In Mediterranean cities, thank to the climate and a long historical tradition, an amazing variety of fruit trees is growing in public spaces creating a widespread orchard. But every year tons of ripe fruit falls on the ground and rots, creating management and cleaning problems, and representing an unacceptable food waste!
The non profit association Linaria create Frutta Urbana, the first project of its kind in Italy, with the aim to map, pick, and donate the fruit that grows in city’s public spaces. Frutta Urbana also includes activities such as the creation of new urban orchards with local old varieties of fruit trees with the aim to increase urban biodiversity.
Frutta Urbana educative programs involve schools, communities and associations to prepare and cook fruits. Each product is a social experiment with people with disabilities, elders and immigrants who can learn about the endless possibilities to enjoy public orchards and to preserve and process fruit, increasing sense of community.
Keywords: urban fruit, public participation, sense of community, local food, food waste, urban biodiversity, new urban orchards.
Urban trees provide many benefits to society aesthetic beauty, protection from the elements, the ability to sequester carbon and reduce pollution. However, one basic attribute of trees is often overlooked in urban settings – their ability to produce food. City fruit trees, located in public parks, gardens or streets, are often wasted or unused.
The project Frutta Urbana (FU) purpose is to promote urban fruit tree production, inform people of urban fruit tree possibilities and benefits, and develop a greater awareness among city dwellers about an existing, underutilized resource that our urban forests can provide. Currently FU, created from the no profit association Linaria that works about urban public spaces, is the only existing project in Italy that promote the growing and harvesting of fruit from trees within cities to aid their underserved residents. FU is focusing on volunteer help and donations of fruit obtained from urban forests and distributed to those in need.
In order to achieve our goal, FU promote fruit tree harvesting, stewardship, and education, working with different approach, from mapping existing fruit trees, picking and distributing fruit, to educating the public about tree planting and maintenance through workshops and classes, and planting new fruit tree orchards. Frutta Urbana is leading the way towards creating a strong relationship between urban forests and local food production.
From a food perspective, growing fruit directly in communities where it is consumed provides resi- dents with immediate access to healthy food and can improve food security in poor communities. FU aim to promote the daily use of fruit, an essential part of a good diet and good health. By donating food harvested through FU is taking a step toward improving this situation during certain seasons.
From an environmental perspective, FU wants to emphasize the ecological and landscape value of the orchards in urban areas; to disseminate and preserve biodiversity of our territory; to create new green and low-maintenance areas that play an important role in urban ecosystem. Locally grown fruit has the potential to reduce air and water pollution related to conventional food production and transportation. Fruit grown in cities is less contaminated with pollutants than fruit that is grown on an industrial scale as it is not chemically treated with fertilizers or pesticides and does not undergo the post-harvesting treatments that occur during the maturation and storage phases.
From a social perspective, FU wants to create community spirit and strengthen the connections between citizens through the organization of collective actions and events regarding the care, harvesting and preservation of fruit. To contribute to sharing knowledge amongst schools and those interested in learning about other aspects of Rome’s history, traditions, and culture. Additionally, people may gain a stronger sense of connection to the food they consume if they know how it was grown and where it came from.
In order to map existing urban fruit trees, gain the input of local residents, raise awareness, and garner interest in their programs, FU utilize a digital mapping program from Ushahidi a non-profit software company that develops free and open-source software for information collection, visualisation, and interactive mapping. Continuously updated, the map is on line on our web page and it is an accessible public tool, for sharing information with those who are interested in picking fruit and giving citizens the possibility to identify and locate new trees, in addition to displaying important data on biodiversity and the botanical heritage of Rome.
HARVEST AND DISTRIBUTION
The fruit harvests are always organized with the great help of the volunteers, refoogees, students… After the gleanings, fruit is immediately donated to soup kitchens and food banks.
FU wants to create new orchards that will be productive gardens, botanical collections of old varieties, as well as places to learn, experiment, gather and share, and orchards require less maintenance than vegetable gardens. In 2013 we create a little orchard with old varieties of fruits in Metropoliz, a former factory in Via Prenestina, Rome. The idea is to organize the orchards through workshops open to everyone to involve people to create new sense of community. Throughout this process, FU collaborates with local authorities, schools, and other associations depending on the needs.
One of the fundamental purposes of FU is to involve the local communities through neighbourhood committees, and the social, environmental, and school group. Workshops are used in schools, professional training sessions are given, as well as conferences and publications that aim to raise citizens’ awareness and create new linkages between the public space and its inhabitants and to strengthen the sense of community and civic engagement. In order to learn about the endless possibilities in preserving and processing fruit, FU works with Associazione Capodarco Roma Formazione onlus with young people with disabilities, the Associazione La Sosta that organize a group of women from Afghanistan and Iran, the many volunteers of RomAltruista and the Associazione La casa del cibo. So all the fruit that is not immediately delivered is transformed in sauces, jams, juices, cakes and beverages.
Fruit trees and orchards are rich of culture and history, representing a peculiar characteristics of the Roman territory. Orchards have played an important role in communities for many centuries, providing a focal point, a gathering space, and a place where people and the rest of nature successfully work together to create abundant harvests and providing fresh fruit long before the time of global freight.
FU aim to improve and create healthy, diverse and resilient systems, while reducing environmental degradation, to give back to fruit trees and orchards their social, productive and aesthetic role they have in the past. The priority of FU is to reintroduce and promote the cultural values associated to fruit trees.
Our method aims to encourage collaboration, sharing and the exchange of experiences and knowledge to explore creative and sustainable solutions that promote social sense of community and the conservation of our botanical heritage.