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When Generations Garden Together

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When Generations Garden Together

The idea of getting back to basics is as popular in Bezau as it is in Berlin: Growing your own food has struck a nerve. Over 70 people participate in communal garden project, aka “Urban Gardening,” practiced in Bezau since 2016.

Kohlrabi grows at the foot of the St. James’s church in Reuthe where a decorative vegetable garden clings to the picturesque, protected niche nestled on the wooded hillside. Bezau’s Gemeinschaftsgarten communal garden is situated between a long range of hills and the street leading towards Bizau. During the summer, a hiking trail leads past the plot and in winter there is a cross-country ski trail.Spread across 2,300 square metres, more than 70 people makes use of this space to garden. The diverse group comprises young families and widowed retires, who plant much more than just kohlrabi here. There are also beans and broccoli, carrots and potatoes, pumpkins, berries, tomatoes, zucchini and salad.

“Urban Gardening,” as the trend is called, has really taken off all over the world in the last few years in response to the question: “How can I grow my own vegetables on terrace?” Admittedly, the gardening in Bregenzerwald isn’t particularly urban, though the sight of farmer’s garden has become increasingly rare even in rural areas. And so it is that the idea of getting back to the roots has struck a nerve, be it in Berlin or Bezau. People are attracted to the ability to grow food locally, from a tiny seed to a plant, and to be able to enjoy the fruits of this labour free from poisons and artificial fertilizers.

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“Gardening by choice is a generational question,” says Anton Fröwis from Bezau, the young director of the Mellau Tourism Office, who has participated in collaborative gardening in Bezau from its very inception. “For my parents, having their own vegetable garden was about the most anti-modern thing they could think of. They wanted to get an education, to work and not to remove weeds or harvest potatoes. For those of us younger than 40, however, having a vegetable garden is something special, something worthwhile, perhaps because we didn’t grow up with one.” At the beginning, many friends asked why he’d go to the trouble. After all, vegetables are available at every supermarket for purchase. “But with my own vegetable I can be sure that no pesticides have been used and beyond that I’m also a believer that vegetables you grow yourself simply taste better.” Not to mention the fact that the work is relaxing. Fröwis smiles: “Sometimes I even stop by the garden in the evening on my way back from the tourism office in my suit and tie.”

Fröwis is not alone. For many, the communal garden has become far more than just a plot for veggies: It’s a meeting point, especially on Wednesdays, because the main personalities responsible for the communal garden, Isabella Moosbrugger and Verena and Peter Feuerstein are on hand. On a hot summer day, I’m met by two resolute barefoot women with shorts and short hair in the garden. Both exude a palpable love for gardening: The earth, the ancient wisdom of growth, the knowledge of how best different varieties grow, the tranquillity and the positive effects on the soul. When I speak to them, they seem like twins, finishing each other’s sentences. “Vegetable gardens have become rare in Bregenzerwald,” says Isabella Moosbrugger, her face momentarily saddened by this prospect. This shouldn’t come as all that much of surprise considering that she is the head of the Gartenfreunde Reuthe-Bezau Garden Association and the founder of the communal garden.

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This particular garden is the second in Bezau thanks to Isabella’s passion for gardening. The first was the train station garden for fruits and vegetables, which she planted along with her kids and teenagers from the local schools. “Without Isabella, none of this would be here,” says Verena Feuerstein. “Sometimes people question how much work this all is, but I don’t do this for money but because it’s wonderful to share what Isabella knows about gardening with others. The knowledge that she has, which has been passed down from her parents and grandparents, would otherwise be lost.” Lost in thought Isabella adds that contact with the earth, and the many micro-organisms that live in it, is healthy for both body and soul.

According to Verena Feuerstein, each new gardener has the chance to do things on their own, to learn and make their own mistakes: “We’re there if people need us or have questions, we give tips and advice when asked but otherwise we don’t bother anyone. It’s not right to tell people what they’re perhaps doing wrong. When it comes to those new to gardening, however, it’s a bit like mothers with their children: You show them something and then they have to experience things for themselves.” Isabella adds with a smile: “We’re growing gardeners here in addition to just vegetables.”

One such gardener is Anton Fröwis, who is now able to grow vegetables for his entire family. He lives in a house along with his brother’s family as well. He himself is single but loves to cook for others. “I feel like a go-between for the different generations of gardeners and I attempt to excite my nieces and nephews for gardening too,” says Fröwis. He spontaneously planted tomatoes along his mother’s garage wall, admits Fröwis with a laugh before sharing the secret to relaxing gardening: “My mother was initially not very excited. She was worried that she wouldn’t have the time to regularly water the tomatoes. But Isabella taught us not to over-water the tomatoes. If you leave them alone the roots will grow and as they search below for water: This makes the taste of the tomatoes even more intense.”

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Not all of Anton’s garden efforts have been immediately successful he admits: “Last summer my broccoli grew too wild and suddenly there was way too much salad ripe at once,” he says, summing up his beginner’s mistakes. “At the end of the season, Verena Feuerstein took me aside and told me: Next year, do things a bit differently. I thought that was great.”

Verena has to laugh when she thinks back to the advice she gave Anton. “I told him off a bit in autumn, that much is true. His plot borders directly on mine so I had been keeping a close eye on it.” In general of course, everyone is allowed to plant what they want, emphasises Verena. “For example there’s Luis who loves beans and when they’re ripe he provides everyone with some.”

Matriarch, I think to myself without wanting to say as much out loud, and yet Isabella herself admits to as much: She is a bit of a matriarch here at the garden. “We have plenty of men here with motherly tendencies too,” she laughs. “Collaboration only works in a group, with plenty of respect for one another,” adds Verena as she waves to an older gentleman with a white beard, who it turns out, is Luis the bean lover himself. In the background a young woman tends her garden and takes photos at the same time. “That’s Susanne, our garden photographer,” says Isabella. As a group of kindergarten kids passes by us on the path, Verena gifts a little one a kohlrabi to try.

Author: Babette Karner