The historic vegetable garden of Castle De Haar comes to life again! A group of people formed a foundation to restore the garden and make it supply food again. The garden is operated according to the concept of ‘community supported agriculture’ by a professional gardener, with the support of many volunteers from the (urban) environment. In addition, the wall greenhouse, which was a way to improve yields in the 19th century, is being restored with a visitors area. Also part of the project is the development of an education programme and an open air classroom in the garden, so both young and old can learn about the production of sustainable food.
This project is truly a ‘bottom-up’ initiative that serves several goals: it is inclusive, connects the city with the countryside and reconnects people with each other and with how food is produced. In addition, it breathes new life into the cultural-historical heritage and provides employment.
The former vegetable garden of castle De Haar in Haarzuilens was out of use for a long time. Nature conservation organization Natuurmonumenten became the owner when the castle was privatized. Natuurmonumenten, the municipality and the castle foundation then decided to bring the vegetable garden back to life. Natuurmonumenten invited inhabitants of the area to come up with a plan for the garden. A group of volunteers stepped forward and formed a foundation (Stichting Moestuin de Haar) and a plan for the garden.
Goals of the plan are to reconnect the village with the castle, to create awareness about the cultural heritage, to reduce the ecological footprint of food, to enlarge social cohesion by self-harvesting and to educate people of all ages about local food. This way the garden should (re)connect the (people of the) village Haarzuilens, the city of Utrecht and the countryside through and with fresh, local food.
Key to the plan is that the garden is operated according to the concept of ‘community supported agriculture’ by a professional gardener, with the support of many volunteers from the (urban) environment. The gardener builds a customer base and checks with them what their preferences are. The customers then collect the food by self-harvesting. Part of the harvest is sold to ‘passers-by’. Volunteers help in and around the garden. Connecting the garden to schools and other entrepreneurs is also an important element of the plan.
To create a good basis, the plan is executed in phases: a first phase in which the garden was cleared and made ready to produce food, a second phase in which all the elements are created to run the garden as a cost-covering CSA and a third phase of further developing the garden.
The second phase is the LEADER-project. Objectives and outputs of this phase are first of all the restoration and/or creating of facilities such as the wall greenhouse, which was a way to improve yields in the 19th century. Together with owner Natuurmonumenten, the municipality, architects and volunteers, they will recreate this wall greenhouse which will also incorporate a visitors area. Secondly, an objective is to restore the paths of the garden. Thirdly, some investments were made in machines for working the garden, cooling produce etc. Fourthly, a communication and education plan was made for telling the story of the historical garden and the production of food. School projects, an ‘open air class room’, regular newsletters and garden-related activities are organized as part of this plan. Also they cooperate with the castle by making a visit to the garden an extra element in a visit to the castle.
The role of LEADER was first of all networking and support from the LAG in preparing the project plan and providing useful tips and connections. They then applied for LEADER-funding which was granted. During the running of the project, the LAG stays in touch, gives feedback when things run differently than planned and supports in communicating about the project, for instance by this short film: https://youtu.be/UwP_zBztFQ8?feature=shared
The emblematic character of the project
By the production of food in a historical context, this project restores the relationship between the garden, the castle and the village of Haarzuilens and with the urban dwellings closeby, an expansion area of the city of Utrecht. Strengthening the urban-village-rural relationship is the main goal of the LEADER-strategy for 2015 – 2022. Involving people from the cities and villages, provides economic opportunities for rural businesses but also raises awareness for the rural landscape, nature, environment and communities. And awareness creates involvement, so the countryside is valued more for its qualities and is less regarded as ‘spare space’ for the cities.
This project really connects people from the city with the people from the nearby village and connects them with the production of healthy food and with cultural heritage (‘genius loci’). The fact that the foundation has shaped the new business as ‘community supported agriculture’ also contributes to social inclusion as well as knowledge and awareness of the importance of locally produced food and reducing the footprint of our food.
For other LAG’s the set-up of a CSA-model on a historical location can be of interest. From the start, the volunteers have chosen a very methodical, professional approach to set this up and they started very early with communicating with the village and surrounding urban areas. This greatly improved commitment and therefore the chances of success. Also the public-private partnership with the municipality Utrecht and Natuurmonumenten was important, as the revival and reuse of historic sites always provides challenges in finding a balance between new functions and historical values. But they have made it work!