The first day of ‘Cheese 2005’ (Bra, 16-19 2005) concluded with a meeting dedicated to school gardens, the international project devised and developed by Alice Waters, the international vice-president of Slow Food.
In 2003, at the Slow Food International Congress in Naples, the delegates resolved that every Slow Food Convivium worldwide should have at least one school garden. So far Slow Food has successfully launched 30 or so school gardens abroad and about 40 in Italy. The aim is to reach a total of 200 in Italy by the end of 2006.
The school garden concept is designed to teach children to work the land and grasp the meaning of seasonality, a practical activity closely related to other school subjects.
Utimately, pointed out Davide Ghirardi, the national coordinator of Slow Food school projects, gardens should allow students to taste in class the produce they have cultivated in the course of the year and, above all, involve the entire local community through guided tours of farms, meetings with producers and cooks.
This is the direction followed by the staff of the La Gabbianella infants’ school near Turin, who have been working with children of three-five years’ old for four years now. “We involve the children at every stage of the project,” explained teacher Rita Tieppo, “from the clearing of uncultivated land to sowing, from harvesting to the sale of products at a little market which has now become a center of life in the neighborhood.”
As the Pistoia Convivium leader Luciano Bertini explained, in Tuscany Slow Food collaborates actively with the Regional Authority, which has promulgated a regional law to encourage the diffusion of school gardens. Another feature of the Tuscan experience is the hiring of Nonni custodi, or ‘Caretaker Grandparents’ to keep the project moving when schools are closed.
Manfred Flieser outlined the progress of the School Garden Project in Styria (Austria). Currently there are six gardens in progress and the aim is to arrive at 25. Four types of product are cultivated: fruit, vegetables, aromatic herbs and forest fruits. After growing them, the schoolchildren pick them and cook them for their breakfasts or mid-morning snacks.
The Slow Food Miami Convivium leader Ferne Carpousis concluded the meeting by explaining how the big problem abroad is to familiarize children with the concept of ‘slow’ food itself. “We’ve had to build a food culture from scratch. The kids we work with have had no food education, they hardly ever eat at the table with their parents and only rarely have they seen their mums peeling potatoes and cooking dinner for the family.” Nonetheless, the project is now under way in Miami, where six school gardens are now developing successfully.