Urban Agriculture in Romania

11879645_1022934331074106_583476184_o-2This MSc thesis by Anamaria Alupoaie (MSc Organic Agriculture) investigated the reasons for failure of urban gardens, and the impacts of gardens on resident’s ‘sense of place’, in Dorohoi city in Romania.

Urban Agriculture plays a different role in the food system then agriculture in rural areas. In some cases, it represents a source of income or builds  sociological relations between citizens, through participation in the garden. In other cases, urban agriculture may originate from rural agricultural habits and traditions. With these inherited habits, urban farmers improve the existing environment through their practices, and with these practices they inspire others to take action in maintaining their own ‘green corners’ in the public space.

11882459_1022933601074179_396130938_oThe study was undertaken in Dorohoi region, a city situated on the north side of Romania, a small city with  31,093 inhabitants. In the last 20 years, the city experienced a period of decline due to the closure of big factories that offered jobs for more than half of the inhabitants. Since then the unemployment rate grew, and reached 80-85 %, in 2009. And it is estimated that now over 50% of the population lives below the country’s poverty line, as a result of the loss of the big industry. The availability of resources and income has triggered city dwellers to rely to a greater extent on local food production. Among the existing gardens, new ones started to flourish around the apartment buildings, in urban public spaces, and residents grew their edible greens. As such, in the area proposed for investigation, Dorohoi, urban agriculture continued through the communities of rural people that had moved into the urban center. They developed gardens in the green spaces of the city as a traditional habit inherited from their rural life. But this period of prosperity didn’t last, and about a decade ago, the city gardens were destroyed, with no significant grounds left.

This reality has scarcely been reflected in social theories and other local urban studies. It offered the need for research to explore how the city farmers were affected. The research aimed to raise attention on the necessity of urban gardens for residents by giving voice to their opinions and feelings

The research questions were centered around the role of urban gardens in place-shaping, people’s sense of place, the impacts of urban gardens, and the reasons that contributed to the failure of the gardens.  Key concepts were explored such as urban space, place shaping and sense of place (which includes place attachment, identity, dependence, satisfaction).
The methodological approach was based on a qualitative research, with interviews and direct observations that took place in Dorohoi city. Forty-two participants living in Dorohoi city responded to a research questionnaire and were asked about their practices and perceptions of urban gardens, the impact on their sense of place and the reasons for failure.

The findings revealed some of the practices (referring to the traditional ways of cultivating the land: manual labor, low inputs, organic seed material and the like), the residents’ motivations (such as contact with natural settings, fresh food at hand, the beauty of the place) for place shaping, and the values respondents attributed to the gardens.
The analysis showed a generally moderate level of attachment of respondents towards the gardens in urban public spaces. The highest level of attachment was found among those participants who were active in their gardens for a long time. Low levels of attachment were encountered among those participants who owned a garden for a short period, especially the young generation and those respondents with a short time of residence in the city. The levels of attachments were dependent on and influenced by two specific drivers that triggered participants’ attachment: (1) peoples’ individual characteristics (age, time of residence, and social memory of the participants) and (2) place characteristics (physical and social).
Participants’ place identity referred to respondents’ identity in place, and the unique characteristics of the place, expressed through four principles of identity: self-esteem, self-efficacy, distinctiveness and continuity. Some characteristics of the city were highlighted as constructing its unique place identity, such as the natural setting, gardens, governance, cultural heritage, vitality, and comfort.
The place dependence dimension was influenced by the city’s facilities and job opportunities. These aspects contributed to a weak, moderate or strong place dependence. And finally, the place satisfaction was expressed by positive and negative feelings towards the place. Some participants mentioned positive aspects of the gardens and place such as family, home, food or friends. Others mentioned negative aspects such as poverty, lack of jobs, lack of support and trash accumulation on public spaces, as indicators for their level of satisfaction.

The major impacts of urban gardens revealed social, health and economic aspects. The gardens impacts can be seen as a response to the urban challenges such as job loss, poverty, health, or food security. The study also identified different reasons for the failure of the gardens. In the eye of the respondents, the environmental policies, local laws and rules on green spaces and the autocratic leadership, were mentioned as factors that negatively affected the continutity of their gardens. All together, these factors led to the denial of citizens needs and the feeling that they cannot contribute to the planning of urban public spaces in the city.
For more detailed information on the findings, please have a look at the MSc thesis or contact: mee.anamaria@yahoo.com.