By Zac Caspersen, Clark University and Fall ’19 Umbra Rep
When studying abroad at the Umbra Institute in Perugia, Italy, there are so many opportunities given to the students. The first being, volunteering at the local garden called Orto Sole, meaning a vegetable sun garden. Here in this incredible space terraced on the side of a hill, right below the old city’s walls, there grows: tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, apples, figs, pears, plums, a wide range of herbs, grapes and so much more!
Every Monday, a group of about five students and I make our way to the garden, just a five-minute walk from the center of the city, Piazza IV Novembre. For about two-three hours, we work with the amazing Deborah Rim Moiso, our gardening coach, to complete an array of tasks every week. We always begin with a relaxing ten-minute walk through the garden to appreciate its beauty and look for different ways to improve the areas in the space. Then, we get to work! During my first week volunteering, my friend Cassie Pavain and I planted three rows of strawberry shoots. We, of course, were tasked with some weeding as well. A never-ending process in a beyond organic garden like Orto Sole where there are absolutely no pesticides or insecticides given to any plant in the garden.
Not only do I have the opportunity to volunteer weekly, but I also get to work in the garden for the Food and Sustainability Program at Umbra. Interestingly, all of the five other volunteers are also enrolled in this outstanding program, meaning we all get to work in the garden about twice a week! As part of our Sustainable Food Production in Italy course, we are tasked to come up with ideas to improve the sustainability of the garden. Our first idea was to develop a better compost system, a key component to any sustainable garden. We decided to use the Hügelkultur technique where a mound of sticks or decaying wood debris is created along many layers of compost atop. This technique focuses on planting raised beds to aid in improving soil fertility and warming and water retention. The plan here at Orto Sole is possibly to plant potatoes in this bed of compost!
Getting involved in the community you are living in is always a rewarding experience. Here at Orto Sole, we have the pleasure of working with a few local residents that are dedicated to the success of the garden. Even if we do not share a similar language, we can still enjoy each other’s time while working on the same goal in a beautiful setting surrounded by greenery. If you are looking into studying abroad, here in Perugia, I would highly suggest that you get involved in the wonderful community – if not at Orto Sole, than at different local community garden, a park, doing trash clean-ups, etc. Allow yourself to see a different part of the city you would otherwise not experience… and have fun!
For more information about Volunteering Opportunities in Perugia, click here.