Jardins Ouvriers

The story of workers’ gardens in France, an enlightened priest, and world wars.

  • Allotment gardens took different forms — from individual and family gardens to industrial and workers' gardens. However, the intent was the same: allowing the city people to produce their own food and have a respite from the stress and rapid pace of daily life.
    Artwork by Amy Glasser
  • Jules Auguste Lemire was one of the biggest advocates for workers' gardens in France and abroad. Abbot (Abbe) Lemire was a very controversial ecclesiastical and political figure, fighting for social justice and the betterment of living conditions for all French citizens. He strongly believed that a balanced and healthy life, for body and spirit, could only be achieved if everyone remained connected to the land and food production. For pragmatic and ethical reasons, he saw workers' gardens as a salvation for urban France.
    Artwork by Amy Glasser

The dilemma of living harmoniously in an urban environment, without losing touch with nature and the source of food may seem modern, but it is at least a century old.  Toward the end of the 19th century, Europe was going through a major transformation: ideological and cultural reshufflings, scientific and technological progress were the driving forces of a new lifestyle. In the new paradigm, industry and factory jobs were prioritized, and city dwellers dedicated less and less time to gardening.

The challenges of this shift were multiple and complex; people’s connection with nature became weaker, the air was increasingly more polluted, the local food supply was decreasing and a larger portion of the family budget was allocated to food purchases.

Recognizing the problem, several European countries, including France, Great Britain, Germany, Denmark, Norway and Belgium, initiated national programs aiming to establish allotment gardens, consisting of small plots that could be cultivated and cared for by one individual or a family. The allotment gardens took different forms—from individual and family gardens to industrial and workers’ gardens. However, the intent was the same: allowing the city people to produce their own food and have a respite from the stress and rapid pace of daily life.

The allotment gardens/workers’ gardens also had a moral and social role, as they were thought to reduce poverty and reliance on welfare programs, decrease criminality and the rate of alcoholism.

With the terrible turmoil provoked by World War I and Word War II, the gardens gained an even greater dimension, as they became vital for the survival of the city. The strategic importance of the gardens around Paris is perhaps the best example and a good case study for applied food security. 

Debut of the Gardens

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