La Milpa - collective garadening
La Milpa is a collective gardening project in Piasco, a small village in the north-west of Italy and it aims to give to its members the opportunity to collectively cultivate and manage a piece of land of about 2.500 m2 for self-consumption, and to organise meetings and community parties. The group has designed and manage the land following permaculture principles (earth care, people care and fair share of the surplus), thus not using chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. The seeds used in the garden come from the members themselves or from informal exchanges, and are reproduced on site to remain independent from large seed suppliers. In November 2019, around 20 households participated to the garden where vegetables, legumes and berries are the main crops, but also grains such as corn and rye are cultivated. The group has designed and manage the land following the permaculture principles (earth care, people care and fair share of the surplus), thus not using chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. The seeds used in the garden come from the members themselves or from informal exchanges, and are reproduced on site to remain independent from large seed suppliers. La Milpa started from a group of four people who used to participate to the Campo Felice project, an orchard in Carmagnola, a nearby town, where local varieties are grown to be preserved, and a couple who experienced the Escolas Zapatistas model in Chiapas, Mexico. In this model, people organise themselves into groups which perform different activities for the community (e.g. bakery, gardening, etc.), and eventually redistribute the income from sales to the outside. These six people involved other members of the Gruppo d’Acquisto Solidale (GAS) (Collective Buyers Group) of Piasco and together they found farming land from a local social cooperative which was willing to rent it to the group. All the founding members were motivated by the wish to have access to healthy, high quality, locally grown food, and to preserve and informally exchange non-patented varieties of both native and non-native seeds. Also, they wished to carry out these activities together with others, as a community. The main beneficiaries of the project are the members themselves, as they get a yield in the form of fresh and processed food (e.g. tomato sauce), and they belong to a community in which people cooperate for the well-functioning of the garden. Nonetheless, La Milpa also benefits several other categories of subjects. These include: kids from the local nursery and disabled people from a day centre, who can visit the garden and learn about natural farming; young people from a nearby cohousing, who work with seasonal migrant workers and who get some surplus harvest for free; low-income households living in Piasco and Venasca (a nearby town) who can get some harvest for free; asylum seekers who can work in the garden with locals, improving their Italian and being integrated in the social context. In the future, the garden might also welcome detainees who have to serve the last part of their sentence through social work. La Milpa is currently an informal group of people without legal status, although they are thinking to become part of a registered association. Internally, they agreed on a set of rules based on self-regulation, trust and reciprocity. Each member works in the garden as much as he/she can or wish, and harvests as much as it is needed by his/her household. When possible, the work is performed together. Design and seasonal planning are agreed upon in meetings to which every member is invited to participate. Calls are sent out when there are tasks to carry out (e.g. weeding or trellis fixing) as well as when collective activities (e.g. making tomato sauce) are organised. The yield of collective activities is distributed to all members of the garden, even if someone did not take part to the actual making but only to previous plant caring. It was born as an informal group of peole without legal status but from January 2020 it is registered association listed on the national register of non-profit organization in 2003 in order to improve the connections with schools, institutions, and other rural actors.
Production of goods, Sharing / Commons, Volunteering, Self-organization
The social cooperative which rents out the land and provides the equipment needed for the most demanding works. Other partners include Caritas Saluzzo, which runs the cohousing project, the Rete Italiana Villaggi Ecologici (RIVE) – the Italian eco-villages network – and the Comizio Agrario di Mondovì, an agrarian organisation supporting seed protection, natural agriculture and farmers’ rights.
So far, La Milpa has achieved remarkable economic, environmental, health and social impacts. - From the economic perspective, it has allowed several households to save money previously spent for food, and has especially benefitted low-income people living in the area. - From the environmental perspective, it has maintained healthy and alive 2.500 m2 of fertile land and effectively contributed to the preservation of biodiversity – e.g. in the garden there are more than 70 varieties only of tomatoes. In addition, it has reduced greenhouse gas emissions and materials used for food transport and packaging. From the health perspective, it has allowed people to access high-quality food and to spend precious time working outside in the garden. -La Milpa has achieved remarkable economic, environmental, health and social impacts. From the social perspective, it has allowed people to access high-quality food and to spend precious time working outside in the garden. Therefore, La Milpa has become a place for people to meet, talk, celebrate and work meaningfully together. Over these six years, the project has grown and involved more people. Interestingly, the biodiversity of the garden has increased along with the new members who joined the group. The garden is currently larger than the needs of the members and thus new people are welcomed to join and bring their contribution for the benefit of all.
* Information at the level of NUTS 3 or local regions.