The third annual ‘Festa Degli Orti’ (School Garden Festival), was held last month on November 11 to celebrate the work done over the past year in more than 300 school gardens created across Italy by Slow Food convivia working with communities. The students, teachers, parents and grandparents that bring these projects to life came together for a day of activities, with a focus on taste education, deepening their connection with the local land and food culture, and above all enjoying meals from their fresh produce together.
This year the national theme was honey, and each school held an identical tasting game in which the children sampled three different honeys – acacia, orange, and chestnut – to gain a better understanding of how landscapes and seasons can have such a big impact on flavors.
But the focus was not only on honey. At a primary school in the town of Dogliani, nestled into the rolling hills of Langhe wine country in northwestern Piedmont, a group of farmers from the local Slow Food farmers’ market, came along to teach the children a bunch of new skills. Out in the fields, the students learnt about the unusual cultivation of the hunch-backed cardo (cardoon) famous to the region, which gets its albino coloring and tender properties by keeping it covered from sunlight.
Back in the classroom, the farmers explained the differences between varieties of squash, pumpkin, and zucchini, and how to extract, conserve and sow seeds. The kids showered the producers with questions, some of which caused them to hesitate and consult each other before answering: “Can you sow seeds when it’s raining? Can you sow any seed anywhere? Is luck more important than skills?”
Meanwhile, in another classroom, children were learning about the other end of the food cycle: preserving. A young participant summed up their lesson, explaining that: “after you harvest the last crops and vegetables in autumn, if you cannot eat everything you can use the excess to make preserves that will taste good all through the winter until it is time for the spring vegetables.”
Festa Degli Orti celebrations are strengthening the Italian network of schools, providing a day of unity and fun that pays tribute to the work they are doing throughout the year for children to learn about the environment, food, and taste, with the aim of give them tools to become more responsible and aware consumers.
Tarcisio Priolo, headmaster of a participating primary school in Milan summed it up well, insisting that: “It is so important to teach children about the rhythms and cycles of nature, about the beginning and the end of all things, and the responsibilities this conveys”.