“The idea is to create an off-the-ground urban vegetable garden that includes seating. This is so people can experience the city square in a different way, as a flexible space that adapts to people’s needs.” City squares need to be redesigned as places with a social focus. The Mi-Orto project installed in Piazza XXV Aprile (Brera Design District) developed out of this growing metropolitan need. Planned in partnership with Eataly, it will run through Milan Design Week 2018 and continue until 3 June. Gaetano Berni, architect and development worker (he collaborates with local communities in developing countries) conceived it with Elisabetta Bianchessi, a colleague and aid worker for the Liveinslums non-profit NGO. Mi-Orto is an installation of mobile vegetable patches and seating that will transform the square’s appearance for a short time.
A communal vegetable garden, open to citizens and passers-by, a mobile and self-managed space for all sections of the population but with an eye especially to children and the elderly. It holds workshops for learning about heritage vegetables, with the contribution of Slowfood and Arcoiris. Mi-Orto also aims to raise awareness about the traditional strains of vegetables that the Arcoiris association recovers and protects, because “GMO and hybrid seeds are a threat to biodiversity. Everyone needs to work together to preserve their purity.” Mi-Orto is physically located in a very central, elegant part of Milan, but it draws on contributions from 30 non-profit associations from across the city. It welcomes the active participation of all, such as the association Friends of the Parco Trotter, the Bergognone Parents Association and Legambiente Allotments in Via Padova. “It was great to work with different groups, because each has its own speciality and richness,” says Elisabetta Bianchessi. And Gaetano Berni adds: “These gardens are on wheels, so they can be moved to create different patterns and the inhabitants can devise spaces suited to various types of events.” This horticultural experiment is one of the first in Italy, but we have various successful models. “There are examples in Lugano where the fire brigade tends the vegetables and waters the plants. There have been some schemes in Italy, as in Caserta, of a permanent garden in concrete, but we wanted to create a flexible space. Here the vegetables are grown in crates. When you water them, one problem is that the dirt accumulates underneath, and they become heavy and difficult to move. The idea of putting them on wheels makes them all the more valuable.” Is there any chance of them remaining in Piazza XXV Aprile, even in future? “For three years,” Berni concludes, “thanks to the city’s ‘Adopt the Greenery’ project. The idea in future is for the produce to be raised in vegetable beds. This is the first example in Milan. It would be very wonderful if we could extend it and grow tomatoes or even other vegetables to create a symbol of urban horticulture here in Milan.”