Botanical gardens offer community benefits beyond greenery
‘Plants Grow People’ model in the Mediterranean is taking off in other parts of the world.
Sometimes a garden is more than just a garden.
Nobody knows this better than Lior Gottesman and Adi Bar-Yoseph, co-founders of a new project at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens (JBG). The duo have been traveling to America and around the world lately to share their model, at the root of which is the idea that social and environmental issues are intrinsically linked.
“It is impossible to address one set of problems without tackling the other," Gottesman told From The Grapevine. "We think the new role of botanic gardens should be to promote health issues, food security, urban resilience, green economies, well-being, communities, sustainability and dealing with climate change as well as the more traditional issues such as conservation and research, building bridges between the two worlds."
Gottesman and Bar-Yoseph believe it’s important that botanic gardens support urban ecology and biodiversity as well as cultural diversity. “That’s why for the past several years, the motto of the JBG has been ‘Plants Grow People,’” said Gottesman.
The new Social and Environmental Hub wasn’t established overnight. Before they launched their first project, Gottesman spent a year mapping the needs and goals of area organizations and developing a master plan based on their collective strengths and weaknesses.
"We picked a few subjects to actively promote because they best tie together our interests, those of the community and global urban trends – at the moment that is urban agriculture and ecosystem management in urban areas,” said Gottesman.
Among the Hub’s first sponsored projects was the Kaima hydroponic greenhouse, where teenagers learn to grow marketable greens, and the establishment of mini gardens at area preschools. The Hub has facilitated a network of more than 70 interdisciplinary environmental organizations, connecting them to the garden, and the garden to the city.
In addition to offering hands-on community programs, the Hub brings together a wide variety of organizations – groups like urban farms, green tech companies, environmental artists, community gardens, vocational rehabilitation groups and much more.
“We took the entrepreneurship model from the startup world and adapted it to the environmental world," said Bar-Yoseph. "This is something that has never been done before, definitely not at a botanical garden."
Their model has attracted the attention not just of nonprofit initiatives in Israel that want to partner with the Hub, but also from botanic gardens and foundations around the world that want to replicate their model.
“To our surprise, both the results of this mapping process and the process itself is of great interest both to the local community and to other institutions,” said Gottesman. “It’s a process any garden can do with its respective community. The content of their Hub may not look the same but the model would still serve.”
They’ve been invited to speak at a number of global events, most recently in Hawaii this past September at the IUCN World Conservation Congress – one of the world’s largest, most important conservation gatherings. They participated in a session along with representatives of the London Zoological Society, the Limbe Botanic Garden, the Chicago Botanic Garden and The Nature Conservancy.
Gottesman and Bar-Yoseph have showcased the Hub and shared their experiences at the APGA conference in Miami and at the Botanic Gardens Conservation International conference in Missouri. They've also established reciprocal relationships with institutions like the UC Davis Botanical Gardens in California and the Chicago Botanical Garden as well as the San Diego Botanical Garden.
They’re now working to create an interactive online platform to help further facilitate community partnerships. “At the moment, it’s the Hub staff that makes these connections. My dream is to one day discover a connection made through the Hub that I had no idea about,” Gottesman joked.
They want their network to have a brick-and-mortar home as well and are building a dedicated space within the gardens. “It’s a co-working space with a twist, made specifically for our audience with not only offices, but also training gardens, classrooms, workshops and greenhouses,” said Bar-Yoseph. “It will be a place for members to meet, share, build collaborations, display their prototypes and really just let serendipity beget big dreams.”
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