The story in a few words
Tool testing in Vienna - “Plant and seed swap”
Tool testing in Vienna - “Plant and seed swap”
Framework & Goals
We started a collaboration with Volkshilfe Wien Jobfabrik in December 2020. The organisation accompanies youths who are not in school nor education and provides training in different areas plus educational consulting in order to prepare them for employment. As stated in Nabolagshager’s Plant Swap Tool Kit this is a seasonal placemaking tool that could easily be started in winter. Moreover we figured it would be a good fit for this collaboration as we were working with the “animals and garden” group.
Our goal was to set processes in motion in a time when get togethers were prohibited and outdoor activities were limited due to seasonal circumstances and the pandemic. Also we wanted to make use of the space in Schleifgasse, be closer to the local public and foster anticipation for the upcoming implementation phase of PlaceCity Floridsdorf.
The current situation of the corona pandemic did not allow us to work in person with the group right away. Therefore, we started regular online workshops where we engaged them through different activities and games into reflections about public space and indoor/ outdoor exploration of different kinds of plants. For example, we asked them to take playfull walks in their neighborhoods, and gave them the task to brainstorm winterplacemaking ideas. We tried out several ways of DIY and upcycling planting pot creation, and facilitated the group in growing their own seedlings and bedding plants from their own houseplants.
After several weeks of online preparation, we were finally able to meet in small groups in our local space in Floridsdorf and jointly prepared its window front in order to make the upcoming plant swap known in the area.
The uncertain and ever changing situation of the pandemic and its local determinations made it impossible to plan a big event like suggested in the tool kit. We adapted the idea to our situation and needs and started communicating the idea of trading plants even before fixing a date for the actual swap. We used our window front to communicate a tutorial of how to make bedding plants. The teens brought their own seedlings and we jointly designed a display in the windows.
We finally set a date for the plant swap in late March, shortly before easter. The date allowed us to include seed swapping and broaden our range of plants from houseplants to crops. Events were still not allowed which is why we cooperated with another project, 1m2 market in order to implement the swap on the market place (as a space that is open even during lock down).
This meant that we had a small stall on the market and displayed the rest of our plant stock in front of our space in Schleifgasse on some reserved parking spots, only a few hundred meters away. The reserved parking spot, gave us instant visibility and attention. People who knew about the event would drop off their own plants and get tickets for trading. Others who came to the market were introduced to the concept of sharing plants by chance.
The challenge of implementing a plant swap on a market place was the lack of space to present all plants at the same time. Also the fact that some other market stalls, including our direct neighbour, were selling plants and easter decoration while we were promoting to exchange rather than buy. Having the majority of the plants in a different place, where people were not allowed to swap made the procedure less organic. However the closeness of the two venues allowed easy commuting and therefore visitors got to know the market place and our venue in Schleifgasse.
Things that surprised us
A shop without things to sell: passers-by were always quite surprised by looking into our shop front. What kind of shop does not sell anything? We were amused by how many people were more inclined to pay rather than to take something for free!
Many of our visitors brought more than they wanted to take. Some of them were specialists in plants and part of a facebook group that focuses on trading plants. Hence, they had many seedlings, but were looking only for special plants that they would not already have.
most people brought more than they wanted to take
Even though the plant swap took place on a nice spring day, we were surprised that the market was quite calm. Most of our visitors came because they had read about the swap on social media. Most market customers were not that interested in swapping, but many of them had seen our plants in the window and could connect the market stand to our space in Schleifgasse. People come to the market to buy, not to trade and concerning plants many of them were looking for something specific and were not open to browse our offer.
Many of the people coming to the market were actually not from the direct neighbourhood but lived a little outside and had gardens. Therefore our house plants were not so interesting to them. Beforehand, we were counting more on people who would have small apartments and would happily take plants that don’t need too much care and consideration.
Learnings & Recommendations
1. Place making in times of a pandemic
It is possible to make events even during a pandemic! But, of course, they are different. With the connection to the market we were able to organise a plant swap without hosting an event. We do admit that during the event it felt a little slow and the youths even thought they could keep a great number of plants for themselves. However, as experienced placemakers we appreciated the time we could dedicate to the visitors. With a slower event, we got to know more about our visitors and stronger connections to the place were established. We could talk about upcoming projects and also learned about the personal situation of our “visitors”.
2. Plant swaps: a great way to get to know the community
We recommend doing a slow plant swap as part of a first-stage placemaking in the realm of getting to know a new community. We made the experience that almost everybody who came by our place in the last couple of weeks had some connection with plants. Either themselves or because they knew of somebody who would be interested and wanted to tell them about the project. The real outcome of this event was not the number of plants swapped (over 40 swapped plants), but the visibility that it gave to our space and each and every chat we had because of the plants in our window.
In that case, we recommend regular opening hours during the weeks of preparation for walk in customers and to give out information about other projects as well. (In our case, we did not have regular opening hours but always announced the next day that some of us would be there on the window).
3. Plants for every need
We recommend catering the needs of different target groups: those who know a lot about plants (special treats, special plants); those who are new to the subject, while including plant experts from an early stage: Those who always have seedlings and know about current “go to” plants. As well as House Plants and garden plants.
4. Window Front
What worked very well for us was the display in the window front. We did not only show the seedlings that were alredy collected to get swapped, but we also did some propagation tests (e.g. part of a carrot in water - will there grow new greens or not?). We heard from passers-by that were often walking by that they were eager to see if it would work. So, even in times that we were not present, people would have something to watch and learn and see how it develops. In case you do not have a space with a window front, try cooperating with a local shop!
5. Cooperation Jobfabrik and the Teens.
Cooperation with Jobfabrik was good for boths sides: The teens made the event more lively, cared about the plants, brought seedlings of their own plants, were happily taking home all the “leftovers”. For them (as they are vulnerable kids) it was a challenge to get in touch with strangers and trainers were happy that they would “get in touch with the real world” and learn how to set up a project and event. …
What we could not do (because of ...pandemic!), but would recommend: to team youths up with seniors in order to exchange more plant wisdom (similar as said in Oslo tool kit).
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