small plots of land with big outputs.

[ some futuristic computer renderings that are fascinating nonetheless. ]

My biggest dilemma now is where to go next. I will begin next year on my major in Public Policy, which will fit perfectly with these new interests in community development, but now I just need to refine these rather broad new ideas. I have learned so much from this year, as well as from my diverse praktikums, about issues ranging from green technology to urban agriculture, and now I need to figure how to bring it all together. I came to Germany this year with interests in history, educational policy, as well as my background in Japanese and a bit of Polish – now I have these intern experiences as well as the ability to speak functional German and I am left with more questions this year than answers. There is so much that I want to do, and although my experiences have been scattered and diverse, I am very excited to see what opportunities they will lead me too back home in Detroit and Ann Arbor.

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