Neither Poor nor Cool: Practising Food Self-Provisioning in Allotment Gardens in the Netherlands and Czechia

A new open access article co-written by Lucie Sovová and Esther Veen compares urban gardening in Czechia and the Netherlands. The comparative case study concludes that despite diverging framings in the literature, allotment gardeners in both countries are ‘doing the same thing’.

Urban gardening is a shared interest of both authors. Esther wrote her PhD thesis about the role of Dutch community gardens in fostering social cohesion; her recent research deals with urban green infrastructure and urban food growing as prosumerism. Lucie studied Czech allotments in her MSc thesis, and she later expanded on the topic of food self-provisioning in her PhD project co-supervised by Esther at Rural Sociology. Together, Esther and Lucie supervised the MSc research of Kylie Totté, who looked at allotment gardens in Utrecht using the methodology previously designed for the Czech case study. The comparison of the two data sets facilitated a critical engagement with existing interpretations of urban gardening, which often frame this activity as an activist endeavour in the Western-European context, or as a reaction to economic need in Central and Eastern Europe. Below is the abstract of the paper, the full text is available here.

While urban gardening and food provisioning have become well-established subjects of academic inquiry, these practices are given different meanings depending on where they are performed. In this paper we scrutinize different framings used in the literature on food self-provisioning in Eastern and Western Europe. In the Western context, food self-provisioning is often mentioned alongside other alternative food networks and implicitly framed as an activist practice. In comparison, food self-provisioning in Central and Eastern Europe has until recently been portrayed as a coping strategy motivated by economic needs and underdeveloped markets. Our research uses two case studies of allotment gardening from both Western and Eastern Europe to investigate the legitimacy of the diverse framings these practices have received in the literature. Drawing on social practice theory, we examine the meanings of food self-provisioning for the allotment gardeners in Czechia and the Netherlands, as well as the material manifestations of this practice. We conclude that, despite minor differences, allotment gardeners in both countries are essentially ‘doing the same thing’. We thus argue that assuming differences based on different contexts is too simplistic, as are the binary categories of ‘activist alternative’ versus ‘economic need’.