Convivial Dinner and Community Gardening in Italy

On Thursday 27th of September Urban Reforestation ran a Convivial Dinner. It was a great evening with beautiful company and music. Thank you to Kinfolk for their great food and atmosphere. Thank you to Laura Ballantyne-Brodie for the efforts she put in to make the evening happen. She was able to raise funds for her cause which is "Ride to Conquer Cancer". Urban Reforestation runs local food dinners to celebrate community, share ideas and local food. Here are excerpts from a speech Emily Ballantyne-Brodie from Urban Reforestation gave on the evening:

My organisation Urban Reforestation is a business that develops urban agriculture and community garden projects. We have worked on various projects around Melbourne including: Docklands Community "Social" Garden, Brentwood Secondary College Garden, Noble Park Community Centre Garden and On the Edge Conference, in partnership with Village Well, which was an international forum to develop plans and actions for peri urban agriculture.

(For those of you who don't know, peri urban agriculture is the fertile farm land around our cities. Our cities have been developed here so we could grow food and sustain ourselves. So the land in cities, most of the time is rich, fertile farm land).

Tonight I will talk about my experience and work in Milano. Earlier this year I went to Milan to work on some projects at the worlds leading design university Politecnico di Milano with sustainable designer Anna Meroni. Politecnico di Milano is famously known as the place where fashion designers like Georgio Armani went to school. Milan is also home to the Milan Design Fair held every April which exhibits fashion, furniture, architecture and other ideas that are leading in Design. I am based in a lab called Design and Innovation for Sustainability (DIS), which is a different sort of design, that focusses on services and strategic design. There is a group of people here that design for sustainability, whether that is around housing solutions (co housing), food systems, community sharing schemes and transport.

Whilst in Milano I worked on the universities community garden which is called COLTIVANDO. The garden design team based this garden on a New York Coop Model. The Politecnico di Milano community garden ‘COLTIVANDO’ has been developing for over 12 months, in the Design department INDACO of Politecnico di Milano. We created a process of designing these gardens, so we can do more of this in other places! The aim is for this process is to inform the creation of gardens in other places, using service design thinking combined with a spatial design approach. Community centered design approach (Meroni, 2011) was used to engage various stakeholders in the university community as well as the local Bovisa (Suburb of northern Milan) neighbourhood.

The ‘Coltivando’ research group is working alongside a diverse array of stakeholders in the university, business, government and civil society. The garden project has been co-designed considering topics such as service model, governance model, education and programming model, spatial design. The service model of the garden is based on ‘food coop’, which is a collaborative model about sharing responsibilities amongst the group. A project like COLTIVANDO coupled with service design models helps to address the gap between knowing the problem of unsustainability and find solutions for individuals, sustainable design practitioners, communities and government through sustainable everyday design thinking and implementation. This is an experiment of collaboration between service and spatial design to merge diverse members of the community, who live in the same place.

The community garden project COLTIVANDO  is tied into a wider initiative known as Nututie Milano "Feeding Milan". Peri urban land around the city, in partnership with slow food association is the focus.This project is multifaceted approach to rethink the food system of Milano. From the farmers, the distributers, through to the consumers. - Making real value from the farm land. - Re-training farmers based on slow food principles. - Creating new and sustainable ways to distribute food. - Creating new brands, services and products for consumers in the city, like food box, market, and of course now the community garden. - It is a strategic approach and is supported by the local council, bank, Politecnico, Slow Food Association.

So how can Australia learn from this?My Point of view is that cultivating our own patch and connecting around the issue of food, in the city is key to our health and wellbeing. Viewing the community garden as a place if connection, culture and conviviality is really important.  The point I would like to highlight is that community gardens are more than just growing some veggies in unlikely places, they are really important to bring communities together and learn about a new sustainable lifestyle at the same time. You know one really worrying statistic, that people in the western countries are living alone and more people are reporting that they are lonely. Urban life is growing loneliness, physical and mental health problems. Meanwhile our food system is becoming more under threat and urban life becoming more stressful and unhealthy. So these gardens are truly like "acupuncture" points for our cities . So people can grow food, connect and even create new forms of sustainable business. These convivial gardens help to create systemic changes in the city, from the ground up...

One of the things I learnt in Italy was their passion for coming together and how territorial they were with their land. They are like a huge tribe who are deeply connected to their territory. The so-called Territorialist School is a contemporary approach to urban and regional planning and design grown out from the work of a number of Italian scholars, among those Alberto Magnaghi.

This terriatorialist approach  looks at the  important role of local qualitative development and the concept of “local self-sustainable development”. The Territorialist approach emphasises the idea"place-consciousness" meaning: a connection with local identity and heritage. The definition of ‘heritage’ adopted by this School is an extensive one, identifying each ‘territorio’ both with its people and places, and including environment, landscape, urban features, local knowledge, culture and crafts in its unique character as a living entity.

My suggestion is that we can learn from this - we can take what we like from the Italian experience and localise it to work for Australian communities and Australian culture from Fountain Gate to Fitzroy and Thomas Town to Toorak. This is exactly what we are doing here tonight, so thank you all for getting involved and being here tonight.


Here are some photos of the evening.