Schreber Gardens give both the young and old opportunities to grow their own food
By Katy Anderson, Amanda Breedlove, Ben Postlethwait, and Kate Schroeder
Antje Caffee pulls weeds and cuts the grass before dusting off her dirty hands to tend to her three small children, enjoying some dinner at a lawn table nearby. A billowing bag full of weeds and grass clippings sits in the center of the garden, showcasing the long day of work that was quickly coming to an end.
Antje and her family live in the city of Leipzig, Germany in a house with a small yard. To make up for the lack of nature the city life entails, the family rents a small garden each year.
“We try to use it as a playground for the kids, and for us to spend a little time with nature” Antje said.
These gardens, known as Schreber gardens, are used to plant fruits, vegetables and other greenery, an opportunity not often received living in a big city.
The Schreber gardens are individual gardens organized in an allotment association. Each plot ranges from 50 to 400 square meters, which consists of land to garden and a shed for tools and shelter. Plots can be obtained by paying a yearly fee.
While every garden is highly individualized, there are certain parameters every owner must follow. For example, each garden must contain one-third fruits, one-third vegetables, and one-third open yard space. Garden managers inspect the plots regularly to make sure each garden is properly maintained maintained and rules are being followed.
While Antje and her family are relatively new to the Schreber garden community, the traditional Schreber garden movement was born in Leipzig in 1864, headed by German physician and University of Leipzig professor, Moritz Schreber.
During the mid 1800’s, the boom in urbanization and industrialization in Leipzig caused many rural families to move to the city in search of a better life. However, upon moving to the city, most families lived in poor conditions with little to no access to nutritional foods.
In response to these poor living conditions, Schreber inspired a public initiative, and focused on providing children a healthy environment for them to play and interact with nature. This was known as the “Schreber Movement”, which inspired the creation of Schreber gardens all across the city of Leipzig.
Even though the movement was aimed towards children, adults soon participated by tending to the gardens as the movement gained popularity across multiple European countries such as Switzerland and Austria.
The tradition of the Schreber garden has transcended through time due to various events throughout German history. Events like World War I and World War II resulted in low socio-economic conditions and led to low nutrition for urban residents of Germany. As, a result, gardening in a Schreber garden became a necessity.
Today the Schreber gardens are considered more of a hobby. Most communities of Schreber gardeners consist of retirees meticulously tending to their crops and landscaping. Families like the Caffee’s are part of a growing population of young people taking an interest in this unique gardening structure.
Jan Wiedemann is one young person who has taken an interest in the gardens alongside two friends from the University of Leipzig. Wiedemann, a broadcasting science master student, uses his garden to grow produce that he and his friends can enjoy as food. They also use this area as a social place, where they can spend time in nature.
“The cool thing is that you’re in the center of the city but when you sit there in the small garden with trees all around you, you feel like you’re in nature somewhere,” Wiedemann said.
He said that he can use the garden to relax and get his mind off of school work or other things. Wiedemann describes that the gardens used to be stereotyped as only for “stuffy, strict” people due to the stringent rules about noise restrictions and how one can use their garden. In order to continue the food-growing tradition, Schreber garden communities loosened some rules to attract a younger audience.
“Most of the time, we are not affected much by these rules,” Wiedemann said. “Most times we are there in the evenings or nights and have a barbecue and as we get there, as we say hello, they say goodbye.”
Wiedemann said that growing your own food is very universal in German culture. Wiedemann learned gardening from his parents and says that they learned it from their parents. For him, it’s carrying on a tradition. He also says that it’s a reminder of times when his family might have not had much food.
“It was very important to them [previous generations] to grow their own food and to eat this and not throw it away,” Wiedemann said. “If they don’t want it any more, they wouldn’t throw it away because in their childhood they had a difficult time where they did not have much to eat.”
Antje hopes to teach her children this lesson as well. She believes that it is important for her children to spend some quality time out in nature and to know where their food comes from.
“For us it’s not important to have big earnings in the end. It’s to show the kids that when you want something to eat, you have to do something for it.”
Interacting with nature is what keeps Wiedemann and his friends coming back to the garden as well.
“The main thing is just to be in another world, to leave all the other stuff behind you and go there,” he said. “It keeps you on the ground of life. It keeps you grounded.”