Local Collaboration in Italy

"We grow our vegetables as we grow ourselves"

In its 26 years of activity, the Ecovillage Torri Superiore, in western Liguria, has been committed to building positive relationships with the local population, tells Lucilla Borio, founder and former GEN-Europe secretary. Now the local connections also include businesses, and the principles of sustainability and social responsibility.

The EU program "The Transition Journey, Sustainability to Touch" (2009/2011), conducted with four GEN-Europe ecovillage partners, encouraged us to look for new ideas and relationships with those who live near us. We organized a series of actions to involve the inhabitants of the town of Ventimiglia in sustainability related projects: courses, conferences, debates and some very lively evenings to meet each other and discuss important issues with the local residents.

In summer 2010, in one of these evenings, the Ortinsieme (Gardening together) project was born. Debora Roncari proposed to the group "Recovery of fallow land and 0 km production" to convert some of her father’s rose greenhouses, uncultivated for 11 years, into organic gardens to share with other people willing to get their hands dirty. The global market has killed the local, traditional flower production, and the “Riviera dei fiori” is now left with countless empty, rundown greenhouses scattered all over its beautiful landscape. Debora was joined by Giorgio, Gianni, Sisto, Daniela and many others, and they created the Ortinsieme Association, now involving 42 members, who also started the local food coop (60 families). One of the participants is the "senior member" Francesco, 87, who looks after the gardens with great love and has learnt to work collectively. The organically grown land is 1200 square meters divided in three greenhouses, plus a patch of land used as orchard and vegetable garden for permaculture “experiments”.

Their production is very broad: potatoes, tomatoes, salads, aromatic herbs, beans, onions, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, and many other vegetables. The orchard offers a nice variety of summer and autumn fruits, and even a beautiful Avocado tree. In the small henhouse, born as the initiative of a subgroup that shares the eggs in an organized way, live twenty chickens.

The "Zona Agora", a large lawn near the greenhouses, is important for social and cultural activities also addressing local schools. At least once a year Ortinsieme opens the doors to the public to raise awareness on the issues of territory, society and local food, with events like Ortinfesta and Ortinarte, potluck dinners and the beautiful "Lunch in the Garden".

Explains Giorgio Caniglia, President of the Association: "The product is distributed in a "proto-socialist way": those who work, eat! We have three days of collective work per week plus one Sunday a month, all people present share the tasks, and at the end of the day share the harvest. There was an initial turnover of members, but all the founders are still participating. We supported the birth of other similar groups in other towns, as Vallecrosia and Sanremo. "

Debora says: "I am a teacher but I come from a family of farmers and shepherds who were ashamed of their job. I am proud of farming, and this incredible mix of people of culture and people with direct farming experience has created an interesting exchange, which encourages a process of eco-literacy and bringing people closer to the earth. We always promote the sharing of information on all group choices, our path is continuous learning combined with awareness, and so the work is never repetitive. We are grateful to the Ecovillage for being the catalyst for energies already present in the area: the conviviality and the pleasure of being together encourage us to continue the work. "

The collaboration between Torri Superiore, Ortinsieme and other agricultural realities and local firms, united by the principles of sustainability and social responsibility, continues with the creation of the Network of Companies "Terre di Confine” (Borderlands), focused on the Val Bevera - Val Roya Bioregion. The first practical project will be the construction of a pilot aquaculture plant in large unused greenhouses, for the production of fish and natural fertilizers. The aim is grow more organic vegetables that can be sold both to the Ecovillage and to the school canteens.
Giorgio concludes: "The most important added value is working together: at the beginning I knew no one and now I’m part of a fantastic group. Farming is an evolutionary path, we grow our vegetables as we grow ourselves. And our call is: Hasta la chicoria siempre! "