Due to the high population density of Barcelona and its limited space for growth in the periphery, it is difficult to find spaces for urban agriculture. To get around this problem, the municipality of Barcelona has considered growing crops on the rooftops of municipal buildings. The fact of having these spaces and the demand for cultivating gardens by people with disabilities led to the creation of the project “The Rooftop Garden”.
The project began at the headquarters of the area of Social Rights from the Barcelona City Council in 2016 with a hydroponic vegetable garden pilot test thanks to the support of the Techno-agri-food Research Institute (IRTA) for the technical and agronomic part, and the participation of three occupational centres for people with intellectual disabilities in Barcelona.
Due to the success of the initiative - which generated great interest among entities of people with disabilities and different departments of the municipal administration - the project has grown, and we currently have eight vegetable gardens in municipal facilities from different districts of the city. New profiles of people with disabilities have been incorporated into the project, such as people with mental health disorders or people with physical disabilities.
The objectives are:
1. The development of autonomy and learning for people with disabilities.
2. Installation of gardens based on hydroponic technology that is respectful with the environment on rooftops and balconies from municipal buildings.
3. Local production and consumption with the minimum ecological footprint.
4. A social dimension by donating surplus crops to soup kitchens and food banks.
5. Use of spaces in disuse from the administration.
6. Inclusive project with the incorporation of other groups (children, the youth, the elderly, etc.). With this objective, we incorporate a learning dimension and the fight against the stigmatization of people with disabilities.
7. Promotion of environmental, social and economic sustainability values among all project stakeholders.
The Municipal Institute for People with Disabilities (IMPD) coordinates the project with the support of other municipal departments and public schools that host rooftops’ vegetable gardens. The members from the centres of people with disabilities are in charge of the maintenance of the gardens (with the collaboration of students for the vegetable gardens located in schools). Agroecological companies or institutions are responsible for the installation, supervision of the various gardens and the didactic training of people with disabilities, students, educators and teachers. Finally, we also collaborate with soup kitchens and food banks who receive the surplus crops.
The project is developed with the human resources of two IMPD administration officials, technicians from agricultural companies, educators from the centres for people with disabilities and teachers from schools. Regarding material resources, the project uses infrastructures based on vertical or horizontal hydroponic technology with fertigation and automatic irrigation. The initiative began thanks to a public subsidy from the city council and, currently, the cost of installation and maintenance is assumed by the institutions that has the vegetable garden on their rooftop to distribute the expenses among different actors of the public sector.
About 170 people with different types and degrees of disability go to the vegetable gardens between one and two days a week depending on the entity. An investigation in 2018 , showed the benefits in the quality of life of the participants on issues such as self-determination, well-being (emotional, physical and material), social inclusion, personal development, and interpersonal relationships. In addition, the harvested products benefit both the users of the garden and their families, as well as people in need of food. Indeed, because of the important production of vegetables, almost all of the fresh food harvest is given to soup kitchens and food banks. Finally, an internal analysis confirmed that the products are healthy with insignificant levels of contaminants.
The most relevant aspect of the project is the combination of a socially based initiative with environmental sustainability objectives. "The rooftop garden" aims to include a population that is usually marginalized in an initiative that aims to promote food sovereignty by growing organic and seasonal products. It also allows a collective used to receive help to change its role by donating crop surpluses to soup kitchens and food banks. Furthermore, thanks to the vegetable gardens located in schools, people with disabilities and children, who do not usually interact with each other, can work together in an inclusive project.
The Little extra
In 2019, the project “The Rooftop Garden” won the first prize of the European Public Sector Awards (EPSA) in the category of local and supralocal administrations that rewards innovative initiatives in public administration .
Message from the project leaders
“We are looking for entities involved in similar initiatives with which to exchange experiences and ideas, as well as visit their projects and invite them to visit ours. For instance, we would love to get in touch with entities that have managed to achieve financial autonomy for their project and who could be inspiring for us.” Instituto Municipal de Personas con Discapacidad (IMPD)
 Triguero-Mas M, Anguelovski I, Cirac-Claveras J, Connolly J, Vazquez A, Urgell-Plaza F, Cardona-Giralt N, Sanyé-Mengual E, Alonso J, Cole H. Quality of life benefits of urban rooftoptop gardening for people with intellectual disabilities or mental health disorders. Prev Chronic Dis. 2020; 17:E126. DOI: 10.5888/pcd17.200087
 EIPA (2019). The European Public Sector Award 2019: Three categories, three innovative winners. https://www.eipa.eu/the-european-public-sector-award-2019-three-categories-three-innovative-winners/
This sheet was produced by members of the Municipal Institute for the Disabled (IMPD) and by Adèle Guen, LFC volunteer, May 2021.
Last modification : 10 May 2021.
Municipal Institute for People with Disabilities (IMPD)
The project “The Rooftop Garden” consists in the installation of urban gardens on the disused rooftops of municipal buildings and schools in Barcelona, entrusting their operation to organizations of people with disabilities. The project promotes social inclusion, autonomy and learning for people with disabilities in the field of horticulture, as well as the increase of green areas in the city and the consumption of organic and local food.