Study visit | Marseille

November 2012

Marseilles – last, but by no means least in the 2012 Study Visit calendar. The long, hot days of Mediterranean summer were passed, but a chill wind did not cool the group’s enthusiasm for the urban gardens of Provence. This visit was jointly hosted by Pistes-Solidaires and RJSM (Réseau des Jardins Solidaires Méditerranéens.

The first stop on this visit was Croc-Jardin, one of RJSM’s  showpiece gardens, near the town of Roque d’Antheron. This garden has numerous examples of Good Practice which the group  saw and experienced: water management using various irrigation systems, family and communal growing plots, educational facilities, social spaces, inclusive opportunities for  the disabled and disadvantaged, and environmental awareness – solar cooking, use of PV panels, dry toilet facilities, plus the new composting facility collecting and composting waste from the town.

In addition to observing the above, the group had the opportunity to participate in a number of helpful workshops, covering composting, teaching methods for young and disabled persons, and creating an insect hotel.

Other visits were within the city limits of Marseille. A short train trip to Cosmos Kolej enabled the group to see this interesting project; part garden, part theatre space, and designed to bring together new and old migrant groups. It is sited in and around an abandoned factory, and the gardens had recently been included within Marseille’s charter for urban gardens.

Not far from Cosmos Kolej was a garden (Jardin d’Adam) built on the site of an abandoned gymnasium, by the group “Women in Action” who created growing plots by digging through the concrete with jackhammers and used the support of local artists to weave raised beds with willow canes. A short walk further on brought the group to the Font Obscure Social Centre, where the local council had provided many carefully delineated growing plots for use by local organizations.

The Marseille visit underlined the importance of green spaces and growing opportunities in a tightly packed city, and how lives can be improved through their provision by allowing people to re-connect with nature.

The group parted company having enjoyed absorbing new learning, both from the gardens visited and from the healthy dialogue between the gardening participants of the partner countries.

The large apartment blocks of social housing also provided gardens of interest for the group. The organization AMIEU had helped to create a garden of family plots between two large housing blocks in the eastern district of Marseille. There was a discussion on the social and political issues that were overcome in the development and management of the gardens. The group heard how the gardens had brought together the residents from the two blocks, and led to further developments such as olive collection from nearby hillside trees, with subsequent production of olive oil.

Near to the heart of Marseille, in the district of Belle de Mai, the group also saw how residents had created a small space in a highly urbanized area  providing an opportunity to mix gardening with social activities. Jardin de Gibraltar has a mix of garden plots for local families and groups, and social spaces for local youngsters to play, make music and theatre. Much work is done there with the youngsters, including exchanges with other countries.