Urban gardening and composting in Prague
Lucie Matoušková Lankašová, co-founder and “vision keeper” of Prague-based urban composting and gardening social enterprise Kokoza, likes to see the world with green glasses (literally!). She even had an “eco-wedding,” complete with a vintage dress and locally grown flowers. We had a lovely chat with her over a cup of tea about urban gardening and composting in Prague. She also shared some of her tips for budding eco-entrepreneurs as well as people looking to live greener in Prague. Read on to find out more…
How it all began
The idea for Kokoza was born over a few inspired glasses of wine with Lucie’s friend and co-founder Kristina Regalová back in 2010. Lucie, who was working as a social worker at the time, dreamed of starting her own social project. The inspiration came when doing some research on how to compost in Prague, and she and Kristina decided an urban gardening project was just what Prague needed. They were inspired by similar projects in other cities such as London and Berlin.
“We wanted to do something which would feed us, for the business, but also something that would create some value. We were visiting a lot of cafes and drinking a lot of wine, searching for the right idea and this came at the right time… so we said why not try to have a community garden with people with handicaps working in the garden, and a composting program.”
In 2010 the idea won the Social Business Idea National Award, and in 2012 Kokoza was officially established. In 2012 Lucie was also responsible for starting up the Social Impact Award in Prague and she currently organizes the Hub’s Social Business Breakfasts.
Today Kokoza has two urban community gardens in a southern suburb of Prague, each of which is used by roughly 20 people. They also had a pop-up garden near the Pankrac shopping mall last summer, which is planned again for this year. These gardens convert unused urban space into a place for the community to grow things, but also to share knowledge and experience. Their goal is to help other communities start their own gardens.
Kokoza also runs a training program for people with schizophrenia to work in the gardens, giving them a chance to be part of the community: “they feel involved, and that’s the most important message for us. That’s our main goal, to make them a valuable part of the community.”
In addition to the gardens, Kokoza also offers urban gardening and composting workshops and consultations for individuals or organizations, initiatives such as events to collect local wild plants, and collaborations with companies on urban gardening projects. Currently one such project involves working with IKEA to put together documentation on how their products can be used for urban gardening. For example, did you know the their Samla box can be converted into a composter?
“That’s something Kokoza really does. We like to do cooperation and participation in a field that you would not expect would be possible.”
The logistics of gardening in Prague
People may think that starting an urban garden themselves is near impossible, but Lucie convinced us otherwise. She said that of course there sometimes are logistical problems that need to be resolved with the neighbours or owners. For example, the pop-up project in Pankrac took two years of planning before it could be set-up – though the realization phase just took a month. But if you find out the owner of the space and take the time to negotiate, virtually anyone can do it. And if you need some support, Kokoza can probably help you. So if you know of a plot that needs beautifying, why not give it a try?
Others definitely have. Today, several urban and community garden projects have popped up in Prague, including gardens run by the Prazelenina project. Kokoza offers a great map on their website showing the location of all of these gardens, as well as composting stations. For example, the map lists 12 community composters that can be used to deposit your organic waste.
Composting at home
But you can also compost right at home, and in fact, it’s really quite easy. All you need to start is a composter, and Kokoza sells Czech-made wooden vermicomposters through their website for delivery in one month, starting at CZK 2800. You can also make your own composter, or buy a plastic composter. Plastic composters are slightly more convenient as far as cleaning and longevity, but currently are only available for import from China, which is less than ideal as far as your carbon footprint. But, don’t worry: Lucie shared with us that Kokoza is working on a new initiative to roll out plastic composters with a local partner in the spring of 2016.
The second step for composting is worms, which help break down your organic waste. Kokoza’s online map also shows where the worms can be found. Once you have a composter and worms, you can put it on your balcony, or even inside you apartment.
The two main concerns people have are that the compost will smell or that the worms will escape (!), but Lucie assured us that there is nothing to worry about as long as certain precautions are met, including ensuring that the worms can breathe and that the water from the compost can properly drain.
Kokoza already completed four home-composting workshops this year, proof that interest and demand in Prague is rapidly increasing. We can see why. Composting is a way to recycle the valuable nutrients in the food you throw away, which on average makes up around 40% of your household waste, and produces excellent fertile soil for your own garden or home plants. Community gardening is a great way to meet people and have fun, and home gardening can help make you house more beautiful, as well as providing you with your own supply of fresh herbs and vegetables. In case you need more convincing, we like this article from onegreenplanet.org about the benefits of composting. Also check out Kokoza’s great blog for more information about urban gardening and composting in Prague.
As for Kokoza’s plans for the coming year, for Lucie personally, she and her husband would like to start a family, but she will continue to steer the company’s vision of growing the urban gardening movement in Prague, with several great projects on the horizon.
The Green Spotlight
The questions we ask all our interviewees about social entrepreneurship and green living in Prague!
Do you have any tips for other eco-entrepreneurs in Prague?
“When people ask what keeps us going, I say that you have to be a little bit naïve. Keep your naïveté, because then you won’t fall with your first failure. If you keep your social goals on the top level, then your failures won’t make you stop.”
“What is also important is to ask your customers what they want before you start to deliver products or services. It’s really, really important because you won’t waste your time and energy on products that people don’t want. Because you have your dream and think that everyone has the same dream and the same needs, and it’s not true. This maybe is even more important than naïveté.”
“If you keep your social goals on the top level, then your failures won’t make you stop.” –Lucie Matoušková Lankašová, co-founder of Kokoza
Do you have any other green living tips for people living in Prague?
“What I’m doing in my daily life is that I’m not using a lot of cosmetics, only a few essential oils, and I’m also experimenting with making my own cosmetics. Otherwise I use Weleda – I think it’s the best brand. I also love Dr. Hauschka.”
“Also food. When I have to choose between organic food from China or local food from Czech Republic, I always choose local. The best way to create a healthy life is to know who is growing your stuff. What I want to do is to set up an initiative that you with your friends find a farmer and pay for the produce for the whole season and then he grows it for you. It’s something that’s quite fast-growing in the Czech Republic. We also want to connect the community gardens with this possibility. We need to wait and see what the reaction will be. It’s also good for expats because they can become a part of the community and have a chance to chat with the farmers.” (to find out more about these kinds of initiatives, check the website of Pro-bio Liga)
What’s your favorite place in Prague to get into nature?
“Letna or Stromovka. My favourite place for next year will be the garden of my grandfather.”
As for the gg girls, we feel inspired and are definitely giving home composting a try – we’ll keep you updated on our progress. 😉