Motion 1 – School Gardens
The International Slow Food Congress, noting the key importance of food and taste education for future generations and for schools, considers that School Gardens are a significant project which support the Movement’s philosophy. The Congress invites all convivia throughout the world to promote these initiatives in their local schools.
Proceedings of the International Slow Food Congress, Naples, November 2003
As an educational organization, Slow Food has the task of undoing this separation, of teaching us to revalue food and the people who produce it. One of the simplest and most pleasurable ways we have found to do this is to engage children in the process of growing and preparing some of their own food. When children have a chance to learn from their own experience about the patience, labor, skill, and care that brings our food from seed to table, food can no longer be seen as just another commodity. Food becomes precious; the sharing of food becomes a communion and a joyous celebration.
Laurence Mate, Prairieland Convivium leader, Illinois, USA
Madonna dei Fiori (Our Lady of Flowers) evokes many images in Bra: of the town’s shrine where a procession leads every September 8, but also of the town’s working-class neighborhood. The first Slow Food School Garden has taken root here, in the Madonna dei Fiori primary school: a low set building from the seventies, a playground, and a field shared with the nearby local Center for the Elderly.
A portion of this field has been chosen for an activity that is not just educational, but that can also have environmental and social applications. In some areas of larger cities, the school vegetable garden is the most important, if not the only, ‘green lung’ for the whole area.
In any case, school gardens have existed in many schools for some time now, particularly primary schools, and in some cases they are very well established. There is even an online system to co-ordinate organic school gardens. Some regions have allocated funds to increase their numbers in schools.
So to discuss school-gardens in Italy is nothing new. What Slow Food wants is to act as a support for the School Garden project and to encourage the spread of the vegetable gardens across its network of approximately 350 convivia in the peninsula and with the backing of the Slow Cities movement.
But let us return to the Madonna dei Fiori pilot project. Work began in the first week of January 2004, to prepare every detail before sowing. The ground needed to be dug and a welcoming environment created and adapted for class activities.
True, we are just talking about a vegetable garden here, but it has to be considered on a child’s scale. Hence the handy little walk-ways allowing the ‘budding gardeners’ to reach their work posts without getting too muddy.
Slow Food has allocated a local market-garden expert from its members in Bra to lend a hand to the teachers. He will be the deus ex machina and will be essential to the success of the project. Work on the vegetable patch will be above all playful, creative and observational. In this way the children will have fun learning.
In the meantime, the teachers and people at Slow Food involved in taste education, are working to prepare interdisciplinary teaching that can integrate the vegetable garden activities with classwork material.
Grandparents will also be involved, some of them already regulars at the Center for the Elderly near the school: they will have the possibility to pass on knowledge to the children—on how to work the vegetable garden—which might otherwise be lost to new generations. Working the land like this could provide the opportunity to learn the history and traditions of the region.
The School Garden will become synonymous with educational and role-play games, to associate each vegetable with its season and to understand how precious water is. To follow the transformation from seed to plant and to recognize the edible parts of each vegetable.
These will soon be used for salads, vegetable dips and soups. Oh yes, because tasting, the moment of eating the produce is central to this project. Of course we should not forget that School Gardens began in America with the Edible Schoolyard initiative, conceived by Alice Waters.
There will therefore be taste workshops, where the children can taste the fruits of their labor, and sensory games to teach the young scholars to recognize smells, using aromatic herbs from the vegetable garden.
None of this is reality yet. It will become so in a few months time, if the children of Madonna dei Fiori learn to care for their vegetable garden, if they can comprehend how long it takes, but above all if they are able to wait and have patience.
Basically if they can be slow. In every sense.
Davide Ghirardi works in the Master Office at Slow Food headquarters, Bra, Italy
Adapted by Finola Doyle