In My Backyard: participative citizenship for domestic farming and gardening
Organisation : Rio Neiva Environmental NGO , Portugal

In My Backyard is a pilot project for understanding the use of harmful pesticides and fertilizers for home farming and gardening and exploring sustainable alternatives. It does so by actively engaging local citizens for collecting information, sensibilization and capacitation, through an innovative methodology that employs ethnographic, cultural and scientific characterization of domestic backyards and their caregivers. It is located in the Neiva river valley, in northern costal Portugal, a urban-rural transition area.

Agendas addressed
BiodiversityGreenfield land and natural spaceWater resources and air quality
Pathways followed
  • Involve citizens through participatory implementation
  • Encourage local private and civic engagement
  • Support open data standards

The project takes place in the Esposende municipality, Portugal, specifically in the Neiva river valley area. The location is of particular importance considering it belongs to the Northern Littoral Natural Park, a protected area:

- which is an urban-rural area strongly dependent on fisheries, professional (and domestic) agriculture and, most recently, nature tourism;

- but also a location where recurrent severity above the threshold pollution of soil and underground water exists, jeopardizing the sustainability of economic activities.


Choosing domestic backyards is particularly critical given their importance for the local social, environmental and natural landscape and, as private spaces, are of difficult access for public authorities. Within this context, Rio Neiva Environmental NGO with a solid recognition and history at local level has been well positioned to implement the project. Moreover, available knowledge on backyards is very limited to non-existent, further subscribing the pertinence and innovative dimension of the project.

In Action

Given its experimental and innovative nature, the In My Backyard project defined and implemented a cohese scientific methodology to ensure a good coverage of the different social, cultural and environmental dimensions and relations within local domestic backyards. The following actions have therefore been implemented:

- data collection (online and on-site) and analysis for characterization of domestic backyards (i.e. vegetables, animals, fertilizers, pesticides, sustainable practices, traditions, etc.);

- antropological video documentary film and edition on the relation and impact between backyards and their caregivers;

- implementation of events for sensibilization and capacitation towards sustainable practices to be applied on domestic backyards; 

- development of booklet about visited backyards, stories and collected sustainable poractices; and

- partnership with the environmental municipal enterprise, through their environmental education center for enhancing sensibilization on the importance of domestic backyards within public authorities and for public policies.


All actions have been designed with an open approach, meaning we stand by the principle importance of open knowledge sharing and therefore all results and data are openly available through a Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license (personal details data is private). This means, new knowledge can be freely and openly built on top of this project own findings and further expand it.


The approach taken is essentially based on a close and informal relationship with local citizens, based on the existing capital that the Environmental NGO supporting the project has. 


Moreover, such close and informal setting provides a unique opportunity to observe how much backyards mean to every one of the engaged citizens, all of which considering it as critical for their well-being. Therefore, the actions taken had to necessarly be immersed within a conscious attitude towards active listening and engagement, and that is where most of the project value resides. Indeed, this can be considered the “pathway” which is subtle and almost invisible, but it provides the possibility to ensure an individual valorisation of participants.


The following results have been achieved:

- 25 on-site backyard ethnographic and scientific visits and data collection;

- 110 responses to pilot online survey for data collection;

- 1 antropological video documentary on the relation between backyards and their caretakers;

- 2 open data sets (online + on-site responses);

- 1 report on data analysis and visualization;

- 1 booklet with backyard stories and sustainable practices;

- 1 survey for data collection;

- 1 photo gallery of on-site backyard visits;

- 1 development / growth plan for 3 years;

- 9 sensibilization and capacitation events;

- 1 impact evaluation framework (currently under development)..


These have resulted in the following benefits:

- forging relationships between citizens / backyards, the municipality of Esposende and local agribusinesses;

- novel characterization of backyards and its agricultural and gardening practices through scientific and ethnographic methods;

- valorization of backyards through the affective relationship with their caregivers;

- sensibilization towards the environmental impact of backyards in local biodiversity and ecossystems;

- shared sustainable practices based on ancestral knowledge and innovative solutions.


The impact has been the following:

- public recognition and visibility of backyards as crucial elements for sustainable development;

- engagement of 50 citizens for sharing and looking for environmentally friendly practices;

- raising awareness and capacitation for the engaged citizens on sustainable domestic farming and gardening practices;

- the involvement of local public authorities in a sensitive and private territory as domestic backyards are and what is also a new area of work for them; and

- structure and knowledge set-up for replication of the project and growth within a 3 year development plan.


A particular note should be mentioned regarding the role and involvement of the local public authorities: on one hand they are co-managers of the natural park and have a direct interest on their conservation, but on another hand there is a layer of regulations and laws which can work as a barrier for the local municipality. The existence of private water wells is a good example as, despite being quite common and ancient, considering the nature of the protected area, they are likely not following the law. This means, the project has managed successfully this mediation and has thus had an important impact on the municipality for sensibilization. 


Measurement of impact will still be conducted, considering the under development evaluation framework. This will consider fundamentally the level of awareness on home sustainable practices and theory of change regarding home farming and gardening behaviours.

Challenges and lessons learned

Lessons learned:

- backyards play a crucial part in engaged citizens everyday’s life and are important for well-being and self-consumption, thus also lowering monthly costs;

- a well-prepared team is crucial to visit backyards to establish a close and informal relationship with caregivers; and

- using an open approach for results and data has also been important as it shows participants the project intentions in a transparent manner;



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