Land after soil, experimentation after experimentation, we went in search of those who have made a life plan of agriculture: therefore a passion and a job, innovating the very concept of cultivation. Four stories, collecting insights from the social agriculture Xfarm project, from the botanical conservatory of the Giardini di Pomona, from garden by Laura Bianchi and by starry gardens of the culinary garden Enrico Costanza.
Let's start from Southern Italy where, in a land confiscated from the mafias, the Xfarm project was born, an agricultural company founded by a social cooperative. "We wanted to take this place, a negative symbol abandoned by imagination and development ideas, and transform it into a manifesto of good practices" - says Marco Notarnicola, one of the founders - "We wanted to start from the earth as an agent for the development of the territory.
None of us had agricultural skills when we started and this allowed us to approach old and new agricultural practices without habits or prejudices. We got online and, while we were training, we also created learning contexts for others and other young people in the area".
Starting, despite not having all the skills, is an element that unites many stories of returning to the earth: you learn in the field, putting knowledge into circulation, looking at innovative experiences and looking for holistic sustainability. "Xfarm experiences organic agriculture and regenerative: the action of those who cultivate must contribute to regenerate and not to destroy the ecosystem in its complexity. - continues Marco Notarnicola - We start from the soil, to guarantee biodiversity and from there we aim to create ecosystems that regenerate, which are not weakened by intensive cultivation and continuous chemical interventions. We produce food but above all we show that we can have a different relationship with our lands. And that you can do it as a community".
Also in Puglia another incredibly suggestive agricultural project has developed, it is the Pomona Garden, located in Valle d'Itria and dedicated to cultivate and preserve diversity fruitful. To those used to seeking nourishment in large-scale distribution, it will seem unimaginable that there could be over 600 varieties of figs and as many of apple trees, citrus fruits and other ancient fruits.
Paolo Belloni, photographer and founder of this botanical conservatory tells the beginning of the adventure: “The trigger was the Summit of the Rio de Janeiro 1992: first world conference on the environment. We hear about the protection of biodiversity in a global way and I start to take care of documenting the many species of ancient fruits. Immediately attracted to the fig tree, I collect numerous varieties of plants. In the search for a land where I can experiment and preserve this 'collection' I look to the South, the great gene bank of Italy where you can still find unusual varieties of abandoned land and manor houses".
Paolo Belloni's experience brings us back to a world in which passion begins with an intellectual and creative approach, to then feel the urge to literally ground one's vision. To keep things going is a mixture of stubbornness and the pleasure of knowing that, mistake after mistake, you can get results.
Pomona is a practice that brings together experiments and people around the idea that "we can pass on to future generations a heritage that has required millennia of man-nature interaction to be formed and which is dissolving at great speed. - continues Paolo - This is an example that can be cultivated in dry farming, treating the problem of water as a collective theme, and that energy must be invested in the renaturalization of soils to reverse and slow down the processes of desertification".
Let's now move north to visit a fashion journalist who has decided to leave Milan to move to Liguria. She is Laura Bianchi, author of the book The grass runs when it wants, which tells us about its approach to the garden while making aromatic cuttings.
“After an accident I find myself unable to work and I vent myself with long walks in Liguria. It is in these walks that I discover and fall in love with a wild terrain. I manage to buy it and, by cleaning the garden, I also cleaned my head and became more confident of what I can do by counting on my strength. The garden helped me to forgive myself for the mistakes I made but it also changed my bucolic vision: today I know that every paradise hides unexpected events. Accepting that I'm not in charge but that Nature has the last word was fundamental.
Today I continue this symbiosis with the earth and plan how to transmit it to others: with my partner we have recently opened a one room hotel, immersed in 2000 meters of Mediterranean scrub. In my Little Zoagli it is as if I extended the welcome that this land has given me to guests, creating tailor-made experiences and pampering".
If Laura Bianchi's experience starts with a personal need and then finds economic sustainability by inventing a different idea of hospitality, cultivation as a research that dialogues with haute cuisine. This is the case of Enrico Costanza , gardener and horticulturist but above all experimenter of vegetables.
"It seemed to me that a piece was missing between cooking and cultivation and I thought of this profession of the culinary gardener as someone who enters the kitchen, tastes, talks with the chefs and then combines their work with his research on vegetables". After an experience cultivating the vegetable garden for the vegan chef Simone Salvini, Enrico moves to the chef Crippa becoming the responsible for the vegetable garden of the starred restaurant Piazza Duomo.
“Today I am a consultant for various realities: I move between old recipe books, ancient herbariums and seed catalogs to go in search of forgotten vegetables and flavors, I create maps and calendars of wild herbs but I experiment above all with harvesting moments. Agriculture is not natural , everything we bring to the table is a human invention, century after century man has selected the varieties he needed and has chosen the taste by establishing when to harvest that fruit or vegetable, how much to ripen it and how to store it ".
Four stories, different territories, different starting skills, different goals and dreams. Yet, a similar way of relating to the earth, without waste, without chemicals, with respect for the logic of the ecosystem. These new figures of gardeners and gardener, peasants and farmers, are thought less of land governors and more of an organism that cooperates with others, be they humans, plants, animals and microbials. As Paolo Belloni underlined "The greatest lesson is that the more complexity is maintained and the more balance is maintained, the simpler and weaker it becomes the ecosystem".