One of the key problems for urbanites who want to grow food is access to land. Some people simply don’t have land; others have land that isn’t usable, due to soil toxicity or excessive shade. I recently had dinner with an apartment dwelling woman, Elena, from Kazakhstan, who mentioned that her downstairs neighbor shares food that she grows on her dacha. I always thought a dacha was something just for the wealthy and powerful, that is, that they were large estates or second homes few could afford. But, Elena told me that it was very common for people in Kazakhstan to have dachas, small plots just outside of cities, often with a small hut or cottage to spend the night. Since Elena had told me that most people in Kazakhstan don’t have cars, I asked how her neighbor got to her dacha. She rides the bus.

My picture of a dacha changed rapidly. A visit to Wikipedia revealed that dachas became quite common, often due to squatters, during the communist era in the Soviet Union because of poor agricultural production. Because they were so common, they eventually obtained some legal status. They are still quite common. A few days later, I was taking a class and met a woman from the Czech Republic. She mentioned that dachas were common in her country, also.

What I see in this is another creative solution people have developed to deal with the problem of access to land. This is a solution that may be useful to urban gardeners and farmers in other parts of the world. The history of dachas, with people simply squatting on land to be able to grow food, has parallels with the contemporary practice of guerilla gardening. In guerilla gardening, people simply start growing food on vacant, unused land. While both practices are risky–all your efforts may result in getting tossed off of land and losing your crops–they highlight an issue that is critical to urban agriculture, access to land. To the extent that governments and landowners recognize the growing need for urban land to grow food and make unused land available to gardeners and farmers, cooperation will win out over conflict.

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