Long Term Food Security For Urban Areas

Urbanization, climate change, and food security are tightly linked issues. It is estimated that by 2050 more than 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas.

New strategies are needed to ensure food supply and food security for people living in urban areas.  

Food security means achieving a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice.

Cities Must Be Reimagined and Redesigned

Promoting local food production in urban areas is the key to integrating green and edible vegetation into their boundaries. Cities must be re-imagined and re-designed to incorporate agricultural practices in order to achieve sustainability.

Rooftops, courtyards, and public green areas can all be converted into vegetable gardens.

In Italy, an average of 44% of the population grows fruit and vegetables in urban gardens and private terraces.

The heritage of Italian vegetable gardens is rooted in a tradition born of a deep reverence for the earth, for growing and preparing food, and can pave the way to more sustainable urban living.

If you google “Italian vegetable gardens” you’ll get a whopping 137,000,000 results. Not only have Italian gardening traditions been maintained in Italy and abroad by Italian immigrants, in their backyards, they’ve also been adopted by other cultures. Classic Italian vegetable gardens can be found throughout Canada and the USA

Many years ago I relocated from Canada to Milan, Italy. It was in the city of Milan, where I saw my first communal vegetable gardens. 

In a city such as Milan, a private backyard garden is a rarity. Mostly I would see older Italians, tending after these communal gardens. They reminded me of summers spent at my aunts’ and uncles’ homes in Ontario. 

I grew up in an Italian immigrant family, in Canada, at a time when traditions from the old country were held onto with passion and commitment by the previous generations. 

My uncles and aunts each had an ‘Orto’, an Italian vegetable garden. At times most of the backyard was allotted to the vegetable garden. 

I witnessed frequent conversations about whether there had been too much or not enough sun and rain and which moon cycles needed to be observed for yielding the best results, as different vegetables require to be planted and harvested at specific times during the lunar phases. 

In these gardens, they grew aubergines, tomatoes, zucchini, fava beans, peppers both hot and sweet, string beans, rucola, carrots, lettuce, fragrant herbs, and so on. Italian vegetable gardens can produce a lot in very small spaces. Tiny backyard plots would feed an entire family and friends.

In the fall, endless jars of tomatoes, grilled eggplant, peppers, jams, and pickled vegetables would be stowed away for the winter months ahead

Unfortunately, these traditions were not always held onto by successive generations as many opted for a BBQ deck and/or a swimming pool in place of a vegetable garden.  

Promoting Local Food Production

Over the years, since living in Italy, I’ve seen a shift, with a passion for vegetable gardening taking a hold of the younger generation. Gardening is no longer only a pastime for the elderly.

Projects such as Coltivando, an urban vegetable garden, set up on 1000 sqm of land at the Bovisa Campus of Politecnico di Milano, is a perfect example of urban community gardening. The project was developed and designed with the collaboration of and for people from the neighborhood

Local authorities in Italian cities, organize and rent urban gardens. There are different parameters and systems for the concession of public gardens. Some municipalities may offer annual use in exchange for a small fee, while others may be reserved for certain age groups and there are those who open tenders for assignments, offering rent shares that vary according to income and age

Just 25 km outside of Milan, in the province of Lombardy, there is an experimental educational farm, the Minoprio Foundation, with the production structures consisting of greenhouses, tunnels, shadows, nurseries, vegetable gardens, and an orchard with old and new varieties of plants. 

The Minoprio Foundation enjoys and benefits from an estate of about 60 hectares consisting of a historical, agricultural, and naturalistic park.

Another initiative that got my attention is ​​MILANO GREEN WAY.  A five thousand square meters urban community green area, in the city of Milan, along the Olona river, in the Barona village district. This redevelopment project transformed a degraded urban area into a shared community garden. The project was curated by OPERA in FIORE, a  Social Cooperative, with the collaboration of inmates on leave, residents, students, and young gardeners.

With over 44% of the population growing fruit and vegetables in urban gardens and do-it-yourself terrace gardens Coldiretti’s analysis of the latest Istat data from 2019 showed a recorded growth of 18.5% in five years, exceeding 2.1 million square meters and estimates for 2020-21 indicate further growth with the introduction of vertical gardens in Milano’s latest architectural projects.

Data also shows that in one year the number of Italians living in conditions of utter poverty increased from 4.6 million to 5.6 million

To make matters worst, crop losses, from anomalous weather trends, coupled with a sharp rise in production costs, from fuel to fertilizers and an increase in energy costs, have taken their toll on Italian households.

Urbanization, climate change, and food security are tightly linked issues. It is estimated that by 2050 more than 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas.

Perhaps being locked in for months on end, due to the pandemic, and the resulting economic crisis has ushered in a new design for urban living, with a desire to reconnect with nature, save money and eat well.  

It’s truly delightful to see gardening traditions continued, whether on a small or large scale. These practices help us understand the importance of living close to the earth and do our part in creating a more sustainable future

 It is no longer possible to remain inactive and hope for better times.

Published by Maddalena Di Gregorio

“I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in” Robert L. Stevenson

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