From Iceland — The Space Of Spades

The Space Of Spades

Published July 4, 2023

The Space Of Spades
Photo by
Art Bicnick

A summer in the dirt

Food security is a serious issue, which feels like an overwhelming task to combat and which will only be exacerbated by the rapidly changing climate. Among other prerequisites, growing food requires land which, like all nice things, is limited in Iceland’s capital. 

While not the magic solution to a complex issue, Reykjavík’s community gardens provide one means of raising local sustainability levels. Available in most municipalities in the Reykjavík metropolitan area – there are approximately 600 community plots spread around eight neighbourhoods – these gardens offer residents opportunities to improve upon their gardening skills while accelerating their farmers’ tans. 

Photo by Art Bicnick

A garden of rascals

Tending his garden in Fossvogur is Andrés Þór Þorvarðarson. A first-time gardener in Fossvogur, and a second-time renter of a plot, Andrés made a promise to himself to learn from his past botanical mistakes. “Last year I didn’t really harvest anything because I took a really long holiday abroad,” he says with a laugh. Because of his occupation, Andrés benefits from a nice summer vacation, which he intends to use this year growing his garden. “Right now, I’ve only planted the potatoes,” he says. But more is yet to come. He picks up his seed packets and displays them proudly; oregano, mint, and carrots are among his future endeavours.

According to Guðný Arndís Olgeirsdóttir, Reykjavík’s chief gardening manager, the gardens were initially devised to occupy restless children enjoying a summer out of school. This partly explains their proximity to schools and residential neighbourhoods. “There’s an element of education as well; letting the kids experience gardening in the summer and harvesting in the fall,” she says. 

People all have different reasons to apply for the plot of land, but Guðný delivers some insight into the logic behind it. “During hard times, I can tell that people are really trying to make good use of them,” Guðný says. Not letting the plots deteriorate, people seem to care more for their gardens. After all, a garden plot, variable in size, only costs about 5.000 ISK for the growing period. An investment that surely pays off, if you show diligence. 

A summer in the dirt

I met some people who grow their own garlic, onion, mint, and potatoes. Just unbelievable.

These gardens provide accessibility to those without one. “I like being in nature,” Andrés confesses, “And this fulfils that need.” Commenting on the community that forms on the patches, Andrés says that “there’s a good atmosphere. I guess most people are just there to do their own thing. It’s interesting to see what people are growing there. I met some people who grow their own garlic, onion, mint, and potatoes. Just unbelievable.”

But what’s the allure of spending a whole summer crouched in the dirt? “It’s therapeutic,” Andrés answers. “It’s fun to plant a seed and watch it grow, tracking its growth as it blossoms into something edible. While flowers at the store are beautiful, nothing happens to them after you take them home,” he says. 

While flowers at the store are beautiful, nothing happens to them after you take them home.

As this is Andrés’s second time around, he notices a difference between his previous plot in Vesturbær and his current one. Most notably, there seems to be a discrepancy in the facilities and the access to gardening tools, depending on the location. “If I want to get anything done this year, I need to bring my own tools,” he says. 

Despite the lack of gardening tools in some locations, the project is immensely popular. No plots are currently available to rent and a queue has formed. “We need to increase the number of plots. People must be put on waiting lists,” Guðný says. For people interested in acquiring a place next year, applications open in the spring and plots are allotted around May 1. 

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