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Vegetables growing in a cultivation box in the foreground with a group of people sitting at a long garden table in the background.

Article categories: Archive

"People can’t live without farming!" Cultivation boxes support integration

Published: 26.9.2022

When moving to a foreign country, a person encounters a new environment and culture. Life is rebuilt from scratch by getting to know the society, its language and different ways of doing things. This is called integration. Integration always takes place in interaction with the society. In Vaasa, we decided to test whether urban farming can be used to support integration in a new home country. This article was written by Tiina Reini, integration manager of the City of Vaasa’s integration services.

In the canteen of the local community centre, Kyläkeskus Kultanummi, chairs are placed close together because the room is almost full of people. Joyful laughter and exclamations of surprise can be heard among the chatter.

Conversations take place in Finnish, Arabic, English and Swahili. This is how it started, the urban farming project as part of the Vaasa with Energetic Citizens project and the communal urban farming evening at Kyläkeskus Kultanummi in Ristinummi.

We started by thinking about what urban farming really means and what farmers wanted for their dinner table. Some of the wishes were so exotic that they could not be fulfilled due to the availability of seeds or different growing conditions. However, everyone found a box full of things to grow – vegetables, root crops and herbs – and got their hands in the soil!

The hopes and experiences of the clients of integration services were expressed as follows; “More cultivation land! We would like to cultivate more than currently possible! People can’t live without farming!” Almost all of the clients who participated in the urban farming arranged by integration services want to continue with the cultivation hobby. It was a pleasant surprise that there was an opportunity to grow things in the new homeland, explained one farmer who had moved to the country only a couple of weeks earlier in the spring. The farmers thought it was a great feeling when they could do the groundwork themselves and get a harvest. Farming was a familiar activity for many in their former homeland and it was certainly part of the reason for the abundant harvest. Among other things, lettuce, peppers, beans and tomatoes were cultivated in the boxes.

The farmers said that farming also gave them the opportunity to belong to the community and make new friends and acquaintances. Even if we couldn’t find a common language, it was nice to see familiar faces and greet other farmers when taking care of our own cultivation boxes. It just so happened that some of the new faces that became familiar at the vegetable garden could be found in the same classroom after the summer ended. One of the farmers said that he had made a new friend when he had taken a box of crops to his neighbour as a gift.

The cultivation hobby also helped in getting familiar with the new hometown. The city became familiar on hot summer days when you had to cycle to Ristinummi to water the crops on the other side of the city. There was also cooperation, and farmers living in the Ristinummi area helped those coming from further afield to keep the weeds away and the soil moist.

The experiences of utilising urban farming to promote integration met our hopes and expectations. When working outside, your own wellbeing is strengthened, and both body and soul are revitalised. Farming is a good counterbalance to the stress caused by immigration. Integration takes place through interaction and all encounters are valuable. Everyone needs to find meaning and things that bring happiness in their lives. According to an old Chinese proverb, if you want to be happy forever – be a gardener! The happiness of residents is one of the top goals of our hometown.

Now is the time to enjoy the harvest and Kyläkeskus Kultanummi is again filled with joy and laughter as we celebrate the harvest festival!

Wooden cultivation boxes with courgettes, lettuce and other vegetables growing.

P.S. In Vaasa, you will also find a meadow of happiness, which has been planted full of joyful meadow flowers.