Traveling to Europe this Summer? Visit One of Its Greenest Cities

28 May, 2014

Guest post from Food Tank

Freiburg, a university town in southern Germany nestled next to the edge of the Black Forest, has a reputation which exceeds its size. Its population is only about 200,000, but this city may very well be the capital of environmentalism and sustainability in Europe. Starting in the post-World War II era, the University of Freiburg spearheaded ecological research and environmental activism, and the initiatives soon swept into the culture of the city itself. Often called the “greenest city in the world” because of its comprehensive public transit, wide array of urban gardens, and innovative recycling infrastructure, Freiburg combines both technology and tradition to provide a powerful vision for the urban world’s future. Here is a look at ten urban agriculture projects in the city of Freiburg.

The Forests of Freiburg

Freiburg is an impressively green city, both politically and literally: The city’s municipal land is 43 percent forestland. More importantly, Freiburg maintains a comprehensive forestry program which integrates this ecosystem into the life of the city itself. As an extension of the neighboring black forest ecosystem, this urban forest blurs the line between the human and natural communities of Freiburg. Timber from the forest provides a powerful economic base for the city, but Freiburg never cuts at unsustainable rates. Also, the wood is often used in local infrastructure projects, which keeps the money from the materials within the local community.

The Vauban Eco-Community

Freiburg is in the process of creating an entirely new neighborhood on top of a decommissioned military base: The goal is to design a community which is even more sustainable than Freiburg at large. “Vauban” will host 5,000 residents in low-energy housing powered by sustainable energy sources. Forty percent of the residents have promised to live without private cars, and the local Vauban government plays a role in organizing community eco-schemes, such as a car-sharing schedule. The project aims for “a balance of social groups” as part of its goal to present a workable model for urban sustainability.

Sustainable Energy Through Biogas

Forestry and lumber are two of the major industries in the Freiburg area, and the city has created a biogas energy system by which some of Freiburg’s power is provided by organic tree waste. The REMONDIS corporation is running the scheme, and estimates that the biogas project will be able to fuel and heat the equivalent of several thousand homes.  In addition to reusing waste, the program will displace nearly 10,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, according to the mayor of Freiburg.  

Recycling Urban Waste: The Freiburg Rieselfeldern

The city of Freiburg is funnelling municipal biological waste into productive farmland, called the “Rieselfeldern,” which translates as “the drizzled fields.” However, the Rieselfeldern is an incredible feat of modern urban planning. The farm uses nutrients from biological sewage to cultivate grain, silage, and hay for the local community.

The Economy for the Common Good

An international grassroots movement, “Economy for the Common Good,” is largely made up of Germany’s corporations. However, the organization has drawn up a widely-applicable ethical criteria for corporate leadership and economic activity. Economy for the Common Good creates and enforces high standards regarding environmental sustainability, fair business practices, proper treatment and payment of employees, and respect for local communities.  

Freiburg’s “Life Garden”

One of the preeminent urban farms in the city is the “lebensgarten,” or “life garden,” a biodynamic agricultural project. According to Lebensgarten, organic agriculture does not go far enough in striving for ecological sustainability. In addition to simply growing organic produce, lebensgarten also seeks to replicate an ecosystem within its own farms, with vegetables, fruits, and animals all aiding in providing ecological inputs and outputs for one another.  

Traditional Farming Around Freiburg: The Kuzenhof

Kunzenhof is as much of an educational institution as it is a farm, although it does rear goats, ducks, chickens, and herbs. The Kunzenhof’s mission is to demonstrate the versatility of traditional farming, and to teach about the benefits of proper care and living conditions for farm animals. Furthermore, the Kunzenhof shows visitors the ways in which agriculture interacts with surrounding ecologies, and the ways in which this relationship can be properly cultivated.

The Garten Co-op

With nearly 300 members, Freiburg’s gartencoop is an impressive urban agricultural co-op affair. Referring to itself as “solidarity agriculture” (solidarische landwritschaft), which defines itself according to maximal community involvement and integration. The co-op’s participants are generally highly driven by social justice, which is documented in an English-language study of the co-op conducted at the University of Freiburg, which is hosted here.  

Sustainable Health: The Förster Café

The Förster Café is a University-associated café in Freiburg which is cooperatively run by students and faculty of the University of Freiburg’s Forestry department. The Förster Café has also participated in major international-scale environmental conventions, such as the Cost of Food convention, which was hosted in Freiburg earlier in 2014.  

Natural Sound Agriculture and Craft Education

One of the most interesting urban agriculture private enterprises to be found in Freiburg is run by “Natural Sound” (Natur Klang), which includes subgroups such as Holzer’s Permaculture (Holzer’sche Permakultur). Natur Klang allows aspiring urban agriculturists and sustainability enthusiasts to receive a thorough education in agriculture and agriculturally-related crafts, for the purpose of spreading urban gardening, sustainable agriculture, and traditional forms of economic life. The topics covered by Natural Sound include beekeeping, mushroom growing, brickmaking, permaculture, and fruit pressing.

Food Tank is a food think tank founded Ellen Gustafson and Danielle Nierenberg. Food Tanks is for farmers and producers, policy makers and government leaders, researchers and scientists, academics and journalists, and the funding and donor communities to collaborate on providing sustainable solutions for our most pressing environmental and social problems.

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