Cultivating sustainability in Osmangazi

In an era marked by rapid urbanisation, resource constraints, and the prevalence of hybrid seeds in modern agriculture, the preservation of native plant varieties and the promotion of sustainable farming practices have become paramount.

Osmangazi‘s answer to these challenges is the Ecological Life Centre. The centre embodies a multifaceted approach to strengthening Turkish agriculture, safeguarding native seeds, fostering ecological awareness, and promoting sustainable living. By nurturing native seedlings, providing education on environmental farming, and advocating for urban gardening, the Ecological Life Center stands as a testament to the power of local action in the face of global ecological concerns.

Preserving native seeds in a changing landscape

Industrial agriculture practices and the pervasiveness of hybrid seeds have shaped the global agricultural landscape. While these developments have contributed to increased crop yields, they have also led to the decline and extinction of numerous native plant varieties. The Municipality of Osmangazi recognised the urgent need to reverse this trend and embarked on the project to create the Ecological Life Centre.

Central to the centre’s mission is cultivating native seedlings within its state-of-the-art greenhouse. It provides a nurturing environment for the growth and development of diverse native species, from sunflowers and tomatoes to eggplants and cucumbers. In collaboration with skilled agricultural engineers, the centre carefully tends to these seedlings, ensuring optimal germination, growth, and eventual reproduction conditions. This meticulous care extends beyond the greenhouse’s boundaries, as the seedlings are eventually transplanted to outdoor growing spaces. And the centre’s efforts yield a bountiful harvest of native and sustainable seeds, perpetuating the cycle of cultivation and preservation.

Empowering people through education

The Ecological Life Centre is not merely a greenhouse but a hub of education, empowerment, and community engagement. The centre’s mission is to equip people with the knowledge and skills to engage in ecological farming practices and sustainable living. This educational endeavour takes place within the centre’s administrative building, where agricultural engineers offer training sessions on various topics.

From the germination of native seeds to the intricacies of grafting and pruning techniques, these training programmes provide participants with practical insights into the science of agriculture. Additionally, workshops such as fig or grape cultivation and vegetable gardening enable attendees to connect with the natural world while acquiring essential skills. By fostering a deeper understanding of ecological principles and raising public awareness of the intricate relationships that underpin nature’s balance, the Ecological Life Centre aims to inspire a generation of conscious individuals who can champion sustainability within their communities.

In addition to the centre, Osmangazi has created the School to Farm project. The initiative targets teachers and students from science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) with gamified tools and extracurricular lesson plans to nurture their ecological sensitivity. Schools and local farms work together to teach and learn practical and theoretical agricultural skills. The project also creates an additional income stream for farms, thus facilitating resilience against urbanisation pressures.

In tandem, the School to Farm Project offers farmers and producers growth opportunities while supporting the development of sustainable practices aligned with eco-compatible and culturally enriching tourism prospects. At the same time, the Ecological Life Centre promotes the minimal use of off-farm resources, advocates for biodiversity, and discourages the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers.

Nurturing urban gardening

One of the centre’s most impactful initiatives revolves around urban gardening. As urban areas continue to expand and green spaces dwindle, urban gardening offers a promising solution where food security and environmental sustainability converge. The Ecological Life Centre embraces urban gardening as a cornerstone of its mission, advocating for creating and maintaining agriculturally productive ecosystems within the urban landscape.

Urban gardening encompasses more than just food production; it embodies a holistic approach to living in harmony with nature. Through it, individuals can cultivate essential food crops within confined spaces, reducing their reliance on external sources while fostering a deeper connection to the food they consume. The centre emphasises the importance of spreading indigenous seeds and utilising compost derived from agricultural and culinary activities, thus closing the natural cycle of growth and decay. Integrating urban gardening into its initiatives, the Ecological Life Centre underscores the potential of small-scale actions to drive significant change.

Constructing a sustainable future

In its inaugural year, the Ecological Life Centre generated four species and nine types of plants. As it looks ahead, it aims to expand its impact by producing over 26 species and 100 different plant varieties, ranging from sunflowers and peppers to chickpeas and radishes.

Guided by a vision of ecological sustainability and local empowerment, this centre is a nexus for native seed preservation, sustainable farming education, urban gardening advocacy, and environmental awareness. As it fosters a deeper connection between people, plants, and the planet, the centre exemplifies the profound impact that local efforts can have on cultivating a more sustainable future.

Wilma Dragonetti Eurocities Writer