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An urban farm model with a difference by Klara Hansson

“The small-scale, organic farm at Angered near Gothenburg has been run successfully for three years by city farmer Klara Hansson with the aim of producing food and offering education. The work has been carried out according to the principles of market gardening, and the farm has been located on a piece of marginal land owned by the municipality. It is a model for farming in and near the city by making use of areas that are otherwise not used, increasing the city’s degree of self-sufficiency and reducing transport. There are great opportunities to scale up because unused land areas are found in many urban environments. The project is meticulously documented and can thereby serve as a model for similar projects in other parts of Sweden. The documentation comprises a unique source of knowledge about how urban farms can function with labour market, climate, food culture and market conditions. There are calculations about the products’ possible sales channels, and how the financing looks depending on the conditions.” Motivation of the jury.

It was during a snowy January 2019 that a model farm was established in an old calf paddock in the borough of Angered outside Gothenburg. The small-scale, organic vegetable farm would go on to produce and deliver crops without intermediaries to primary schools, preschools and nursing homes in the surrounding area. It would also offer training aimed at horticulture courses at Komvux [a form of secondary education for adults in Sweden], high schools, polytechnics and universities.

The pilot project was EU-funded and inspired by the principles of the market gardening cultivation system, which emphasises the importance of a living soil and biological diversity to give a high yield on a small area, thereby creating good profitability.

The model farm in Angered also creates something new: a detailed and well-documented tutorial on how such a farm can be quickly set up and run long-term, with financial success, by both a farming entrepreneur and a Swedish municipality. It produced detailed data and statistics for small-scale vegetable growers in our latitudes, taking account of working hours, crop planning, harvest volumes and investment budget. Also: how long each task takes; what the budget is for the tools, materials and seeds; how cultivation should be planned; and what harvest volumes can be expected for each individual crop.

– The first crop was planted in the ground in June 2019, and the first delivery started in July. For a grower, it is of course very nice to see that within a few months it is possible to deliver a harvest, says Klara Hansson, who oversaw the model farm during its first three years, 2019–2021.

In the first year, they were able to deliver to three elementary schools and two nursing homes nearby, which in turn dispatched food via their large kitchens. There was a break-in period.

– The first season we had a janitor who came to pick up the vegetables and told us: “The kitchen doesn’t understand what this is, I don’t understand what you’re doing”. On the fourth week, he said the chefs were wondering if they could buy some vegetables privately on the side, and that he would like to come and have a look at what we were growing. Then I knew: Now we have it! says Hansson.

The model farm covers approximately 2,500 square meters, has 50 fixed beds and an effective growing area of 720 square meters. About 40 different vegetables are grown each year and the harvest in 2021 was approximately 3,200 kilos, which is a high yield compared to the average for larger organic farms. That weight in vegetables is equivalent to roughly 25,000 servings of school meals.

– We also thought about whether the wild boar, moose or deer would pass by, says Hansson. The first year we only had a wooden fence with two bars to keep out horses, so any hungry animal could have clambered in and had it. But it didn’t happen. Some hares lived under the broccoli plants, which had grown up and formed a canopy. In the morning they sat under there, snacking. But the buzzard took care of them.

During the second year of operation, the substitute grower, Ebba Wilhelmsson, benefited from the experience, statistics and planning documents from the previous year. Cultivation was expanded and the harvest doubled. At the same time, the number of schools and nursing homes supplied by the farm increased. When it was time to start the third season, everyone was more confident in their roles.

– To lift off the plastic covering the beds and feel that: Hell, yeah!, we’ve actually established a farm! To stick your fist into a sun-warmed soil in the spring and feel that it has started to come alive. In just a few short seasons, we have been able to change the conditions locally in a very dramatic way, says Hansson.

The final report from the three-year EU project has now been published in the form of a digital handbook, accessible to all. It is aimed at those who want to start a commercial farm, but also at urban planners who want to learn from the experience of the model farm in Angered.

At the end of 2021, Klara Hansson stopped being a city farmer, but she is still one of the project’s most ardent supporters. The model farm is now run by the Real Estate Office and the Elementary School Administration in the City of Gothenburg.

The support from Circular Gastronomy and the Swedish research institute RISE to the model farm in Angered involved, among other things, developing a growing plan based on the wishes of the school restaurants. The aim was to improve communication between the farm and the kitchens to which the vegetables are delivered. It was about making the kitchens understand what ingredients are available and when they are available, and for the farm to make sure to grow the ingredients that the kitchens need the most. RISE also helped to increase competence in how the large harvest of vegetables during the season can be processed in such a way that it can be used throughout the year.