Agents of change – an interview with urban gardening visionary Matteo Baldo
30 March 2020
The community-based urban farms and gardens of proGIreg Living Lab 'Orti Generali' in Turin´s Mirafiori Sud district are a prime example of nature-based solutions in action. Orti Generali aims to foster a socially inclusive and community-driven neighbourhood by enabling citizens to grow their own food. We spoke with Matteo Baldo, one of the curators of the project. Matteo is a sociologist and an educator passionate about urban horticulture.
How did the idea of creating a vegetable garden in a post-industrial urban area come about?
The idea and concept of renting out allotments to residents emerged during the research project ‘Miraorti’, which focused on territorial regeneration of an abandoned park and agricultural areas on the banks of river Sangone. The results of Miraorti prompted the municipality of Turin to review regulations to allow the designation of urban green areas of 2500 square meters to associations. In 2016 a local association ‘Coefficiente Clorofilla’ was assigned the abandoned riverside area, and thus Orti Generali was born. Sixty percent of the project areas are allocated to urban farming and the remainder is left for public use.
How does it work in practice?
Orti Generali is operated and managed by Coefficiente Clorofilla. The association has three employees for three different purposes: educational, social inclusion and communication activities. There are many different stakeholders which collaborate in the project to ensure a holistic approach e.g. other local associations, cooperatives working with disadvantaged people, local health authorities, educational institutes and of course we work closely with the municipality. The management of the physical environment is divided between the association, gardeners and volunteers. Aspiring gardeners can rent their own plot of land or share a collective plot at an affordable rate or in exchange for community work in maintaining common areas.
What is your approach to community involvement?
There was plenty of existing interest from would-be urban gardeners, many already active in gardening in the area - with Orti Generali they finally got official permission and support for their activities. We wanted to have a close dialogue with the gardeners right from the get-go. We co-created the activities and the objectives of Orti Generali in focus groups of locals. This helped us understand their needs, the characteristics of the neighbourhood and design a suitable system for their daily realities. The gardeners continually attend meetings with the association and other stakeholders that inform the planning and operation of Orti Generali.
Further we informed people about the project through social networks and notices in the neighbourhood, attracting people interested in the sustainability and social inclusion aspects of Orti Generali. We also actively try attracting people from all walks of life to join in. For example, a certain amount of allotments is reserved for people below the age of 35, we accommodate people with physical disabilities and run activities and educational programs for local schools. There is a range of rental fees to accommodate different income levels and grants for disadvantaged groups. We also include people in drug rehabilitation programs in collective gardening supported by volunteers and have dedicated a garden for disadvantaged youth.
Have there been challenges?
The biggest challenge was the state of the place - it was severely degraded, with waste accumulated over years of illegal occupation and demolition rubble. Also incorporating the existing ‘illegal’ vegetable gardens and gardeners was a crucial step for Orti Generali. We achieved this by open dialogue and mutual exchange of knowledge and experiences.
What does the future hold for Orti Generali?
Experimentation and continuous learning take centre stage in this initiative. A close collaboration with the University of Turin allows for continuous research, analysis and development of the social, environmental and economic impact of the project in the district and in the metropolitan city.
We also envision the creation of an educational and training centre on urban agriculture and environmental sustainability. Also, we would like to attract people from other parts of the city with potential food and beverage services at the gardens, to counteracting the image of abandonment and degradation of the district and raise awareness about urban gardening.
The Orti Generali project utilises the framework of proGIreg’s nature-based solution 'Community-based urban farms and gardens'. Learn more about the gardens in Turin from Mirafiori Social Green and Orti Generali.