P’Orto l’Orto, Lampedusa


Lampedusa, the biggest of the Pelagie Islands that in Sicilian is called ‘Lampidusa’, is located in the Sicilian Channel and is part of the Agrigento Province. It is, therefore, in the hottest actual migration routes of the planet – and not only from today! It is the first outpost of Europe toward Tunisia. Another island, called Gavdos (Greece), is just cross the sea from Africa, this one on the Libyan side – it’s isolated and bigger even if counting only 152 inhabitants. Together with Malta, the Pelagie Islands and Gavdos are the last fragmented crown of Europe before Africa. These islands are often mandatory havens for those arriving in our continent via a ship and are not able to complete their trip until the planned destination (often the Sicilia or the Calabria regions coasts, in case they are trying to reach Italy). According to the figures the IOM (International Organization for the Migration) told to the press, on 2015 Europe received more than one million refugees (the 2015 quota is four times the 2014). Of course, this accounts only the migrants who arrived alive on our shores.


Lampedusa received 21.160 migrants on 2015 (Source: Repubblica Immigrazione). The island, 20 squared km wide, hosts (together with Linosa Island) a total of 6000 residents.


Lampedusa, whose origins are lost in the Greek civilization, started on 2014 a long pathway with Terra!Onlus a non profit agency designing communal vegetable gardens – all planned with natural agriculture methods privileging local varieties.


According to the designers, a vegetable garden of this kind is, in primis, an aggregation and a social cohesion area. It is more important in places like this island, where the original community of residents is often left alone in the incredible, strenuous and hard task to welcome so many migrants of any nationality every day of the year.


The Lampidusani lack of ‘glue’, especially its more fragile members for instance those with psychics of physical disabilities (as the guest of the local Centro Diurno, a daily care). They can meet every day, in the alternating seasons, other members of a varied community, gathering all together within the gardens: producers, farmers, young citizen who are often condemned either to the Pelagie hard life and to share their not wealthy land with so many migrants and refugees who are even poorer and needy.


We meet Silvia Cama, who is the chief designer of the communal vegetable garden project, to learn more about it.



P’Orto di Lampedusa, your venture, makes us very curious: is such a resistant community as Lampedusa getting farer from its agricultural traditions? Or, maybe, is that the community was not used to communal gardens or to natural harvesting? Tell us more


The role agriculture has or could have in small islands is a very important topic if we think to the inner fragility of this agricultural system and to the so many interconnected values. I think, for instance, to the preservation of species and vegetable varieties that have been selected in centuries in very extreme weather conditions. This means also the preservation of a material culture on one hand – and on the other, the generation of a positive effect onto the ‘wild’ biodiversity as the plants and animals and, not least, the landscape.


An article appeared few years ago written by two authors from Palermo University (Tommaso La Mantia, Francesco Sottile) and one from Tuscia University (Riccardo Valentini) about the role of agriculture in small islands.

Places like Lampedusa, some Eolian Islands and the Egadi islands have a pretty unknown agriculture and it seems that this practice cannot anymore have a significant role neither for the local economics and for the local landscape. If we think for instance to Lampedusa, the agriculture was a primary force until few decades ago and, anyway, it is still strong.


Our project is about to design communal gardens where agriculture is in threat. It can be central and work as spark to re-launch it locally and to rethink this economic drive by conjugating tradition and innovation.

It may transform a deprived and underused area in a real ‘green square’ where the vegetable gardens are a stimulus either for a social and for an landscape point of view. The gardens are also a reference for the residents and now here is natural to discuss farming topics, seasons, produces, ancient varieties. We are reactivating the sense of belonging to this land that in other places is working well to get young generations closer to agriculture.


If the spark coming from these vegetable gardens to re-booth agriculture will work well? We could tell it only in the next few years. At the moment we are picking up the first ‘fruits’ of this important seminal phase.



How many vegetable gardens are ‘at work’ today and since how many days? Which extension are they having and which kind of cultivation have you planned? And, more crucial, how do you decide their ‘management’ and which kind of ‘results’ not only from the agricultural point of view can you already tell me?


“P’orto di Lampedusa” is a project activated by Associazione Terra!Onlus with Circolo “Esther Ada” Legambiente, Università di Palermo, ASP Palermo: it started one year ago with a funding campaign and a fundraising party in the nice frame of Fori Imperiali (Rome).


Since March 2014, we designed and organized workshops in the school of every grade in Lampedusa and at Centro Diurno. Then we selected the areas and the further research of partners to make it sustainable. We found this ally in Allianz Umana-Mente.


On August 2015 the Terra!Camp (a working camp organized by us on the island) welcomed 25 participants coming from different parts of Italy: they helped with many practical actions to start the whole project.

On September 2015 we have been able to start to assign the green parcels.


Since that period until nowadays (this interview has been collected in July 2015), we have cultivated 10 parcels that have been assigned to the guests of the Centro Diurno and to the residents of the island who applied for.


The vegetable gardeners (we called them ‘ortisti’) are informal groups of people or families who formally asked a parcel. They are very different per age and per number. The ‘ortisti’ got parcels differing in size but proportioned to the number of the people in each group and to the further figures of who will benefit of the produces.


For instance, a parcel has been assigned to a group of six mums, they are parents of elementary school kids who will share the produces among the six families, so this group got one of the widest areas while a family composed by four people where only one will take care of the patch got a smaller parcel.


One of the widest parcels has been assigned to the Centro Diurno guests who, in addition to the cultivation of their garden, are also managing the entire area. They have to also collect (door to door) the green disposal of every green groceries around the island in order to transform it into compost. This activity – making the compost from the disposed waste – was not present in Lampedusa: through it, the guests of the Centro, being disabled, are offered to have a humble but fair work activity to start to have a role in the society.


We also have a collective seeds bank that also takes in big account the local varieties and we involve the local farmers who have secrets and experiences to share. They also stand for a precious link between past and present and the teens of the Centro Diurno are managing the care and the daily activity at the bank.


The parcel no. 9 is the so called ‘scientific’ parcel and is used only for research purposes and experimental cultivation. The Circolo Esther Ada of Legambiente is managing it, together with SAF of Palermo University.

They will monitor the ‘behaviour’ of the dirt and of the cultivations by using natural methods (as with green manure and with ‘pacciamatura’) helping the ground to be well preserved and to implement its fertility.


Every change of season we organize the Mercat’Orto, that is a special sale of the produces managed by the guests of Centro Diurno on free subscription. Many inhabitants come to have their green groceries here and had many bargains.

We also offer, on monthly base, workshops on correct eating and cooking where we invite the residents to cook with the guests by preferring local recipes and seasonal serves.


Since October 2016 we started also a didactic vegetable garden involving the students of the local schools.


Of course the whole project resides on the creative involvement of the society with the design of either hands on and learning activities at least twice a week with the guests of Centro, plus a monthly meeting with the citizens and many days of collective work.



Can you draft an identikit of the volunteer or the worker you think is ideal for your project and which kind of tasks they could perform even if they would not be ‘Lampidusani’…


We do not have a fixed frame for these two actors, we indeed detected a clear will in who likes to join us: to commit themselves and to gift their abilities, by sharing and supporting and enriching our path either in practical ways and with their specific researches.


Terra! wants to push the green activism and in doing that supports also with learning practices anyone likes to join us. To be part of P’orto anyone can join our Terra!Camp that since two summers we organize in Lampedusa.


The Terra!Camp consists one week of practical job and learning, on 2016 edition we had people of any age from any part of Italy.


I give you some examples of volunteers/activists that nowadays contribute: Nicolò from Amsterdam University who started his apprenticeship with us with a research on fertility; Sofia, a student from Genoa, who started to investigate social impacts of P’Orto on the island and will write her final dissertation on us. And Mario, who shared his experiences in botanical science to develop some days of investigation about spontaneous species.


Anyone liking to find his/her path to work with or to join us, is very welcome to write me directly (silvia.cama@terraonlus.it).



Can you describe an ordinary work day there in Lampedusa and also how your desk looks like in this moment? Can you also describe us your gardener bag?


I start very early in the morning in the area of the gardens where I meet Katia, the local officer of the project and we start to organize the spaces and the materials to go on within the foreseen activities of the day.

Especially on Friday mornings, we have activities with the guests of the Centro Diurno who reach the vegetable gardens from 10 to 12. Some mums of these guests come to visit us too and share with us coffee and pastries on the breaks: sometimes they stay with us to work. This kind of involvement generates the sharing of positive moments between the users of the Centro and their families without the pressure of hurdles of everyday life, it is priceless!


In other mornings we look for useful materials as pruning and grass leftovers from other gardens or we go to source seeds from the local farmers and often we pause a little to speak with them about the timing of seeding and the way to plant species.


On the Lampedusa afternoons me and Katia organize meetings with the other partners and also with the officers of Centro Diurno to evaluate how to improve and similar.


On the Monday afternoons we meet the guests of Centro Diurno and we develop the activities in the garden, where the other inhabitants often stop to help us.

Somebody says that in the island the life is slow…Everyday I spend in Lampedusa I should say it’s quite the opposite, it is like a turmoil given the huge amount and variety of things to do, meetings to have and relations to keep. It is like a real big city with lots of interests and adventures.


Today I reply to this interview while I work on a table in a patio in Linosa where together with Katia joined a camp organized by Palermo University. Terra!Onlus is co-organizer and we are neutering an alien species that is very invasive.


Together with me, the table hosts an A1 sheet in which we copied all the activities to develop all along the year in Lampedusa that we are trying to organize in a timeline: as usual things to do are more than the available time!


My bag always contains an agenda and a notebook for the notes and the ideas, some ropes and some seed to gift to the people I meet in order to exchange experiences with them. I always leave enough room in it for something I can collect on my path, today for instance I found a beautiful prickly pear dried leave whose fibres seem filigree.



Which is your favourite food of this season and of course Lampidusano (this interview has been collected in July)?


My favourite drink is lemon and water and the peroncina (a small bottle of Peroni beer), accordingly to the hour of the day. My favourite food is pasta ‘picchio pacchio’, cherry tomatoes and basil dressing for a pasta that has been previously cooked in the local fish stock.



A talent you have, the one you miss


The talent is to be a very tenacious dreamer, the one I miss is the ability to valorise myself with better wages.



Where do you see yourself in ten years?


Anchored to a tree of Amazon rainforest to protect it from mankind ferocity.



What did you learn from the life until now?


I learned to do not follow the many saws our culture is soaked in. I really do not go along well with them and I think they’re very representative of many brutal processes of our society. The saws make me farer from life are, for instance, ‘good things come to an early end ‘or ‘being confident is good, being not is better’ or, more, ‘ Be Happy with what you got’

Many times I play with my mind to invert those saws and to invent some new, more representative of the way I approach life and other human beings or all the things world has to offer me.


The Italian version of this interview, written by Diana Marrone, has been commissioned to Slow Words by Foundation Easy Care to be published in a new column that Slow Words designs each month (until January 2017) for the Observatory of the ‘Social Cohesion Days’.

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