On 2-3 Jun 2022 ARC Fund and SDA together with SOfiaGreen hosted a staff exchange in Sofia to showcase urban farming (UF) good practices and activities in the region. The visits were attended by Municipality of Beja, CIMBAL and UVa partners.

The exchange started by presentations at the SofiaLab premises where one of the CityZen DIY vertical gardens is located and is now thriving of herbs, spices and strawberry plants.  Vertical gardens can be an alternative to urban gardeners that do not have access to land.

The Digital map of city areas suitable for urban farming was presented by Sofiaplan as one of the good practices at the Interreg Europe database. Dayana Nikolova and Alexander Petrov shared the main principles and data filters used to construct the map as well as the steps and actors involved. The map is a joint endevour by civil society groups and volunteers and covers municipal terrains.

Antonia Shalamanova from the SOfiaGreen program, which is the CityZen policy instrument for Sofia, presented key priorities for greening the capital city of Bulgaria: better access to green areas for all citizens, greening schools and kindergartens, shared mobility actions like “Walk to school” initiative for 1st to 3rd grade children to reduce private cars traffic.

Sanya Raeva from SDA, the managing authority of SOfiaGreen at the Sofia Municipality, highlighted more initiatives for better air quality by the INNOAIR project like green bus lines on demand to connect remote parts of Sofia and the municipal support to student landscaping projects to revitalize city areas.  She also shared SDA's experience as owner of a DIY vertical garden by the CityZen pilot action.

The links between food system and climate change were also covered by the FOOD WAVE project presented by Antonia Novakova from the Sofia Municipality. Its focus is on the effects of food chains to gas emissions, health and lifestyle habits of young people. A portfolio of events and campaigns for young ambassadors are changing food behavior to cope with climate change.

Madlen Zasheva and Bojidar Emanuilov from the Root foundation Bulgaria presented their initiatives on shared composters for citizens that were also visited onsite by the partners. The foundation promotes, educates and develops civil initiatives on composting by holding for example movie nights on organic waste treatment that are open to newcomers to grow a steady community.

Vertical farms of the future by designing a berry picking and pollinating robot is the focus of the VegX, a start-up project incubated at the Professional Association of Robotics and Automation premises. Ralitsa Kostadinova and Tsvetomir Nikolov shared their design concept for agrirobot that can screen and pick ripe strawberries or pollinate plants. The VegX robot meets the shortage of labour challenge of the sector.

Another UF business model was presented by the MicroCity team, an award-winning school project within the Teenovator platform for school entrepreneurship. Its founders are designing own facilities for hydroponic microgreens to supply Sofia restaurants.

A visit to school garden and “Classroom in open air” at the 47th School in Sofia was made to showcase a successful partnership between the Root foundation Bulgaria and teachers to bring nature closer to school classes. The classroom and the garden that were financially supported by the Sofia Municipality also become a popular meeting point for the local community.     

Partners also visited the school garden at the 51st School in Sofia that features a green house, a chicken house, a small fish pool and a movable bee hive created for children education and entertainment. Chickens are in the center of the kids’ attention, where all of the birds have already own names and bios. A special award by the principle of the school offers an omelet launch with prominent scholars made out of the chicken eggs.

The “zaDruzba” Community Garden is the oldest and largest UF place located in the suburbs of Sofia. CityZen partners were able to perceive the scale of the gardening activities, when placed on larger  terrains but also shared challenges for city dwellers related to the need of municipal support for long-term contracts and access to terrains.

A visit to the “Community Vegetable Garden 1” created on a former parking lots was also made to illustrate how UF can transform 'brown spots' into green productive sites by joining efforts of civil society groups, Sofia Municipality, business sponsors and volunteers. It is also an example of UF site located in a densely populated part of Sofia.

The staff exchange ended up with a visit to the Sofia Municipality composting facility “Han Bogrov” (Plant for Biological Treatment) where food waste by restaurants and stores is converted to biogas, and green waste by gardens and city parks is processed into compost. Citizens with paid waste taxes can take free of charge up to 10 kg of compost, or buy larger quantities at low price.