GROEnTEN uit GENT is a productive vegetable garden located at DOK. The program is run by Willem Van Gucht. Willem works for Sociale Werkplaats De Sleutel Gent a drug prevention and social work centre which integrates people back into the community and the job system after falling on hard times.
The garden program provides its workers with a sense of responsibility in running a project and in working with the wider community. Many of the volunteers are connecting with people for the first time having suffered from significant social isolation. Willem says that even the simplest conversations with new colleagues and friends are the first stepping stones to re-establishing contact with the community, something that most of us take for granted.
The Gardens are also open to the public where you can harvest and take home food in return for helping out each week. They are open every Tuesday and Thursday and one Saturday per month. Anything not harvested and taken home by volunteers gets sold very cheaply at the stall out the front of the gardens or given to the unemployed as a part of a food bank.
The garden is located on an old industrial site at DOK. The have developed container gardening techniques to assure soil quality and also incase the garden may have to move in the future due to redevelopment of the site. Willem and his team use all kinds of recycled materials to build containers, from bathtubs to skip bins to old tyres. Willem says that container gardening is a big learning curve, particularly in keeping the soil moist as containers and pots tend to dry out very quickly. Mulching has become a big part of their daily routine and it also helps put nutrients back into the soil to feed the plants.
The program risks losing its funding in 2013, so Willem and the team are looking at ways they can make money from the gardens, including selling seedlings and surplus food to local restaurants.
Willem’s hope is to build a large community at the gardens and everyone is welcome to get involved and help out in return for harvesting vegetables. Container gardening is a valuable skill for growing food in urban areas.