A grocery shop and a botanic garden: an unusual social inclusion partnership

article written by Mélissa Garrigue, Educator at Bordeaux’s city botanic garden, France.  Bordeaux’s city botanic garden

  • Carrots 2.5 lbs,
  • 1 artichoke,
  • Tomatoes 10 lbs,
  • 1 Orange marmalade…

That is not a grocery list, neither a grandma’s recipe! This is an example from the partnership between Bordeaux’s city botanic garden and the association The Solidarity-based Grocery.

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In Bordeaux, an urban area, of 215 000 inhabitants, we decided to display plants according to different ethnobotanic topics as a way to make botany more accessible and attractive to visitors. As a result in Bordeaux’s city botanic garden 44 cultivated beds present plants for cloth, plants for colours, plants for medicine, plants from five continents and edible plants! And this question came up: But, what should we do with the vegetables production? Just let them rot? If we think about the importance of food security nowadays, waste is a crying shame!

The Solidarity-based Grocery is an association committed to social responsibility. It is a district grocery shop open to everybody since 2006, which helps people in difficulty referred by social services. Single mothers, elderly, unemployed, former alcohol addicts are some of the people whom the Solidarity-based Grocery supports in order to ensure their full inclusion and participation in the society. The association is aiming to enable access for all to quality food by running a store where people can use social services’ financial aid to buy its products, and by organizing twice a week cooking workshops for people to enjoy creating and sharing a meal together.

The Solidarity-based Grocery approached Bordeaux’s city botanic garden in 2008 to create a partnership through which the garden would provide edible plants for their cooking workshops. No extra costs were involved for setting up this partnership as the garden receives its core funding from the city council (which covers buying seeds, tools, the gardeners salary…) and the association is financed through other trusts/organisations and by selling products in its shop. There was a formal agreement between the garden and the grocery shop that the workshops would be provided free of charge and the garden would provide its vegetable harvest for the cooking workshops.

In the same lines as the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, this is a partnership, which helps connecting people to plants!

The botanic garden’s aims through this partnership to:
-avoid the waste of vegetables’ production by being involved in a social responsibility/solidarity action
-offer a pleasant and a fulfilling welcoming to the participants and a learning experience for them about the importance of plants in our lives
The botanic garden benefits in different ways by being involved in this partnership: the vegetables/fruits’ production are available for cooking and not just for display for educational purposes, this activity contributes to fulfilling the city’s Agenda 21 targets and also it enables the garden to engage with an audience that has never interacted with before.

There are also benefits for the grocery shop: they get free vegetables to cook for the workshops, the members have a social activity outdoors that make the relationships of the group stronger, people take responsibility and develop and understanding and care for the plants.

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The partnership has evolved over the years by responding to the groups changing needs. This change was possible because the partnership was not obliged to meet predetermined objectives set usually by project funding. As this activity was part of the two organisations’ core funded activities it was possible to introduce changes based on the needs and the interests of the participants as they emerged.

Partnership evolution:

2008, beginning of the project

  • one person picked up a box at the garden
  • vegetables and fruits were collected by gardeners
  • once a month

2009, 1st stage of evolution: participation increases

  • a group of 3 to 5 people harvest the vegetables
  • collect with a gardener and an educator
  • 50 kg of harvest
  • twice a month

2010, 2nd stage of evolution: different ways of engagement

  • 10 people coming to harvest
  • they look at how vegetables are growing
  • they use gardening tools
  • up to three times a month

2011, 3rd stage of the evolution: higher levels of engagement in the garden and at the grocery

  • participants are getting more curious about plants
  • they do research at the botanic garden to know more about plants
  • participants create posters about food and health
  • they put information about plants’ nutrition in their kitchen
  • 80 kg of harvest

Four years have gone since the Solidarity-based Grocery members started coming frequently to the botanic garden. Documentaries on the TV and articles on the newspapers have featured the partnership’s activities. The botanic garden will continue providing the Solidarity-based Grocery with produce and intends to grow this partnership wider.

Such solidarity-based (social enterprise) initiatives are popular in France, and shops are well established in several cities. This kind of partnership is easy to build, has many social benefits and has plants in its heart.

If you would like to get involved in similar initiatives express your interest to be part of BGCI’s Communities in Nature programme by completing the on-line form.

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