Blogger Jeanette Borg visited The VegBox to learn about urban farming in practice.

Spending time in green areas has always been part of our family routine ever since I was a child. Taking photos of every flower we spotted at public gardens, I grew up loving trees, plants and anything in between. Gardens are not just open spaces; they provide a green lung for the community and can also be a source of fresh food. Yes, even in Malta.

The Maltese Islands have in the past years witnessed a staggering increase in urban development. With over 29% of the islands covered by artificial surfaces, and being one of the most densely populated countries in Europe, ours is a country which definitely lacks green areas. We might call anything outside Valletta and surrounding towns ‘rural’, but the fact is that buildings are all around us, and over-development has become the order of the day.

The trend of urban gardening is not spreading without criticism. A Facebook friend of mine said that vertical greening is “simply a business exercise that continues to reinforce the idea that we can destroy natural habitats because ‘we know how to create them better’.” In my opinion, this is a non-sequitur argument, and such issues need to be kept separate.

Urban garden in Budapest. Photo credit: Daiva Repečkaitė / Eve

Surprisingly, one can produce a sizeable amount of products within a limited space.  In the 60s, Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father and long-standing prime minister of Singapore, was the architect behind the city-state’s plan to become a garden city. There’s no doubt that his strategy has left the country with a great deal of wealth.

To see how this can work in Malta, I visited The Veg Box at Villa Bologna, an urban farm, located in the heart of Balzan (a charming village in the central part of Malta). This garden brings a breath of fresh air to those visiting and regularly offers a selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. The farm is also currently under conversion to become organically certified and sells food coming from other local organic growers and importers.

The Veg Box could not have materialised without the hard work and dedication of its founder, Emanuela de Giorgio – a young female agripreneur. Being a full-time farm manager requires a great deal of energy and determination, but Emanuela doesn’t look back. The philosophy behind The Veg Box is a logical one: as Emanuela herself explains, “produce grown in a simpler, less industrialised way, creates food for healthier family meals. This is the basis of all well-being and therefore through our choices we can begin to see the change that is needed for a sustainable agricultural system and future generation’s health.”

The place she created place brings people closer to nature through various activities. One such recent activity was the Spring Gathering in  April. I visited the place on the day and enjoyed walking through the garden while discovering the variety of greens growing in the garden. Emanuela and her colleagues warmly welcome all visitors, many of who came to pick up their pre-ordered assorted boxes, while others came to see what’s in store.

Brsting with fresh produce, the shop even offers ready-made salad mixes,  adding value to the raw product and offering much sought-after convenience to clients. The product I liked most was a large bag of fresh leafy greens, which cost as little as 3 Euro. It contained seven different types of plants and would make an excellent base for a salad or smoothie.

Under the shade of an almond tree, Emanuela and I discussed many aspects about local agriculture and collaboration opportunities. Urban areas are there to stay, so they desperately need enhancement with proper and functional landscaping. By landscaping I mean: trees, shrubs, crops and any form of plant life. This might seem obvious, but the recent local projects we are witnessing give the impression that landscaping is all about as much concrete and marble slabs as possible and reducing plant life to some single stalk trees bearing minimum foliage.

The Veg Box is open on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, during the rest of the week, Emanuela and her colleagues tend to the needs of their crops.

Further reading:

Danish action philosopher: picking up food in the woods is an attractive business model