Feeding Milan? Interview with Anna Meroni

On the 2nd of October we went for a small trip to Venlo with Els and Femke to attend the Food First conference at the Floriade (http://www.foodfirst.eu/index.php?a=2oktober2012)

Was very interesting to hear about different initiatives around food in diverse countries such as the Netherlands, Kenya, Colombia and Italy. One of the speakers was Anna Meroni, involved in the project Nutrire Milano (Feeding Milan) which is getting big popularity among citizens and local producers. We had a brief interview with Anna to find out more:

Hi Anna, on the brochure of the conference you are introduced as the president of Nutrire Milano, could you please describe your role in the project?

Actually I am not the president, I am just here as a spokeswoman of the project. I have been involved in NM (Feeding Milan) since 2008 together with Slow Food Italy, the University of Gastronomic Science of Pollenzo and the Polytechnic of Milan, which I represent in the project. I am working there as a researcher in service and strategic design with a particular focus on sustainability and design for social innovation.

Could you tell us how and why NM was ideated?

Basically the project, which resembles more a campaign in its structure, was thought of as an initiative challenging the purpose of EXPO 2015; the Universal Exposition that will be held in Milan in just three years’ time. In fact, the theme of EXPO will completely centre around on food. (Feeding the planet: energy for life)

Why in challenge?

We argued that the ambitions of EXPO 2015 and those of the organisers clashed with the actual situation of the city of Milan, where almost nothing is done on a policy level in terms of urban/regional food planning. This is even more contradictory if we consider that Parco Agricolo Sud (one of the partners of NM), a huge territory in the south of Milan, has been preserved by the authorities with the goal of maintaining its agricultural identity.

What is the approach of NM instead?  

In the last decades,  the Parco Agricolo area has been used by farmers mainly for monoculture production, such as rice and corn. We found that the situation should change for the benefit of both consumers and producers. Our first step was to support farmers in diversifying their production so that they are able to sell their produce to Milanese citizens.

How did it work?

Initially, Slow Food Italy selected some local producers in order to set up a farmer’s market, which was later named Mercato della Terra (Earth market). We started with less than 40 producers at the end of 2009 and by now we can count on almost 100. The market has been an enormous success both for farmers and consumers and suddenly an atmosphere of conviviality permeated the neighbourhood. During the first 18 months the market was held once a month in a neighbourhood of Milan but then was forced to stop for bureaucratic matters. From September 2012 we started again in another neighbourhood and the nice (and sad) thing is that the people living nearby the first location initiated a protest to get back the market, so that we are now trying to work with them to set up other initiatives.

Are the municipality or other governmental  bodies involved in the project?

Not really: the city of Milan supported the project for a while by granting free use of public space to host the market; at the moment a fee has been agreed. The only economic support is given by the Cariplo Foundation (a bank foundation that support several regional projects). NM was created  from the ground: it is the output of a civil action, which was started by the joined forces of Slow Food, Polytechnic of Milan and University of Gastronomic Science with the aim of giving voice to producers and citizens. And actually this is what happened so far.

When did NM precisely start?

We started with the first discussions and roundtables in 2008, and the project started officially at the end of 2009.

Which was the first priority at that time?

The core idea was to develop a net of services. The most visible one at the moment is the Earth Market but we are also busy with other initiatives such as a box scheme, a local bread chain (From flour to bread), the creation of a Food co-op meant as a local distribution hub in the city, and a project of urban agriculture such as the vegetable garden in the Polytechnic campus.

Are you satisfied with the project so far? What ambitions do you have for the future?

Yes, I think that the scenario we had in mind at the beginning can be considered on its way to succeed. Our role in vest of technical helper was decisive in setting up all these initiatives but we hope that soon most of the projects are going to be able to run independently, so that we won’t need to be present as facilitators.

To find out more: http://www.nutriremilano.it/