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Urban food production: A contribution to urban resilience in Berlin?

©2012 Masterarbeit 137 Seiten


We are an urbanized species now. Since 2007, more than 50% of Earth’s population lives in cities (UN-Habitat 2011). In countries of the global north, this share is even higher with 86% (UN-Habitat 2011). These are the indices for a contemporary exodus of humans into the cities which results in a dramatic shift of human spatial and material relationships with the rest of nature (Rees and Wackernagel 1996). Urbanization leads to a centralization of needs for natural resources and energy in densely populated areas. The provision for the needs of these densely populated areas is based on rural hinterlands.
In times of cheap oil, these growing cities have a global impact as their provision networks have expanded to a global scale: their demand for food, fibre, energy and water is being met by a growing network of producers and importers in all parts of the world supported by high-tech communication and transport systems. The German Association of Organic Growers noted, for instance, an increasing need for long-distance transports of food from all over the world (BÖLW 2008). Germany now is a net-importer of vegetables and fruits (Ng & Aksoy 2008). These globalized food supply chains are highly dependent on cheap resources, especially energy for production, processing and transport. The environmental and social impacts of these activities are largely unknown at the place of product consumption.
Cities – not only in industrialized countries – rely heavily on a global hinterland (Sassen 2005). Rees and Wackernagel (1996) understand cities even as black holes for resources. When calculating the ecological footprint of cities it shows that they are highly dependent on more area than they actually possess (Rees and Wackernagel 1996). The ecological footprint of Berlin’s citizens, for instance, expands to 168-times the territory of the city (Schnauss 2001). An important share of this footprint relates to the provision of food, in the case of Berlin over 37% (Schnauss 2001). Inhaltsverzeichnis:Table of Contents:
1.1Normative implications of urbanization2
1.2Towards a strategic approach for an uncertain future: Resilient cities4
1.3Urban food systems7
1.4Urban agriculture: farming or gardening?10
1.5Definition of research gap13
1.6Matching research question14
1.7Aim of the thesis15
1.8Target group15
2.1Case study selection16
2.2Semi-structured interviews17
2.3Analysis and theoretical […]


Table of Content

1 Introduction
1.1 Normative implications of urbanization
1.2 Towards a strategic approach for an uncertain future: Resilient cities
1.3 Urban food systems
1.4 Urban agriculture: farming or gardening?
1.5 Definition of research gap
1.6 Matching research question
1.7 Aim of the thesis
1.8 Target group

2 Methodology
2.1 Case study selection
2.2 Semi-structured interviews
2.3 Analysis and theoretical framework
2.4 Limitations of Scope

3 Introducing Berlin’s food system
3.1 History of a phenomenon: Urban food production in Berlin
3.2 The seven vegetable producing projects

4 Berlin’s urban vegetable producers: Contributing to resilience?
4.1 Diversity
4.2 Ecological variability
4.3 Modularity
4.4 Acknowledging slow variables
4.5 Tight feedbacks
4.6 Social capital
4.7 Innovation
4.8 Overlap in governance
4.9 Ecosystem services
4.10 Interim discussion

5 Special focus on interaction with state actors
5.1 Funding
5.2 Urban planning and provision of public land
5.3 Regulations
5.4 Responsibilities, information and coordination
5.5 Administrative processes
5.6 Interim discussion

6 Discussing the implications of the results

7 Conclusion

8 References
8.1 Literature
8.2 Interview-Partner
8.3 Websites

9 Appendices
9.1 Appendix 1: Questionaire
9.2 Appendix 2: Stakeholder-Matrix
9.3 Appendix 3: Stakeholder-Portfolios
9.4 Appendix 4: Actor-Network
9.5 Appendix 5: Pictures of the urban gardening projects

List of Figures

Figure 1: Localization of case studies

Figure 2: Distribution of allotment gardens in Berlin (dark green spots) Source: Berlin (2011)

Figure 3: Distribution of allotment area between peripheric and central districts (based on Berlin 2011)

Figure 4: Resilience framework

List of Tables

Table 1: Typology of stakeholders

Table 2 Timeline of urban food production in Berlin

Table 3: The seven case studies

Table 4: Berlin’s allotment gardens in numbers

List of Abbreviations

illustration not visible in this excerpt

1 Introduction

We are an urbanized species now. Since 2007, more than 50% of Earth’s population lives in cities[1] (UN-Habitat 2011). In countries of the global north, this share is even higher with 86% (UN-Habitat 2011). These are the indices for a contemporary exodus of humans into the cities which results in a dramatic shift of human spatial and material relationships with the rest of nature (Rees and Wackernagel 1996). Urbanization leads to a centralization of needs for natural resources and energy in densely populated areas. The provision for the needs of these densely populated areas is based on rural hinterlands.

In times of cheap oil, these growing cities have a global impact as their provision networks have expanded to a global scale: their demand for food, fibre, energy and water is being met by a growing network of producers and importers in all parts of the world supported by high-tech communication and transport systems. The German Association of Organic Growers noted, for instance, an increasing need for long-distance transports of food from all over the world (BÖLW 2008). Germany now is a net-importer of vegetables and fruits (Ng & Aksoy 2008). These globalized food supply chains are highly dependent on cheap resources, especially energy for production, processing and transport. The environmental and social impacts of these activities are largely unknown at the place of product consumption.

Cities – not only in industrialized countries – rely heavily on a global hinterland (Sassen 2005). Rees and Wackernagel (1996) understand cities even as black holes for resources. When calculating the ecological footprint of cities it shows that they are highly dependent on more area than they actually possess (Rees and Wackernagel 1996). The ecological footprint of Berlin’s citizens, for instance, expands to 168-times the territory of the city (Schnauss 2001). An important share of this footprint relates to the provision of food, in the case of Berlin over 37% (Schnauss 2001).

1.1 Normative implications of urbanization

When facing global challenges like climate change and peak-oil while the global society is urbanizing, it becomes imperative to reduce this ecological footprint of cities. The international community therefore claims that cities need to become more sustainable. Examples are numerous: already in 1972, the Stockholm-declaration included in its principle 15 “planning of human settlements and urbanization with a view to avoiding adverse effects on the environment and obtaining maximum social, economic and environmental benefits for all” (UN 1972). In 1996, UN-Habitat published its “Agenda Goals and Principles, Commitments and the Global Plan of Action” which explicitly addresses “Sustainable human settlements development in an urbanizing world” in its Preamble (UN-Habitat 1996). On the World Environmental Day in 2005, 50 Mayors of major cities all over the world signed the “Urban Environmental Accord” in San Francisco, committing to a list with 21 concrete actions “to promote this collaborative platform and to build an ecologically sustainable, economically dynamic, and socially equitable future for our urban citizens” (UNEP 2005).

But what exactly can a city do to become more sustainable? When is the point reached to declare a city to be sustainable? In their popular book “Urban Agriculture – Food, jobs and sustainable cities” Smit, Nasr and Ratta (2001) claim the definition of a sustainable city to be based on the classic definition issued by the Brundtland Commission report in 1987:

“A sustainable city is one that is organized so as to enable all its citizens to meet their own needs and to enhance their well-being without damaging the natural world or endangering the living conditions of other people, now or in the future” (Smit, Nasr and Ratta 2001).

In this definition, the authors follow the concept of the triple bottom-line but at the same time emphasize the social-ecological system a city represents. The phrase “well-being without endangering the natural world” emphasizes this interaction between human society in a city and nature as a whole and hints to not misunderstand cities as something detached from nature. The emphasis of the “organization” of cities emphasizes the structure of decision-making in a city, the governance dimension.

The authors describe the ecological dimension of a city’s sustainability to require that a city or urban region reduces its negative ecological footprint towards zero. In order to do so, it is important to close the now open ecological loops with respect to the reuse of waste and cleansing and reuse of water (Smit, Nasr and Ratta 2001). Becoming less dependent on outside supplies by closing the loop is an important theme which can be found in many research articles concerning sustainable cities. Sassen (2005) claims that cities have to adopt a circular metabolic system of nature in order to cope with future challenges, and not overuse the natural systems on which they are dependent. But are cities able to achieve this claim? And is it enough to declare a certain, vague statement to be the goal?

It becomes more and more contested that sustainability as a vague future stable state of the three dimensions (ecologic, social and economic) is precise and concrete enough, especially as it does not emphasize insecurities which the reality has to offer (UNISDR 2002, Walker & Salt 2006). Recent history shows that a normative concept alone cannot do the trick to prepare cities for an uncertain future. Life is far more complex than this and keeps a large number of unknown events as surprises. The current global financial crisis, for instance, has let the issue of climate mitigation simply fall down the political agenda (Stokes 2011). Sudden natural disasters which are expected to increase in absolute numbers and in their quality due to global climate change destroy within an instant all efforts which were undertaken to achieve the sustainability of a city (take Katrina in New Orleans).

With their high need for imports and their dependence on complex supply systems, cities are extremely vulnerable to sudden changes, even when they are expected like for instance peak oil or climate change (Newman, Beatley & Boyer 2009). But what is about the unexpected?

1.2 Towards a strategic approach for an uncertain future: Resilient cities

In the face of natural disasters and sudden, unforeseeable socio-economic changes, the normative claim of sustainable development has to be complemented by a strategic approach of how to prepare for the uncertainty. Instead of a ‘fail-safe’ state of society a ’safe-to-fail’ state is claimed to be needed, while this ‘fail-safe’ should be based on flexibility to anticipate failures and design systems to minimise failure effects (Dorset 2011). This claim derives out of the research on the resilience of socio-ecological systems[2]. The term resilience was first used for ecological systems only. Grimm & Wissel (1997) found resilience to be one of three terms to describe stability of ecological systems. They defined resilience as the capacity of ecological systems to return “to the reference state (or dynamic) after a temporary disturbance” (Grimm & Wissel 1997).

Walker & Salt (2006) went further by researching case-studies of social-ecological systems and developed a widely cited definition of resilience:

"Resilience is the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and still retain its basic function and structure" (Walker & Salt 2006: 113).

This is the first and most important characteristic of social-ecological resilience as found by Folke (2006) who called the basic function and structure “domain of attraction”. He emphasizes that the resilience approach is concerned with how to persist through continuous development in the face of change and how to innovate and transform into new more desirable configurations (Folke 2006). He furthermore added the degree to which the system is capable of self-organization (as opposing to a lack of organization, or organization forced by external factors), and the degree to which the system can build and increase the capacity for learning and adaptation (Folke 2006).

Folke (2006) calls for the ‘same state’ or rather ‘domain of attraction’ or ‘desirable configurations’ which can be interpreted as a sustainable development, with its three dimensions of environmental, social and economic sustainability. But he extends this concept with the capacity for self-organization and learning-capacities (Folke 2006). In contrast to the normative concept of sustainability, resilience is expressively strategic as – in order to be effective – it must be explicitly based on, and informed by, environmental, ecological, social, and economic drivers and dynamics of a particular place (Pickett, Cadenossa & Grove 2004).

Once applied to social-ecological systems as in the case of Walker & Salt’s monography “Resilient thinking”, the concept of resilience has started to gain attention and was quickly applied to cities as social-ecological systems. Dorset (2011) declared ‘urban resilience’ to describe a “notion seeking to capture the differential and uneven ability of places to react, respond and cope with uncertain, volatile and rapid change” (Dorset 2011). The general theme of adaptability to sudden changes can be found in all applications of the resilience-concept (Folke 2006).

This abstract definition, however, is still lacking concrete best-practice examples for resilient cities. Conceptually, Newman, Beatley & Boyer (2008) tried to close this gap with their book “Resilient Cities” by proposing seven key elements to create a resilient city or community with respect to climate change and peak oil which they derived out of a number of case studies. Even though they did not find one show-case city which shows innovations in all seven areas, they found some of their examples to perform very well in one or two. As can be seen below, these key elements for a resilient city are nothing different than the important provision systems on which the life in a city is based and thus its citizens’ well-being: Energy, water, waste, transport and food.

- “The Renewable Energy City: Urban areas powered by renewable energy technologies from the region to the building level.
- Carbon Neutral City: Every home, neighbourhood and business will be carbon neutral.
- Distributed City: Cities will shift from large centralised power, water, and waste systems to small scale and neighbourhood-based systems.
- Photosynthetic City: The potential to harness renewable energy and provide food and fibre locally will become part of urban green infrastructure.
- Eco-Efficient City: Cities and regions will move from linear to circular or closed-loop systems, where substantial amounts of their energy and material needs are provided from waste streams.
- Place-based City: Cities and regions will understand renewable energy more generally as a way to build the local economy and nurture a unique and special sense of place.
- Sustainable Transport City: Cities, neighbourhoods, and regions will be designed to use energy sparingly by offering walkable, transit-orientated options for all supplemented by electric vehicles” (Newmann, Beatley and Boyer 2008).

But how are these changes in the city’s systems achieved? Walker and Salt (2008) found some answers by investigating five case studies of social-ecological systems. In their book “Resilient thinking” they describe a general system with certain thresholds beyond which the system would suddenly shift into a new regime or state with different feedbacks between its component parts and a different structure (Walker & Salt 2006).

They point out the importance of identifying and monitoring the economic, social and environmental forces which drive a system towards these thresholds (Walker & Salt 2006). To achieve urban resilience the driving actors’ mode of thinking has to change – they need “to cross a mental threshold into a systems mind space in which systems with multiple stable states and adaptive cycles make sense” (Walker & Salt 2006); they need to realize the systems’ linkages, thresholds, and cycles. Walker and Salt (2006) found resilience thinking to be based on understanding and embracing change, as opposed to striving for constancy. And they harshly criticize the drive for efficiency which basically means to optimize isolated components of a certain system which will automatically lead to a higher dependence on this single component and thus increases the vulnerability of the system to shocks and disturbances as a whole (Walker & Salt 2006).

Resilience thinking might offer a framework for this strategic planning. Based on their model of social-ecological systems with certain thresholds and the research on reasons for historical decline of human-kind and breakdowns of ecosystems, Walker and Salt (2006) developed a concept including factors or rather urban planning and design strategies which make social-ecological systems more resilient:

- Diversity in all forms: biological, landscape, social, and economic
- Ecological variability rather than attempting to control and reduce it
- Modularity of the components the system is based on
- Acknowledging slow variables associated with thresholds
- Tight Feedbacks
- Social capital, namely trust, well-developed social networks, and leadership (in concert as adaptability)
- Innovation as result of subsidized learning, experimentation, locally developed rules, and embracing change
- Overlap in governance as "redundancy" in their governance structures and a mix of common and private property with overlapping access rights
- Ecosystem services would be included in development proposals and assessments (Walker & Salt 2006)

Based on these factors, human society might have a framework to develop ideas of how to become more resilient towards these challenges in order to preserve and improve the well-being of human-kind and the Earth as a whole. In the same way that cities represent the problem of overconsumption and pollution, they are declared to be able to give solutions: Their positive potential for economies of scale, density and the associated potential for greater efficiency in resource use and lower priced options, and dense networks of communication can serve as facilitators to institute new practices (Sassen 2005).

1.3 Urban food systems

Of all the urban provision systems listed by Newman, Beatley and Boyer (2008), probably the most widely spread and likewise least visible is the food system. Everywhere in a city, food is visible: Wherever you walk, you will see people eating and you will find markets, bakeries, ice-cream parlours and restaurants, fast-food places, cafés and supermarkets. They are the ones who provide the urban human-being with food. But these are only the outlets of a long chain reaching from production to processing, storage and transportation. These parts of the food system are highly invisible. Only the colourful labels of the packaged products in the supermarket shelves give a hint to a highly unlikely situation of free-ranging cows in a green and lush country-side, as Pollan (2006) described so neatly in his book “The omnivore’s dilemma”.

Although, food production is mostly invisible in an urban setting, the interconnectedness between a city and food exists but stays unnoticed by citizens and public administrators. Pothukuchi and Kaufman (1999) named a number of factors which make the importance of the food-system clear. They listed not only the high share of retailing related to food-shopping, but the number of employees in the food system, the percentage of overall income dedicated to food, environmental issues like food waste as a major part of domestic waste, the pollution of urban water resources due to fertilizer-use in the rural surrounding, the share of shopping trips in the urban transportation volume, and social impacts like food related health issues (e.g. obesity) (Pothukuchi & Kaufman 1999). This list shows clearly the social-ecological dimension of the food-system. It is a highly important part of the city as a whole; it is not only nurturing the urbanized society but impacts their life in the above-mentioned fashion. Most of us, however, take food for granted.

This can prove to be a highly risky attitude. Following the argumentation of resilience research, the chase for efficiency creates vulnerable systems and exposes them to sudden system shifts (Walker & Salt 2006). The current food system in industrial countries is as efficient as never before in its history and thus gives rise to the assumption of being highly non-resilient. Starting with the Green Revolution in the second half of the 20th century the efficiency gains were immense (Lang 2004, Pretty 2008), leading to a focus on few high-yield crops and homogenous supply chains. Since the 1960s the aggregate world food production has grown by 145% (FAO 2005), even outpacing global population growth: for each person today, there is an additional 25% more food produced compared to 1960 (Pretty 2008). Productivity has increased due to technological advancements of tools, fertilizers, pesticides and even seeds (Lang 2004). For decades now, the number of farmers in Germany for instance has decreased while the land per farmer has become larger (Destatis 2006). These few farmers are provided by a decreasing number of seed and agrochemical companies (Lang, 2004; Mascarnhas & Busch 1999, ETC 2008).

The theme of “more output with a minimum of input” can also be seen in the market place itself. The number of companies in retailing and production is decreasing, while the size of these firms is increasing. The retailing sector has experienced a similar trend. In concrete numbers this means that the 10 largest retailers provide 34% of the food in Europe (Dobson 2003). This enabled our societies to have a highly specialized labour market through division of labour and cheap food (Bosshart and Hauser 2008).

Although this high output industry secures sufficient food availability on a global scale (although it does not provide access), this comes with high external costs for the environment. The industrialized agriculture with its monocultures is responsible for deforestation, water over-consumption and pollution, contamination and degradation of soil as well as the loss of biodiversity through pesticides and monocultures to name only a few of the negative impacts of our food production system. Pretty (2008) draws an overwhelming picture of destruction, when she summarizes the negative environmental impacts connected to industrialized agriculture:

“Increased agricultural area contributes substantially to the loss of habitats, associated biodiversity and their valuable environmental services (MEA 2005; Scherr & McNeely 2008). Approximately 30–80% of nitrogen applied to farmland escapes to contaminate water systems and the atmosphere as well as increasing the incidence of some disease vectors (Smil 2001; Victor & Reuben 2002; Pretty et al. 2003a; Townsend et al. 2003; Giles 2005; Goulding et al. 2008). Irrigation water is often used inefficiently and causes waterlogging and salinization, as well as diverts water from other domestic and industrial users; and agricultural machinery has increased the consumption of fossil fuels in food production (Leach 1976; Stout 1998)” (Pretty 2008).

Although widely known by consumers in industrial countries, it is still difficult to make the right choice when food-shopping. Too intransparent, too unconnected is the product offered in the local supermarket to its actual ecological backpack it is carrying. But efforts are being made.

1.4 Urban agriculture: farming or gardening?

Since these environmental damages have been acknowledged and the media is picking up (in a rather panic-provoking manner) news on food scandals, consumers struggle for more transparency and are looking for alternatives. The demand for organic food, for instance, was continuously rising in Germany in the last 10 years (BÖWL 2011), likewise the demand for local food rises (Bosshart & Hauser 2008). Alternative food systems are enjoying an increasing popularity in numerous major German cities, like farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture and self-harvesting projects are spreading (Rasper 2012, Müller 2012). This is often related to the interest in the food’s origin (BÖWL 2011).

Another trend which might relate to the same motivation is the production of food in the city. If in the form of roof-top farms, as allotment gardens or community gardens, these initiatives experience increasing public interest and an inflow of members in all major cities in Europe (BMVBS 2008, Müller 2012, Rasper 2012). These forms of food production are taking place inside the city limits which is surprising at first glance. As Pothukuchi and Kaufman (1999) find, there is a clear dichotomy between urban and rural space with respect to their relevance for the food system. As the vast rural area is identified with agriculture and food production, the potential of the urban space to host food production is often ignored due to its dense population and sealed surfaces.

However, it is found that urban food production contributes significantly to the global food supply of urban citizens. Schug (2005) estimates that today about 200 million urban inhabitants produce food for 800 million people globally. He calculates roughly that 15 to 20% of the global food production is produced in cities worldwide (Schug 2005).

Although significant in quantities, urban space is generally overlooked in the discussion about food provision for cities and agricultural systems due to its highly informal and small-scale character. In industrial countries, agriculture has been understood as something contrasting urban life, and agricultural area was rather understood as potential extension area for the sprawling city (Lohrberg 2010).

Still a very young field of research, several authors have already attempted to give a definition for urban agriculture. As can be drawn from the technical term urban agriculture, the location is usually an important feature to define and differentiate urban agriculture (UA) from rural agriculture. UA is understood as agriculture which is carried out within or on the outskirts of a city where a non-agricultural use of local resources is a real option; in contrast to this rural agriculture is found in areas where this option is not an issue (Mougeot 1999).

Jac Smit, an urban planner who dedicated his life work to the research on urban agriculture and is referred to as the father of urban agriculture, defines urban agriculture in his often cited book “Urban agriculture – Food, Jobs and Sustainable Cities” as “an industry that produces, processes, and markets food, fuel, and other outputs, largely in response to the daily demand of consumers within a town, city, or metropolis, on many types of privately and publicly held land and water bodies found throughout intra-urban and peri-urban areas. Typically urban agriculture applies intensive production methods, frequently using and reusing natural resources and urban wastes, to yield a diverse array of land-, water-, and air-based fauna and flora, contributing to the food security, health, livelihood, and environment of the individual, household, and community” (Smit, Nasr and Ratta 2001).

The term ‘industry’ points to UA as being a producing sector with the typical search for ever more efficient production technologies and the focus on increasing productivity as can be drawn from the rural agriculture. At first glance, this seems to contradict with the rather small-scale character of urban gardens which usually produce food on some 100m². As I could experience in the work group on urban agriculture at the “International Conference on Agriculture in an Urbanizing Society and Urban-Rural Relations”[3], this exclusion of gardening (based on the assumption that gardens do not produce excess food which then can be sold commercially) from urban agriculture in contrast to farming is highly contested in the international research community. An example which argues for an inclusion of gardens might be the city of San Francisco where the legislation has recently enabled urban gardeners to sell their access-food (URL SFUAA).

Canadian geographer Luc Mougeot, one of the world’s leading experts on urban agriculture, names a number of conceptual blocks which help to develop a typology of urban agricultural projects. Due to him urban agriculture can be differentiated by:

- types of economic activities
- food/non-food categories of products and sub-categories
- intra-urban and peri-urban character of location
- types of areas where it is practiced
- types of production systems
- product destination
- production scale (Mougeot 1999).

He emphasizes the integration of urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA) into the urban socio-economic and ecological system and refers to this as “Eco-System” (Mougeot 1999) which is comparable to the resilience concept of social-ecological systems. In his typology, he points to the important factor that the agricultural activity is taking place in an urban setting. But it also hints that in the general trend of urbanization the limits between rural and urban areas are no longer (never were?) clear-cut (Meyer-Renschhausen 2011). The term urban agriculture is understood as the opposite of rural agriculture, set in a different setting, however transition is blurred and the blurry zone between urban and rural has also its huge potential for agricultural activity, the peri-urban agriculture. So the final definition still does not exist, but his description as “Eco-System Urban Agriculture” might help to identify the main theme:

“Urban agriculture is based on urban resources like land, labour and urban organic wastes, the produce is grown for urban citizens, urban conditions (policies, regulations, markets, prices) have a strong influence and urban agriculture itself influences the urban system vice versa (having effects on urban food security and poverty, as well as having impacts on ecology and health)” (Mougeot 1999).

Van Veenhuizen (2006) distinguishes between three types of urban agriculture. The criteria for this differentiation are the project’s main objectives and economic activities. He mentions subsistence-oriented urban agriculture, market-oriented urban agriculture and multifunctional urban agriculture. Subsistence-oriented urban agriculture describes food production for self-consumption only, which obviously contradicts Smit’s mere market-orientation. Excess produce can either be sold or given away for free. Market-oriented urban agriculture aims at income-generation via production of food and non-food produce. Multifunctional urban agriculture combines food production with other objectives like educational, recreational or environmental purposes (van Veenhuizen 2006).

These conceptualizations and the discussions about how to define a phenomenom based on countless small-scale projects in hundreds and thousands of cities all over the world seem somehow more complicated than helpful for framing the issue. I therefore, will use the term of urban food production in the remainder of this paper, which includes all three forms of urban agriculture – commercial, subsistence-oriented and multifunctional – and furthermore includes both farming and gardening.

1.5 Definition of research gap

From this research background it becomes clear that both, resilience research and research on urban agriculture are very new research areas which have yet to fully develop their theoretical body. Interestingly both areas have a rather interdisciplinary scientific community. Urban gardening initiatives in Berlin, for instance, are studied from different disciplines, like geographers with respect to public space (Rosol 2006), or sociologist with a special focus on integration (Müller 2002, Allmende-Kontor 2012).

So far, researchers focused on urban agriculture mainly as a way to confront food insecurity for the urban poor in developing countries (Mougeot 1999; Smit, Nasr and Ratta 2001). In industrial countries, the issue has only started recently to raise scientific interest. In Germany, the research on intra-urban food production, except on allotment gardens, has started only since 2005 (Müller 2012). Currently there are three research projects based in Berlin which have started to assess the current initiatives, intending to develop a database of existing projects with their actors (URL Innsula, URL ZFarm, URL VitaCity). Meanwhile several institutes at Universities of Applied Science try to improve urban food production technologies (e.g. Infarming, Duisburg and IGB, Berlin).

Urban Agriculture is often contextualized as an important contribution to a sustainable development. A holistic assessment, however, is difficult and still missing in the research arena. More concrete and strategic, the resilience research has started to generate a concept of resilient cities. This research is still in a very early stage and concrete proposals of what is needed to become more resilient are rare. The urban food system can clearly be identified as one of the social-ecological systems in the resilience concept. So far it has not been attempted to assess the contribution of urban food production to the resilience of a city.

1.6 Matching research question

- Does urban vegetable production contribute to urban resilience in an industrialized country context, and if so, how? Which factors for resilience are fulfilled by urban vegetable production?
- How do urban vegetable producers perceive the interaction with state actors: how do these interactions hinder or facilitate the local production of vegetables in an urban setting?
- How do growers feel that local and national regulations and organisations are affecting their projects?

1.7 Aim of the thesis

- To explore the reality of urban vegetable producer’s in a concrete case study of one city in a highly industrialized country, identify the different variations of urban vegetable production, exploring their perception of how they contribute to the urban system with respect to urban resilience, getting to know their important stakeholder networks and their form of interactions in order to understand what would help urban vegetable producers to enhance their scheme in cities of industrialized countries.
- To understand how urban vegetable producers are part of urban governance structures and identify policy interventions to enhance their capacity to produce food in an urban setting
- To help urban governance actors increase the amount of locally produced vegetables in cities of industrialized countries in order to enhance the resilience of cities.

1.8 Target group

- Practitioners of urban food production
- Policy makers and public administrators in cities of industrialized countries
- researchers and students in the area of sustainable urban development, urban agriculture, urban planning and resilient cities

2 Methodology

I started my research project with the observation that community-based gardening projects in German cities were increasing in absolute numbers. A first internet search showed me that this was not a German phenomenom at all, but that the concept of community gardens had their origins in the United States and that it is discussed and implemented in most European capital cities as well. In the US, the development had gone further and commercial projects in the form of roof-top farms are successfully operating and contributing a new food-provider for the urban food systems in the US.

2.1 Case study selection

Based on the research background which I described in Chapter1, I decided to take a city in an industrial country as a case study. I was looking for a major city in a highly industrialized country where a number of different food-producing initiatives have spread in recent times. Furthermore I aimed for a case study with actors’ networks unknown to me, in order to keep a certain personal distance to the object of my research. As I am familiar with the German culture and context and the existing projects in Germany, I decided to take it as the national background for my case-study.

The decision to select Berlin as a case study was based on first investigative interviews with gardeners in Hamburg and email-exchange I had with several German research projects on urban agriculture: I found that in Germany, Berlin is expected to show the greatest variety of different types of urban food production. With 3.5 million citizens and an area of 892 km², Berlin is by far the biggest city in Germany and judging from this size the only German city comparable to other European capitals. In this respect, urban food producing projects in other German cities (e.g. in GartenDeck in Hamburg) tend to look towards the German capital for inspiration. As will be shown in section 3.1 on the history of urban food production in Berlin, the city has a long tradition of urban agriculture inside the city limits.

From the point of decision, I started a desk research of the currently available literature on urban food production in Berlin. For the internet search I googled key words like “Gemeinschaftsgärten Berlin”, “Interkulturelle Gärten Berlin”, „Urbane Landwirtschaft Berlin“, „Urbane Lebensmittelproduktion Berlin“. Furthermore I communicated via email with scientific experts to learn about the different projects and forms of urban food production in Berlin. When I identified a project, I searched their website for interlinkages to other projects or networks. Furthermore, I read online news articles on the topic. The final selection criteria for the projects were the following:

1. Projects should explicitly or implicitly produce food;
2. Projects should be organized as legal entities;
3. Projects should be situated in one of the central districts of Berlin (i.e.: Mitte, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, Pankow, Reinickendorf; Tempelhof-Schöneberg, Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, or in the very North of Neukölln).

Based on this I identified more than 25 projects of which I selected seven projects to become my samples. They represent six different forms of urban vegetable production, i.e. allotment gardens, one roof-top aquaponic farm, one mushroom farm, one intercultural garden, one neighbourhood garden and two mobile garden concepts (cf. section 3.2).

2.2 Semi-structured interviews

Due to the number of projects I found and the analytical framework the study is based on, (see below) I decided to carry out semi-structured interviews of experts (following Patton 2001). This enabled me to receive the subjective perceptions of practitioners of different forms of urban vegetable production. I contacted the projects via email or called them directly on the phone, explained my research idea and asked for an appointment for a face-to-face interview with a representative. I conducted the interviews in German.

The interviews were based on an interview guide (cf. Appendix 1: Questionaire); however, I purposefully created a personal, conversational atmosphere through my behaviour (in some cases I visited the site of their vegetable production and let them explain the organisational structure to me). This personal approach was accepted as I always received the invitation to address the interviewee in an informal way, to use “Du” instead of “Sie”. I also did not stick too close to the interview guide, but let the interviewee answer freely and decide about the next area of discussion. In the end, however, I tried to have all questions answered. The interviewees were informed that the conversation was recorded, their approval was obtained. The interviews took from half an hour to 3 hours and were recorded with a small MP3-player which only rarely picked up the attention of the interviewee. Three of the seven interviews were conducted on the telephone as a personal meeting was not possible. They followed the same semi-structured approach.

The interview was structured in two parts:

Part 1: following the interview guide.

Part 2: filling out a Stakeholder-Portfolio-Matrix with power/ interest-dimensions (cf. Appendix 2: Stakeholder-Matrix) based on the stakeholders mentioned throughout the interview.

In order to fill out the stakeholder-matrix, I explained the significance of the matrix to the interviewee and further gave them the following instructions, how to fill them out:

- “Interest” relates to the perceived intention of the actor with respect to urban food production (from high to low)
- “Power/ influence” relates to the ability of the stakeholder to threaten the existence of the urban gardening project or to change its current state (from high to low)
- The stakeholders are distributed in relation to each other, there are no quantitative measures for the axes

The second part was either filled out directly after the interview, or prepared by me, sent to the interviewee via email and then corrected by the interviewee during a phone-call which was as well recorded. These stakeholder-portfolios were then manually transferred to a simple actors’ network, which shows how the projects are interlinked. This network was created with VUE (Visual Understanding Environment), an open source network-creator with simple analysis tools[4].

The recorded interviews were then transcribed using the program F4[5].

2.3 Analysis and theoretical framework

After reception, I coded the documents manually, using Microsoft Word Comment-function along the keywords of the analytical framework which is described below. I also extracted important quotes and fed them into the citation software Citavi[6] and connected them to keywords of the analytical framework (see below). I translated the direct quotes which are used in the following analysis into English. Although I did it as precisely as possible, this might have led to a loss in information due to the differences in languages.

I then extracted information on the history of the urban food system of Berlin from literature and the interviews of the urban vegetable producers and provided an overview of the current state of the food system of Berlin (cf. chapter 3) in order to understand certain patterns of the social-ecological system of food-provision in Berlin over time (cf. section 3.1.). Following this, I described the seven projects under research and compared them with respect to their active participants, their main goals, their legal form, their source of financing and their plans for the proximate future (cf. section 3.2).

Following this, the analysis of the contribution of urban food production for a more resilient food system in Berlin (cf. chapter 4) was made, emphasizing the projects stakeholder-networks (cf. sections 4.2 and 4.6). The stakeholder-portfolios (cf. Appendix 3: Stakeholder-Portfolios) played an important role in this respect. They offered the possibility to understand the projects’ perception of the importance for and interest of their stakeholders in their project. The identified stakeholders were grouped based on the following typology which enabled me to group the mentioned stakeholders and to understand the importance of different legal forms of organizations for the urban food producers.

Table 1: Typology of stakeholders

illustration not visible in this excerpt

The stakeholder-portfolios also helped to derive a simple actors network (cf. Appendix 4: Actor-Network). This is based on the stakeholders which the interviewees found either to be interested in their project or influential on its existence or both. Stakeholders in quadrant D (unimportant and uninterested) were not taken into account.

The further analysis of the interviews was based on the conceptual framework for resilient social-ecological systems following Walker and Salt (2006) (cf. chapter 4). I followed their argumentation in “Resilience Thinking” on what factors a resilient world would value in order to answer the first research question “Does urban vegetable production contribute to urban resilience in an industrialized country context, and if so, how? Which factors for resilience are fulfilled by urban vegetable production?”

Walker and Salt (2006) developed the following conceptural framework which includes factors that are imperative to manage the resilience of a social-ecological system:

- “Diversity – a resilient world would promote and sustain diversity in all forms (biological, landscape, social, and economic).
- Ecological variability – A resilient world would embrace and work with ecological variability (rather than attempting to control and reduce it).
- Modularity – a resilient world would consist of modular components.
- Acknowledging slow variables – A resilient world would have a policy focus on “slow”, controlling variables associated with thresholds.
- Tight Feedbacks – a resilient world would possess tight feedbacks (but not too tight).
- Social Capital – A resilient world would promote trust, well-developed social networks, and leadership (adaptability). Individually these attributes contribute to what is generally termed “social capital”, but they need to act in concert to affect adaptability.
- Innovation. A resilient world would place an emphasis on learning, experimentation, locally developed rules, and embracing change. A resilient world would subsidize experimentation – trying things in different ways – and offer help to those willing to change.
- Overlap in Governance – A resilient world would have institutions that include “redundancy” in their governance structures and a mix of common and private property with overlapping access rights. Totally top-down governance structures with no redundancy in roles may be efficient (in the short term), but they tend to fail when the circumstances under which they were developed suddenly change. More “messy” structures perform better during such times of change. Ecosystem Services – A resilient world would include all the unpriced ecosystem services in development proposals and assessments“ (Walker & Salt 2006: 145ff.).

In chapter 4, I introduce each factor more extensively, before analysing my data on the urban food producers with respect to their contribution to this resilience factor.

In chapter 5, I than took a final step of analysis by describing and analysing the special interactions of the urban food producers with state actors in order to answer the second research question “How do the urban vegetable producers perceive the interaction with state actors: how do these interactions hinder or facilitate the local production of vegetables in an urban setting? ” and the third “How do growers feel that local and national regulations and organisations are affecting their projects?” I did this by identifying important forms of interactions with state actors, which happened to be the following:

- Financial support
- Urban planning and the provision of public land
- Regulations
- Information, coordination and responsibilities
- Administrative processes

I discussed these findings in respect to how they support or prevent the scheme of urban agriculture to advance with respect to productivity, land-area used and participation of Berlin’s citizens. All my findings were furthermore cross-checked with scientific literature on the issue.

2.4 Limitations of Scope

Due to the limitation of time to 4 months dedicated to the fulfilment of this research project, I limited the scope of this study to one city only. In the form of an explorative study, I identified the existing forms of intra-urban vegetable production in this city, the main actors and their networks. Finally, I selected only 7 different projects and interviewed one representative each. This limits the extracted information to the very subjective perspective of one person who was usually one of the initiators of the projects. The subjectivity of their perspectives can therefore not include the perception of the larger group of other members some of the projects were based on. I only investigated the perspectives of the practitioners themselves and left actors from their networks unquestioned.

I also think it is important to mention, that I only chose the perspective of the urban food producers and left out to investigate their stakeholder’s opinion to cross-check their perceptions. My findings therefore are only triangled with the current state of research on resilience and urban agriculture.

As I visited Berlin only for the interviews and visits of the vegetable production sites, my knowledge of local structures, institutions and circumstances are only theoretical, derived from the interviews and literature. This might have led to misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the interviewee’s statements.

The method of collecting stakeholders during the interview and then directly distributing them on the stakeholder-matrix might have led to missing important ones. The alternative of extracting stakeholders from the interview transcript and having a re-check of the matrix with the interviewees generally led to a higher number of identified stakeholders.

3 Introducing Berlin’s food system

Every journey starts with the first step.

But before I get into the analysis of such a complex system as the food provision system of a major city, I even want to take one step back and face the past. To do so, I first give a historical overview of the urban food production in Berlin from the Industrial Revolution until today. I identify the disturbances the system experienced in this time, their consequences and intensity. As a result, I collect challenges and weaknesses of the historical Berlin’s food system. In the next step I then describe the seven selected case studies and give a short summary of their differences and common grounds in order to provide an understanding of what different forms of urban agriculture are currently present in Berlin. The following step then is to apply the conceptual framework for resilience thinking of Walker and Salt onto this then described system of urban food producers and find out in how far they are able to contribute to the resilience of Berlin’s food system. In the last chapter of the analysis, I take the special focus on understanding the interaction of the urban food producers with the state’s actors.

3.1 History of a phenomenon: Urban food production in Berlin

Following the resilience framework of Walker and Salt (2006), a historical overview of a social-ecological system is the starting point for understanding the adaptive cycles and system regimes of such a system. An adaptive cycle due to the authors is a path on which loops of growth and adaptability are followed by back loops of creative destruction and new beginnings (Walker & Salt 2006). The frequency and intensity of these events cannot be predicted, only modelled with high uncertainty on the basis of stochastic processes and disturbances; looking back in history helps to understand how a city has formerly coped with such challenges.

In the following chapter, I summarize the timeline and evolution of Berlin’s food-system throughout the last 150 years. I point out important historical events in connection to the population’s development, the situation of food provision , district sources of food and related public policies. This description provides answers to questions about the nature and dynamics of the food sector; its evolution over time; the major changes in supply and demand, the performance of the food system to provide Berlin’s citizens with food, the main players which supported this food system, the historical challenges the sector had to face and the effectiveness of policies and support structures.

Few publications concentrate on the issue of food production and provision in Berlin. I had difficulties to find quantitative data with the specific focus on Berlin and its historical food provision system. The information which I present in the following was scattered in different publications and come from different contexts. Some sources specialize on a specific form of urban food production and sketch its evolution. This was true for the allotment gardens (URL Gartenfreunde Berlin) and urban gardening initiatives (Meyer-Renschhausen 2012). Schmidt (2008) has gathered a valuable collection of administrative documents and minutes regarding the post-war years 1945-1949 in his book “Red roots on the Olivaer square”. Further information could be gathered from history and trends of the German retailing system which is applicable to Berlin until World War II. I furthermore consulted history books and included some narratives from the interviewees. The following table gives an overview of the historical development.

Table 2 Timeline of urban food production in Berlin

illustration not visible in this excerpt

From the timeline in Table 2, it becomes clear that urban food production always became more relevant in the time of social or economic crises, represented by wars, post-war struggles and regime shifts. These shifts provoked (partly temporary) changes in the food provision of Berlin as the former system did not work anymore due to destruction or loss of providers. So it happened during the First and Second World War, but also during the economic crisis in the late 1920s. The allotment gardens, for instance, were always extended or legally secured once such a crisis set in. Urban food production was always reinvented and supported as a “safety valve” once the conventional systems were highly impacted by outer circumstances (Lohrberg 2011).

Besides these sudden shifts, the Industrial Revolution and its impact on the city was another trigger for changes in the urban food system. Cities were industrializing and workers districts were developing. The workers’ wages were not high enough to provide for their needs. That is why allotment gardens, back than called worker’s gardens were provided by the big industrial companies to keep the work force nurtured and functioning. The aspect of health was important in the development process of the typical German phenomenon of “Schrebergärten”. Allotment gardens were originally developed in order to improve the health of urban children. Later they turned to be the retreat for the proletarian citizens of the industrialized cities (Schug 2005). During the crises mentioned above, the allotment gardens usually received more public land or a change in legal framework, ensuring their existence as an important food supply for the urban population. The climax of this development was in 1919, when the Weimar Republic released the ordinance to provide every Berlin citizen with enough land to cover their demand for vegetables and potatoes (URL Gartenfreunde Berlin). This resulted in the maximum area of more than 6,000 ha for allotment gardens in Berlin in 1925.

In war-times the food-provision of the cities was especially bad: The worst food crises happened during WW I when 750,000 Germans died of hunger (Müller 2003). Due to the lack of fertilizers and a bad yield, in 1915 food had to be rationed. In WW II, the war-time did not put so much pressure on food provision, but the post-war time did. In 1947 a worldwide food crisis lead to the so called “hunger winter” 1946/47 in Berlin which imprinted in the collective memory of this generation and has shaped their consumption behaviour until the present day (Schmidt 2008a). Since then, the food system stabilized. The Green Revolution which started in the 1960s and the appearing retail-system of supermarkets seem to provide sufficient food as to secure food availability in Berlin (Krawinkel 2005).

However, the lessons to be learned from the crises during war-times is that high dependence on imports of material, such as fertilizers, seeds, tools and a lack of work force as men were at the front or dead, weakens a food system in times of need (Schmidt 2008b).

The public administration always played an important role during times of crises. During both wars food was rationed and given out centrally for ration stamps. The administrators made public and private land available for the population to grow their own food as last instance to ensure additional provision of fresh vegetables. It is important to point out the fallow land ordinance which was introduced in 1945. It ordered the Berlin population to grow vegetables on every plot of unsealed land (Schmidt 2008a). The district administration was allowed to confiscate private fallow land and to provide interested gardeners with access to these fields. Whole parks were transformed to vegetable gardens comparable with the Victory Gardens in the US and UK (Meyer-Renschhausen 2012). The still existing and functioning horticultural farms were obliged to only produce vegetables and provide them at central public food collection points (Schmidt 2008b).


[1] There are numerous definitions to be found about what exactly a city is. In this paper, I assume a city to be a densely populated area of more than 500,000 citizens which is characterized by a strong functional, transport and communication network.

[2] For a comprehesinve summary of the evolution of the resilience concept see Folke (2006).

[3] International Conference on multifunctional agriculture in an urbanizing society and urban-rural relations, 1-4 April 2012 in Wageningen, The Netherlands. Cf.

[4] VUE (Visual Understanding Environment) retrieved from:

[5] Freeware to manually transfer recordings into written text. Retrieved from:

[6] Reference management program, for Microsoft Windows. Retrieved from:


ISBN (eBook)
5.2 MB
Institution / Hochschule
Central European University Budapest – Environmental Sciences and Policy
2014 (April)
urban berlin



Titel: Urban food production: A contribution to urban resilience in Berlin?