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The Social Herbal Garden | Civic Europe
Community development

The Social Herbal Garden winner

A herbal garden created in collaboration between elderly local gardeners from Benkovski village and youth suffering social exclusion


Who is behind this?

Tihomir Donev




Idea pitch

We want to create a community-based garden which supports excluded youngsters & elderly gardeners from rural areas. Our idea creates safe space for work, growth and learning and possibility for intergenerational dialogue. We solve 2 problems at once- we offer employment to excluded youngsters due to their special needs or background and help to keep the gardening and herbal heritage of the region. All produced herbs will be dried and used for tea in our Social Teahouse in Varna.

Where will your project idea take place?

We will function in Benkovski village, Avren Municipality.

What is the specific societal challenge faced by this region?

We foresee to start working in a village called Benkovski in Avren Municipality. Exclusion of youth with special needs and NEETS from social life and labor market are a fact in all parts of Bulgaria, but in rural area that is even more visible. . Near Avren and Varna there are many small villages where there is no work, no possibilities, no cultural life or any social interaction for people without special needs- so you can imagine what kind of exclusion people with special needs face. We plan to foster the social cohesion by creating intergenerational dialogue and safe space for work and growth between the local elderly residents with gardening experience and the youth with special needs and NEETs background.

Who are you doing it for?

1) The youngsters with special needs and NEETS/poverty background
2) The local community in Benkovski
3) The Social Teahouse which is need of fresh herbs, which we want to produce and donate to the Teahouse, rather import from abroad
4) The costumers of the Teahouse who can benefit from local-farmed herbs and spices in different free events and community gatherings

How do you plan to get there?

1. Rent/buy a plot in village of Benkovski, Avren municipality
2. Train the youngsters - we have access to all social institutions due to our work in The Social Teahouse and we know what we need to do administratively and in practice to prepare them
3. Work on the plot to prepare with local gardeners and slowly start mixing the groups for intergenerational learning and dialogue. Task responsibility and impact is based on open communication and co-management
4. Produce herbs for donation to the Teahouse and support more youngsters by mentorship or employment
5. Share our story to create more Herbal shared gardens in other rural areas

What are the expected results?

It will be so different! For the first time we will have excluded and marginalised youngsters happy, supported and included. We will have re-energized and back to community contact elderly gardeners from a rural area who will feel beneficial for sharing their experience and supporting youngsters, which sometimes society forgets. Last but least, in the Teahouse there will be fresh local herbs and we can have one more place which supports local environmental heritage. The village of Benkovski will be a bit more alive in social contacts, conversation and now we will have a small village miracle co-created by youth, elderly and nature.

How does your idea strengthen active citizenship at a local and community level?

The local community in Benkovski does not have any platform to gather, engage or participate in community projects. We are quite diverse ethnically and culturally, but due to poverty or social norms we don't engage in many common actions as citizens together. Me as both resident of Benkovski and Varna, I can see this project as a growth-village-team building. I am sure that my elderly co-villagers would be interested and curious to support the youngsters from Varna and Avren in their learning-gardening path, and vice-versa. We foresee the garden to function as a community based project on decision making level and to support the culture of co-management in all areas.

Why is this idea important to you?

I am committed to create the Herbal garden on so many levels- as a person living in Benkovski and seeing the problems of elderly forgotten people, as an advocate for social inclusion, as board member of The Teahouse, as a parent who wants to develop the region my kids are growing in. The mission of the idea is inclusion and smart development ( not smart as in technologies, but smart as smart).

€ 57000,-

Total budget

€ 50000,-

Funding requested from Civic Europe

Major expenses

Buying plot can be cheaper that actually renting it- approx 10 K
Watering, greenhouse, piping, wood work - 14 000 K
Seeds, raised beds, equipment - 1 K
Transportation costs - 1 K
Mentorship, training, social security, sheltered employment on all team - 20 K
Water/electricity costs - 4 K annually
Drying/Packaging - 6 K
Communication - 1 K
Our contribution - around 10 K

What do you need from the Civic Europe community?

Have you seen any idea like that before? Did it work?

Project Journey


New kids on the block

One of the most interesting things that have happened to us during this project was the unexpected guests. We started with one small private kindergarten, then they said to somebody else about our workshops and our garden,  and they said to another teacher. Finally we became a "hidden gem" for spring and summer activities not only for the people we intended , but also for people we had no idea knew about us!  The day we realized we have already make ourselves known was the day we had two ( 2) primary teachers calling from two different kindergartens willing to come and participate in one of our workshops. Of course this was in a day, we already have booked a gathering with the locals and the kids from the residential care centre, so we had to choose - do we want to cancel or will we just have 3 workshops in one day with over 40 people? Guess what we choose..We started at 9 am with the first group of really young children ( 2-4 years old), then another group came at 11:00 am and them our original workshop was at 6 in the evening until ...quite late;)) We had a really good time realizing we are the "new kids on the block" and people recognize not only who we are, but more importantly what we do. 

Many of the pictures from this day are just me smiling in a selfie mode with people exploring the garden behind me. I really liked this day and to me this for now is the best workday for this project

tihomir.idea on Sept. 16, 2021
Heroines and heroes

All it takes is one Stoyan and one Elitsa

When we wanted to create the Social Garden we had in mind several things- we see that elderly people in the rural areas are lonely. We also see youngsters suffering social exclusion due to a variety of reasons in the big city. We saw it was a different kind of loneliness and exclusion and wanted just to provide safe space for sharing with the tools of gardening. Bulgaria is one of the most diverse countries in the context of herbs, but not many people know that and respect this local heritage. I remember both my grandparents Ivanka and Marin telling stories about what you can eat from the forest and what not, how to make difference between healthy herbs and useless weeds and when I met my wife, who is from the same region of Central Bulgaria, we ended up having similar childhood memories for herbs. On the other hand we had the youngsters from the Social teahouse, who ...lets put it like that - they did not have my childhood experience of caring grandparents telling stories for herbs. Some of the youngsters who are in social state care institutions don't even know the names of their grandparents. So I really wanted to mix these two lonely groups of people through herbs and gardening and  I have had this idea proven several times in my daily routines, when I was building my house. Elderly people would come to me and just start telling stories about how things should be done, what I am missing, why I should not put the fence on top of this flower, because it is actually valuable and things like that. You can choose to get angry when elderly people from the village tell you what to do,or you can just let them be and listen. And that is what I did. 

The first few times we had children and youngsters over in Benkovski for workshops with the elderly people it was not a huge success. There was just distrust from both sides. I realized that at the same time I am trying to organize a workshop, but also to do gardening, and also at the same time do ice-breakers. And I slowly realized I needed help. In the beginning of the project we found Elitsa. She has a very dynamic upbringing and childhood and even though she was raised in a social state care institution, she actually had a really good understanding of how children are raised without their parents, as she was raised by her grandma. Also her love for gardening layed there, as my own and my wife's. When we met Elitsa we were very desperate to make a formula where one person does gardening and one person does ice-breakers, communication exercises, facilitates discussion, etc. Long story short- Elitsa had a background in landscape design, gardening, working a few years in a gardening business and she was the most patient and hard working person to join our team. With her we did wonders the first months! Eventually when she got her regular job back and we still faced the same problem we found Stoyan. A volunteer, who is a professional gardener and owns a small greenery business. I am not sure who approached woh first, but we ended up having regular workshops with the kids from the family centre every Thursday at 10 and he even started to consider hiring one of the youngsters once the project is finished.

I think this is a very important story, because sometimes as a start you want to do everything alone. And you want it now. But that is very...impossible. If it was not for Elitsa and Stoyan, maybe I would still be struggling with what to do to balance our meetings, how to be everywhere and do everything, And sometimes it all comes naturally and people find each other.

tihomir.idea on Sept. 16, 2021
Road to impact

A very long and cold start

In October 2020 we decided to stat with our idea to empower, connect and make people happy through gardening and growing herbs. There are many reasons why this is a good idea- people relax during gardening activities, they are fun, you enjoy each other's company while learning from nature. But there was one reason that nearly failed the start of our amazing idea- rain and cold. In the Varna region, where we function there is generally a very warm and enjoyable autumn and we have experienced it so many times we did not even consider checking the weather before planning our first workshop. The first workshop itself was just removing old branches, dead grass, dried unhealthy weeds and generally a lot of physical work on one nice 800 sq m field behind our strawbale house in the village of Benkovsksi. We gathered a few volunteers, a few youngsters and a few locals with a nice lunch. And it just would not stop raining the whole afternoon. We ate lunch, had a beer and went home. No work was done, but the first workshop was more or less started. For our second meeting but first actual work meeting, this time we checked the weather. It was not raining, but we ended up freezing and mainly sitting around the bonfire and sharing stories - from the local grandpa Kiro to the youngsters from the Teahouse, who have no families. And again- two workshops later we had absolutely no work done- only stories, small ice breakers and a lot of mud and some running noses from the cold. After this two time failure of planning we finally started in November ( which was for some reason warmer) with the actual work and our team got Elitsa on board- an amazing young lady who brought the sun with us and organized several cleaning days so we could finally reach ...the start!

tihomir.idea on Sept. 16, 2021




Idea created on May 24, 2020
Last edit on Aug. 3, 2020

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