Community Relationships: One Seed at a Time

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community gardens florence orti dipinti fua

COMMUNITY CULTIVATION: COMMUNITY RELATIONSHIPS, ONE SEED AT A TIME

By Kelsey Petron, Brian Luchsinger, Bonnie Swartz

Photo courtesy of FUA's SLD Department

Orti Dipinti is a community garden located in Borgo Pinti 76, in the center of Florence, a place where gardens give life to plants and relationships. FUA's community service and service learning activities collaborate with the organization. J School students Kelsey, Brian, and Bonnie spoke with founder Giacomo Salizzoni for a deeper look into the project.

Tucked away from the busy streets, a small oasis resides in Florence. Walking along Borgo Pinti is the hidden gem of Firenze, the Orti Dipinti community garden, where anyone and everyone is welcome. The wonderful people who make this garden possible aren’t just cultivating vegetation, they’re cultivating relationships.

 

Italy is a country that values connections as much as its deeply rooted history. “Since we are always connecting with many organizations, we can rely on their ways to spread the word around,” said Giacomo Salizzoni, garden founder. “Everyone uses the site as  a collector of images for events and social networks using their help to spread the word around.” Giacomo and the garden utilize their connections with local business to promote the work that they do. These organizations use social media to network pictures of the garden far and wide, to help inspire others and to show what can be accomplished in a seemingly urban landscape.

 

The desire and motivation to create the garden started five years ago with Giacomo Salizzoni and some friends. Giacomo was inspired by Liz Christy who started the first urban community garden in New York 40 years ago. After some intense exploration of Florence, Giacomo had struck gold. Right across from the Four Seasons Hotel was an old track that was no longer in use and collecting dirt. It was right on Borgo Pinti, in the city center. He still had work to do, and convincing the city government was no walk in the park, but in the end his preparation and passion won them over and thus Orti Dipinti (painted gardens) was born in September of 2013.

 

One of the main goals of the garden is to foster community development. Anyone in Florence can come to learn, touch, and even harvest the plants. Classes are provided for the avid botanist or simply a passerby can enjoy the greenery. It is rare to walk into the garden without passing a young family giving their dog a breath of much desired fresh air. It’s an opportunity for an environmental catharsis for many individuals who cannot otherwise find the opportunity in their urban lifestyle.

 

Also, it is a constructive hands-on learning experience for any local schools who want to use it. Giacomo is always willing to teach those who are willing to listen, no matter the age or country of origin.This offers the opportunity for visiting foreign students to engage actively with Florentine community members. The garden allows foreigners to learn about plants indigenous to the Mediterranean climate. It helps them step out of their comfort zones and experience new activities, all along being helped by the people of Florence.

 

When asked what his favorite aspect about the garden is, Salizzoni answered, “It is very difficult to say one specific thing, but the clay pot pitcher is one of the things I prefer. It’s guaranteed that this place will become very hot in the summer and the survival of the plants is the tip of the iceberg, so of course if the plants die then everything dies as a consequence…” Salizzoni struggles to specify one favorite item, but finds it easy to explain what he must do to ensure the longevity and flourishing of the garden.

 

His heavy involvement and acute attention to detail keeps the garden up and running. “But of course besides the technological side of things, the participants' involvement is the most exciting thing,” remembers Salizzoni after his in depth explanation of how to keep the garden functioning. He is committed to the garden wholeheartedly, and it shows.

However, every perk brings some challenges. Money can always become an issue when running any facility, “Funding the costs of the soil and plants is the easy part,” said Salizzoni. “In the future, we would like to build a greenhouse, fix the bathrooms, buy new tools, and build other structures that are needed in order to serve for the purposes of the garden. So that's the most difficult thing about this whole process.”

 

Everyone has their thing. For some, it might be painting, for others, running, but for Salizzoni it’s this garden. “I love it because it’s therapy,” he said. “Every day, I think I’m doing the right thing and getting connected with nature is therapy itself. Whether it’s a plant or an insect or just the soil and all the things involved - people, food, etc. - there's something that gives me a daily confirmation and it’s very healthy for the mind.” Salizzoni also hopes that the project has a positive impact on everyone that encounters the garden, and that it will spread throughout the Florentine community.

 


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