Umbra’s Didactic Urban Garden
Until recently, the urban garden known as “Orto Sole” (pronounced “orto-so-lay”) was a mostly forgotten steep agricultural plot on Perugia’s north-facing hillside. Several years ago a non-profit association was created to re-develop this area as an urban garden: its members rebuilt the garden’s terraces, pruned the grape vines and aging fruit trees, and started hosting community groups in the beautiful green space just below the city’s most famous panorama – Porta Sole.
In September 2021, the Umbra Institute assumed management of Orto Sole to revitalize the garden and develop it as a living laboratory for the Institute’s Food, Sustainability and Environment program. The Institute will use the green urban hillside as its “outdoor classroom”: continuing the garden’s use as a didactic space, exploring new agricultural technologies, and sponsoring community-engaged learning projects with local partners. In development now are collaborations with nearby elementary and middle schools, a local non-profit organization that distributes food to those in need, and the Department of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences of the prestigious University of Perugia.
The location and position of Orto Sole provides both advantages and challenges. The advantages are its central location: the garden is located in the historic center, just a short walk from Perugia’s main piazza (where the Umbra Institute is located). The challenges are its orientation and topography. It is a relatively steep hillside that will require significant terracing to cultivate, and it faces north and is therefore often in the shade. However, it is precisely these challenges that make Orto Sole an ideal project for landscape and agriculture students from the University of Perugia, and Umbra students in the FSE program to work together on the sustainable development of this unique urban garden.
Among the projects already underway or planned are the following: rebuilding the garden’s terraces; installing a proper drainage system with cisterns; covering the slopes with an edible ground cover; experimenting with alternative irrigation systems (including Amazonian oyas); planting centuries-old seeds from the University of Perugia’s seed bank to assess their resistance to a hotter, dryer climate; small-scale solar power system; flowers to promote beneficial insects including urban bees; and the cultivation of perennial vegetables and grains.
The Umbra Institute is now offering summer internships for Orto Sole. Community Garden Development interns will work with the students on the University of Perugia’s “Green Team” to maintain and develop the garden. The interns will perform tasks including pruning, soil management, and planting, as well as conceiving and facilitating projects including but not limited to the introduction of sustainable urban agricultural techniques, DIY sustainability and environmental education for the local community, and coordinating green space development and hands-on experiences with the local schools. For more information, see this full description. Internships are limited to students that have successfully completed Umbra’s Food, Sustainability and Environment semester program.