Friday, October 10, 2014

Seeds of hope for Istanbul's urban agriculture?

Farm-fresh food for sale
in Gümüşdere
Looking out across today's concrete-covered expanses, it's hard to imagine that Istanbul was once a city of gardens -- and not all that long ago, either.

In Ottoman times, according to researcher Aleksandar Sopov, there were bostan (market gardens) all along the ridge passing through Istanbul's old city, many associated with that area's large mosques, and fed by water from the Valens Aqueduct. As recently as 1900, Istanbul was home to more than 1,200 bostan covering as many as 12 square kilometers. Highly productive and tended with sustainable techniques passed down through generations, many of these gardens continued providing food for the local population until mass urbanization kicked off in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Tarlataban garden at
Boğaziçi University
These days, only a scant few bostan remain in the city. The extensive gardens at the base of the old city walls are under threat from development, as I wrote last summer for The Atlantic's CityLab. Now, so too is the farmland in Gümüşdere, on Istanbul's Black Sea coast and close to the path of the third bridge being built over the Bosphorus Strait.

But the rapid transformation of the city has also sparked a movement to plant new gardens as a form of resistance, with community-based groups of volunteers taking over empty lots and trying to revive urban food-growing.

Read my articles for Culinary Backstreets and Zester Daily on these interlinked developments: