Kolonihager provide nourishment and repose 

Community, health, and urban renewal

kolonihage

Rodeløkkens kolonihager in Oslo is Norway’s oldest community garden, today surrounded by high-rise buildings.

LORI ANN REINHALL
Editor-in-chief
The Norwegian American

Many of us know them as pea patches, others as community gardens. The Brits call them allotment gardens, and during the wars of the 20th century there, they earned the name “victory garden,” a term still sometimes used, especially when a community garden dates back to the First or Second World War. In Norway, they are known as kolonihager, literally, “colony gardens.”

They are little parcels of land made available for non-commercial gardening. Those assigned a plot use them to grow food plants, creating a kitchen garden away from home. The plots are formed by subdividing a piece of land into a few or up to several hundred parcels that are then assigned to individuals or families to cultivate. The gardeners have to pay a small membership fee to the association and have to abide by the corresponding bylaws—but they also enjoy certain rights.

Kolonihager are distinguished by the fact that they have a small structure built on each plot (as opposed to a parsellhage or parcel lot.) These charming wooden structures appear like storybook houses surrounded by lush greenery and flowers. None of them are designed for permanent residency.

In big cities like Oslo, a kolonihage becomes a type of urban oasis. Even though they might be surrounded by high-rise apartment buildings, there is a feeling of escaping to a country idyll, where life is a little bit slower and much closer to nature.

kolonihage

Many city dwellers need not travel far to enter into an idyllic realm.

In Norway, the first kolonihage was established in Oslo in 1907, when the municipality laid out plots of land on the city’s old landfill at Rodeløkka. Today, there are 14 kolonihager throughout the country, with about 2,000 allotments. The largest, Solvang kolonihager in Oslo, has around 600 allotments. All 14 are associated with the Norsk kolonihageforbund.

Overall, Norwegian kolonihager are very popular, and depending on where you are, there can be a waiting list of 10 to 20 years.

An age-old activity

It is believed that community gardens  have their origins in the Roman Empire, when people ventured beyond the walls of  densely populated cities to grow their own food.

For many centuries, there was little structure to the movement, up until the time of the Industrial Revolution of the late 19th century. In particular, in Great Britain and Germany, large numbers of people migrated from rural areas to the cities to find employment and a better life. But these people often ended up in poverty, living in very poor conditions, suffering malnutrition and overall neglect. To improve their situations, city administrations, churches, or even employers provided open spaces for them to grow food. These lots were at first called the “gardens of the poor,” but with time the movement was seen in a positive light, something anyone could enjoy. Over time, the community garden movement spread to other countries.

Important benefits

The benefits of kolonihager or community gardens at any location are many.

Health: At the top of the list is fresh, high-quality food at an affordable price. Studies show that  the shorter the distance between harvest and table, the better the food is for you.

If you live in an apartment and can’t have a garden at home, a community garden space will allow you to grow your own healthy fruits and vegetables.

Growing food also grows self-esteem. There is a sense of accomplishment in harvesting your own food, and sharing it with others makes this experience even more gratifying.

kolonihage

For many, a plot in a kolonihage serves as the ultimate escape from it all.

Land reclamation: Community gardening often takes place on lots that have been abandoned or are ignored. Without development, these lots may turn into quasi garbage dumps and even attract criminal activity. As community gardens, these lots become productive, safe areas.

Friendship: Gardeners, by nature, are an open, friendly, and sharing lot. In community gardens, like-minded people with common interests come together in a small area. Knowledge and experience are exchanged, and new acquaintances are quickly made, often growing into meangingful, life-long friendships.

The Luxembourg-based Office International du Coin de Terre et des Jardins Familiaux, representing 3 million European allotment gardeners since 1926, describes the socio-cultural and economic functions of community gardens as “offering an improved quality of life, an enjoyable and profitable hobby, relaxation, and contact with nature.”

Photos: Flickr /My Oslo Norway

This article originally appeared in the May 27, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.

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