Can we live on agriculture in small-scale spaces?

Filippo Dattola had worked in in IT in Bologna (Italy) for 10 years. He landed in Brussels nearly 8 years ago, where he developed an interest in soil, became a fan of urban agriculture and began to look for answers to the question: ‘Can we live on agriculture in small-scale spaces?’.

After some research he realised that the only possible way to answer to this question could be found by creating projects, examples that could speak more than thousands of words. Action was needed, an example of which is one of the greatest drivers of change. In 2012 he launched his first project via an association: a biological garden on the rooftop of the Belgian National Library, 50 metres above land and at the very heart of Brussels (see picture). Produce never made people wait too long: 500kg of vegetables in 500 bags, each with a depth of +/- 30 cm and full of earthworms. After only 2 years, he was able to make do without the public subsidies allocated to the project, and he was able to pay his volunteers with the direct sales of the vegetable production. This shows that soil can even be generous in “precarious” situations: where there is earth, there is life!

Filippo climbed down from the roof, back to earth. He therefore launched a second project, on the ground but still within the city: he opened a nursery garden of local organic plants. He created a small business with a salary in a couple of hundred square metres of land, which had been abandoned. He therefore did get an answer to his question: “It is indeed possible to live on soil (agriculture in small scale spaces!!), all you need is creativity and a bit of boldness”.

Thus, an IT technician who for years has been working with algorithms and virtual programmes received a positive answer to his question. He therefore thought now was the time to leave Belgium and return to his country, to become a farmer in the countryside: a reversed ‘exodus’ in every way, from a foreign country back to Italy, from the city to the countryside.

“Why the countryside? Why go back to land? To Italy of all places!”

Filippo’s answer is clear: to love, protect and make a portion of land fertile, far away from the volatile nature of the city. Italy because deep down home countries always remain in each expatriate’s heart.

Filippo has climbed on rooves, climbed down again and is now descending even further back to Italy as he has seen that one can only be humble when going back to land. Humility is the right word (from the Latin word HUMILITAS which means “low in position”, and it derives from the word HUMUS which means “fertile”… this all comes to mean “Soil is life!”.

Filippo Dattola (taken from Filippo’s speech at the National Soil Day event on 5.12.2017 – Italian Cultural Institute, Brussels)