Some things deserve a closer look

Garden allotment, Dutch style

I want a volkstuin. That’s Dutch for “people’s garden” – and it is as socialistic as it sounds. They started in Holland back in the 15th century when people created “kool” (as in cole slaw) gardens – so workers could grow staples like cabbage in vacant areas at the edges of cities.

The movement kept growing until the late 1700s, when the Dutch started something called (roughly translated) The Society for the General Benefit, to help improve the general happiness of people by improving the material and moral circumstances of the working class.

Workers could rent a piece of land – in general around 280 m2 (±3000 sq ft) for hardly any money, so they could enjoy the outdoor recreation of gardening. Because it’s good for the body – and for the soul.

In Amsterdam, there’s the Federation of People’s Gardens. It started in the early 1900s. There are almost 6000 gardens in my local federation, covering 280 hectares (692 acres). And in the whole of the Netherlands, there are about 250,000 people’s garden complexes with names that sound like some kind of socialist gardening revolution.

  • The Union
  • Glorious Amstel
  • Peace & Happiness
  • The Oasis
  • Our Benefit and Pleasure
  • Our Outdoors
  • Self-Sufficiency
  • Our Paradise

And then there’s one that’s an abbreviation of something (T.I.G.E.N.O.) that roughly translates to: “Gardening is pleasant and useful recreation”.

To get a people’s garden, you join the federation and pay dues – then you can sign up at as many complexes as you like. There’s a Saturday each month when you can see what gardens are for sale. Some gardens have a long waiting list – at others you can get a garden pretty much right away. First you pay the initial cost for the house and the plants (between €4000-€12,000, or $5000-$16,000, they set a limit on the amount, and base it on a fair point system, but it’s still a lot of money for some people, like me). Then there’s a small annual fee. And you have to follow the rules, do monthly communal chores and keep your allotment up to snuff.

I’m on the waiting list for two garden complexes. Tuinwijck – which means garden district. And Wijkergouw, which is just a local name, and nothing socialistic at all. They are both just a 10-minute bike ride from my apartment, which is in a pretty urban area. But in those 10 minutes, you find yourself in something that resembles pure nature. Take a look at my video and you’ll see. I don’t have a garden yet (I need to save up more money…) – but I still look every month to see what’s for sale, just in case!

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