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The Garden Revolution

There is a way of loving the earth that is within everybody’s reach. All it takes is a small amount of space —even just a terrace or a balcony—bags of patience, and a desire to learn and take care of what is born and then grows before you. By tending a garden, you establish an intimate, natural, rewarding rapport with nature. A garden is a spontaneous generator of happiness and often it is also a little big revolutionary act.

In Turin over the last few days it has been possible to fully comprehend the importance of gardens and the different roles they can play by seeking out significant examples scattered across the city. Casa Ozanam, for example, is an apartment block occupied by associations and social cooperatives that organize a whole range of activities at every hour of the day. There’s a restaurant, a hostel, after-school recreations for kids, a gym—plus a rooftop garden complete with beehives. In Piazza Palazzo di Città, Slow Food, in collaboration with Urban Center, has organizalicewatersed an exhibition dedicated to urban gardens round the world. From Havana to Los Angeles, from Berlin to Caserta and a host of African cities—gardens are sending out their revolutionary message everywhere.

Including the Teatro Carignano, where the ‘Garden Revolution’ conference began with laughter among the audience in response to two quotations—two very different ways of speaking about gardens—projected up on the screen. The first, from Ron Finley, said ‘Plant some shit’; the second, from Alice Waters, said, ‘We are eating our values.’ With her edible schoolyards, Waters has inspired many a garden-related project, among which Slow Food’s ‘Orti in condotta’ school garden initiative and the White House garden. ‘The Edible Schoolyard project is 21 years old. It started unexpectedly and unforeseeably as a result of an article in which I pointed out how a schoolyard in Berkeley had been completely abandoned. We began in the simplest way possible by trying to attract people with a positive message. Today kids learn everything in the garden: not only growing and cooking, but also theater, art, history, math … If the kids produce vegetables, they want to eat them.’ Pictures of children playing happily appeared on the screen. ‘Five years ago we launched a website to collect good practices from all over the world, and many people made a contribution by posting information. In the United States 1,500 new garden projects have started up in the last year alone. I believe the time is right for this kind of thing.’

Not that gardens are the preserve of America. Edie Mukiibi, vice-president di Slow Food, outlined the ‘10,000 Gardens in Africa’ project. ‘With the project our aim is to support our people and our mother, namely the earth. It’s not a matter of teaching people how to grow things—many know how to do that already—but of encouraging them to honor their own practices. We began with a few gardens, but today there are more than 3,000 in 34 countries, a demonstratediemukibiion of the strength and capabilities of African communities. Often in Africa we have a problem of leadership, especially with regard to food, but now this project is allowing new leaders to emerge.’ Edie speaks about gardens with joy and knowledge and hope. ‘Every day new schools and communities want to join the network because they understand that having a garden gives them an opportunity for social transformation for children and teacher alike. We are having a strong, compelling impact, or so I believe. When a garden like this is born, life changes. Mine has changed and I look at it differently. With a garden you create a family spirit and you understand a lot of life’s truths.’

Ron Finley is a self-styled ‘guerrilla gardener,’ whose infectious humor had everyone amused. He spoke of shit and manure and life. ‘Life comes from the soil, as does culture, agri-culture. What we need to do is recover this respect. We have to make gardening, cultivating, one of the sexiest activities you can perform. Joking apart, I began growing fruit and vegetables because I was looking for healthy food, but where I lived it was impossible for me to find it. I wanted hyper-local food at my disposal, so I started planting a garden in front of my house. It was tough at the beginning what with reports to the police, arrest warrants, neighbor’s complaints and so on. Not to mention a certain notoriety. I eventually succeeded, creating a small ecosystem in front of my house, a fact that had huge resonance. The news travelled round the world. A garden goes beyond religion and race. It wakes people up (and not just the neighbors!), it teaches you to think and plan the life you want to live, which is very different from the one fast food joints and multinationals have programmed for you. Plants can do a lot for us; they even produce sounds, though we often don’t notice them. They calm people. We need them.’

This is why to speak about gardens is to speak about many things—food, politics, beauty …—at once. And this is why growing them is a real revolution, one that has the power to wake all of us up.


Silvia Ceriani

An Event by
 Città di Torino
 Slow Food
 Regione Piemonte
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