Urban-Farming in Malmö: A tale of personal and social transformation

It’s an overcast afternoon in early spring and I’m in Malmö undoing garden-hose kinks whilst exchanging catch-up stories with Saba Nazarian. When I first met him, Saba was a successful sound engineer in Montreal, Canada. Now, he’s a Farm Director & Educator in Malmö Sweden. I’m perplexed by how one might make such a drastic career change within the space of just a few short years, but as we talk over the details of his journey from Muso to Green-thumb enthusiast, it becomes apparent that his story corroborates a belief rooted at the very core of the Urban farming movement; transformation is indeed possible.

We meet at Malmö’s Triangeln train station and cycle for ten minutes out through serene Sunday streets, past numerous high-rise tenements until we reach a clearing and see the charming spire of Botildenborg, a heritage home which was left long-abandoned but has now found a new lease of life as a community hub. We set down our bikes against the gorgeous red brick building and Saba welcomes me into a heated container-cabin filled with “micro-greens”. Instantly I’m struck by a kind of ethereal freshness. On the surrounding metallic shelves lies variety in abundance. Saba tears me off a hand-full of pea shoot sprouts and says, “here, eat it!” and so I comply. Then, comes the basil, followed by the beets. I’m hooked!

Saba started growing micro-greens three years ago in his apartment in the depths of a Montreal winter: “I grew those first crops out of frustration of having to buy produce that was grown so far away”. Initially, he set himself a challenge to see if it was possible to cultivate enough greens to satisfy his own needs. When friends and colleagues started to take an interest in his “garden-fresh” lunchtime salads he began growing a little extra for them to enjoy too. “With just one-square-meter of space and an hour’s work per week you can actually grow enough for two adults. You don’t need a back yard to be self-sufficient”.

His enthusiasm is contagious. I am in the presence of someone who clearly loves what they’ve found themselves doing: “When you wake up and it’s minus 25 outside but you have fresh produce growing around your apartment, that prompts a realization”. It is, in fact very possible to grow fresher, more nutritious crops within your immediate surroundings. Soon enough, Saba was delivering greens to local restaurants: “When it became apparent that I could pay my rent with vegetables and take so much pride and pleasure in the process, I started to think more seriously about developing my skill-set as a farmer”.

It wasn’t that he was jaded with his job as a sound engineer: “I loved what I was doing, I was constantly surrounded by music and I got to travel and meet new people all the time. It was kind of a dream job”. As we walk out towards the front of the house he lifts back a metal gate and we step into a high-roofed plastic tunnel. These are structures that Saba had a hand in building and they’re now filled with the first green shoots of spring.

“I felt I was lacking hard skills”

Saba spent his formative years in Vancouver where he was surrounded by breath-taking scenery; the kind that seeps into your spirit and inspires a sense of exploration. Whilst sat down at the mixing desk he often fantasized about going off into that wilderness, to be completely self-sufficient. It wasn’t until he started growing his own greens that this notion found some tangible sense of direction: “I had this idea of living in the woods, but how could I realistically survive in the Canadian wilderness with my delicate musician hands?”, he tells me jokingly as he bends to take fresh soil from the ground. We both laugh.

Aerial View – Stradsbruk Farm in early Spring

After a year of growing micro-greens, he started to max-out on space in his apartment. Then, inspired by both the rise of urban farming projects across North America and the work of other Canadian organic farmers and educators such as Jean-Martin Fortier and Curtis Stone, Saba decided to take a trip back to the West Coast where he met Stone and spent two seasons collaborating with other urban farmers on larger plots. During this time he developed a workshop based on his own experiences, aptly called “Growing food in cold climates”, which he later took around Europe, hoping to inspire others to start growing for themselves.

Education and Transformation 

Eventually this lead him to the Stradsbruk (City-Farming) project, where I find him hard at work today. “It’s the first Scandinavian farming incubator for companies engaged in commercial urban farming”. Saba’s job here is to develop and cultivate the land around Botildenborg so that there is a “physical farming model” for the Stradsbruk project. The incubator provides a training space for students and other urban-farmers where they are able to attend workshops and educational programs aimed at nurturing their development. With a goal of increasing the number of local growers in Scandinavia through “agripreneurship training, the incubator has helped over 45 new urban-farming companies within the last 3 years.

We stand right in the central plot on a slight slope for a moment or two, looking out towards three or four high-rise blocks surrounding the farm. Saba tells me about the other projects currently based out of Botildenborg and it strikes me how this setting; the farm, the garden, the coming of spring, and even the drill of renovation work being done on the historic house behind us, all combine to form a poignant setting for the larger work currently underway here. In addition to the Stradsbruk project, Botildenborg is also the home of “Farming without Borders” (Odla utan gränse) which teaches school children about sustainable farming and climate change, and Rosengård Work (Växtplats Rosengård), which assists in social-orientation for newly arrived migrants, helping them to find work and develop links within the local community.

 

I arrived at the farm filled with intrigue about a friend’s personal journey and left inspired with a tangible insight into the possibilities embedded in the urban farming movement. There is something deeply rewarding about picking fresh produce straight from the soil. It is an ancient joy which perhaps we need, and that has been paved over by our unnecessary addiction to convenience, that has driven us to buy everything in-store. What could be more convenient than having nutritious food within arms reach?

Saba is motivated by the idea that it is, of course, possible for anyone to do this. Just look at his own journey. The work done by him and others on the farm helps to show people just how possible it is. In a council estate on the outskirts of a major city like this one; on rooftops in dense urban centers, or even in abandoned and depopulated neighborhoods – as is currently the case in cities like Detroit – urban farming provides a sense of empowerment and self-sufficiency that satisfies one of our most basic primordial needs. The processes involved and the journey towards them can lead to greater community conviviality and better social cohesion. It changes people’s relationship to food and has the ability to inspire huge personal growth, like the kind seen in Saba’s own journey.

Just as I’m leaving, Saba tells me how later in the week he is meeting the owners of a popular Malmö restaurant to discuss providing fresh greens for their menu. Surely, this is a worthy goal; to produce locally grown nutritious food, that’s consumed locally, with the added possibility of inspiring other locals to take their own farming journey and spread the message of cultivation.

You can follow Saba’s journey on Instagram @ sabzy.greens or find out more about his work @  www.sabzygreens.com

For more info on Botildenborg and the Stradsbruk Project

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