In our project called Seeds4Hope volunteers are raising young plants from seeds. These plants are planted to the gardens of homeless shelters, where homeless people take care of the plants to harvest the fruit of their work: fresh vegetables and fruits.

Betti Balassa, the leader of this project, describes her relation with gardening by a well-known slogan: “Here i am what i really am.”

Betti, from where do you know the project, and what is your task?

I was so outraged by the introduction of the latest homeless law, that I felt I need to go against it in my own way. The garden can be a good tool for many purposes. Therefore I found out to create and run a social garden for homeless people, so they can not be taken from the streets to jail. After a long searching I had to realize that Bike Maffia’s Seeds4Hope project is the only one in Hungary, that gets together homeless people with gardening. So I got connected with the leaders of this project, who appreciated my gardening skills. Few weeks later we were planning together the pallet beds, I held a seed sewing and seedling growing workshop for the volunteers, and we were gardening together at the shelters. This is how I became the gardening coordinator of the project in 2019.

This year, it so happens that I took the leadership of the project. I keep in touch with the shelters and the supporters, especially. We get many offerings such as seedlings, fruit trees. We need to arrange the details of those placement. Meanwhile I try to rethink my original ideas due to the recent situation. My goals for this year is to make publicity for the program, as shelters for homeless people and for mothers are not just here in Budapest. I hope this example will be sticky!

The garden is your passion, you lead this project with huge enthusiasm too. What studies and experiences do you have? Why do you think Seeds4Hope project is important?

I have some childhood memories, basic skills and passion too. My resent knowledge has built up in the six years I spent in our community garden. I learned the most from my own mistakes I made through these years. I participated to a permaculture training to have my gardening skills more complete. 

Seeds4Hope programs main aim is to teach the ones is need to catch the fish, instead of giving them the fish. Spending only a little time can be beneficial for the body and the soul as well. The residents of the shelters are in the very need of this pozitiv effects. Besides tehy learn self-provision, they can grow their own, healthy food. The successes are giving them self-confidence. On the other hand, I can see much prejudice too. Most people have no, or very false idea about the life in a shelter or warmer. This is why I am very glad if there are voluteers from the organisation sector. They can get a clear picture about the life of a shelter home through the common work.

How does the project work? What stages does it have? What plants do you raise and plant?

At the end of the winter we usually have a volunteers meeting with seed exchange, where we dicuss the changes and the actual timeline. This is a brainstorming too, to find out what to change in base of the last years experiences. After this, we raise the seedlings at home. We give a hepling hand by posts and photos sent out to the mailing group. It is always the individual need of the shelter what plants to be sewed and raised. Tomato is always a big star, but in this year every shelter asked for paprikas too. Species from the gourd family (zuccini, cucumber) are popular too. Last year we brought stawberry plantings for each shelters, those will be fruiting this year. Every type of the onion is a big favourite, as the residents like to eat it besides a slice of bread with lard.

How can you manage the program in the middle of the Corona desease? Has the quarantene situation brought any changes this year?

We are in continouos replanning, despite we are still in the “silent”, seedling growing stage. The spring sewing has been cancelled, because the shelters are running on full capacity, some of them are can not be visited at all. We got fruit trees as an offering from a company, but we postponed the planting of those We will plant the young plants, but the circumstances should be consulted in prior. Probably we will collect and deliver those by car, and the planting part will be the task of the residents. Fortunatelly there are enthusiastic social workers in every shelter home, who like to do gardening, and will help the residents to make it happen.

We place bigger emphasise to the autumn season this year. Hopefully, the emergency will end up till than, and we can arrange community cooking based on the tomatoes the residents are growing. 

What are your experiences about the residents relate to gardening?

They are all very shy at first. Then there are always some who come along to ask what are we doing. They ask if they can help us in the work. In the smaller shelter homes they are already know us, so they come up with plans, where to and what they would like to plant. There are places with regular gardening clubs. This year they asked recipies, to get some ideas how to use their products. It is harder to involve the residents in places where they are rotating fastly. But the institutions’ feedback are showing there are always some helping hands to cut the tendrils from tomatoes, even thought they know they will not eat from the fruit of the plants.

With how many volunteers do you work in this project? How is the team?

Viki Takács coordinator helps my work. She works in the social job sector, and has community garden experiences too. That is a great background for this project.

The volunteers are very different, we are still forming. At the beginning of the year we planned to create a nice team, but this is very difficult in the resent situation with only online meetings are possible.  Last year there were ones, who arrrived with children, like me, to built the bads, and to do the planting. This is very important from the view of social sensitivity. There are community garden volunteers among us too. Ones can not raise seedlings, they just here to plant. Others only do the raising part.

The team consist of 20 people now, we have 3 new members. I am very proud that all of our volunteers from last year are helping the project again. They brought a lot of ideas and offerings. But what I really like is their attitude what links us together: everyone can buy plantings on the market, and take it to one of the BMSZKI shelters. But to sew a seed, raise it to a plant, plant it together with the one who the plant will feed – this is the real human act.

Here is an article from 2019 about the Seeds4Hope project.

Photos: István Juhász, Betti Balassa, Júlia Halász