July 28, 2009
July 28th, 2009 |

Roots of Tradition Grow Green

As the early morning sun warms the bricks of the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino residents pull in laundry drying from clotheslines outside their windows. A pasticceria sets out warm, freshly made pastries accompanied with jams made from local ingredients. Artisan Donato Colombo is hammering away at the soles of leather sandals. By 9 a.m. the historic city center is bustling with tourists and students curiously investigating the inner workings of a town still deeply connected with traditions of the 15th century.

Urbino, the capital of Le Marche region and a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a place dedicated to the preservation of art, culture and traditions of the renaissance. This attention to cultural heritage and past traditions also serves to protect the environmental heritage of the region.

“Urbino has a strong link with nature and the environment because of the region, Le Marche, which is very green,” said Jacopo Cherchi, “Urbino has always been an agricultural city; it was a town founded by simple people.”

The city is trying to reconnect to the foundations of a farming lifestyle while integrating new technologies to maintain a sustainable environment in a historic town. C.A.mbieR.eS.ti?, a six-month initiative to teach 30 families how to integrate simple, eco-friendly choices into their daily lives is expected to end in late October, but Cherchi, coordinator of the project, hopes its impact will have a lasting effect on the community.

“The most important thing is that the people begin to think all together in the same direction,” Cherchi said. “It is not a particular point like water or electricity; it is the way you perceive the environment. Thinking all together in the same direction will help a lot in Urbino.”

C.A.mbieR.eS.ti?, or Will You Change?, focuses on enhancing cultural awareness about consumption, the environment, energy and lifestyles within Urbino. The families attend workshops and group meetings to learn about small changes like using energy-efficient light bulbs and kitchen tap aerators to make their households more environmentally friendly. As the program progresses, families learn how to make their own breads, yogurts and jams with fresh local produce.

Urbino is “definitely very attentive to good quality products that are locally produced,” said Francesco Serafini, coordinator of the Bottega del Mondo, a fair-trade store in town. Currently, Urbino is the largest territory dedicated to organic farming in all of Italy and residents take great pride in the products found in the region.

Serafini has been involved with the green movement in Urbino for about 10 years. A physics teacher by profession, he has dedicated much of his time and energy to organizing environmentally and socially conscious groups in Urbino. His proudest contribution to the community is the foundation of G.A.S., an organic purchasing group. He describes the purchasing group as an ordinary group of people committed to receiving high-caliber, natural products. The group buys at a communal market every month, helping local producers receive a fair price and limiting the mileage between their product and the consumer.

With more than 200 families on the group’s mailing list and 30 to 50 families involved in each market day, Serafini recognized a need in the community for better access to land. His current project is the establishment of social allotments, or large-scale community gardens, where residents can grow their own produce. This summer residents asked the city for three fields that will be shared by 30 families, two social co-operatives working with the disabled in Urbino, and the elderly community of Urbino.

“Doing the allotment together creates a sense of community and also an exchange between people,” Serafini said.

The groups Serafini has helped found have strengthened the community bond in Urbino. His band, “Gimdai” which translates to “let’s go dance” from the Urbino dialect, plays almost every Thursday at the local artisan’s market in the Piazza San Francisco. After every communal market, the shoppers and producers stay for a potluck dinner to celebrate a successful month and enjoy one another’s company. They also incorporate a clothes and personal good exchange every three months. Serafini hopes families involved in C.A.mbieR.eS.ti? and G.A.S. will strengthen the shared cultural bonds between Urbino citizens.

“The important thing is that the local community is aware there are projects like this to help to try to change lifestyle habits, which gets families thinking about the fact that it is possible to change,” Serafini said.

In addition to the associations, there are several stores around the city committed to stocking solely Urbino or Le Marche products. On this day, Raffaello Degusteria is hosting a wine and cheese sampling for several students studying Italian culture. Co-owner Antonio Crinella carefully slices fresh prosciutto from two loins behind the counter and lays out a large spread on the banquet table. American students pay careful attention to Crinella as their teacher translates the explanation and importance of each product they are sampling.

Valentino Gostolino, the other owner, feels a strong connection with the products of his homeland. Gostilino, an Urbino native, opened the store three years ago with Crinella to fill a void he saw in his community.

“We want to make local products more known here. In Urbino there wasn’t a shop like this with these local products,” Gostilino said.

The store is divided into three large rooms, each stocked with different types of products, highlighting Urbino originals like: Casciotta di Urbino (a local cheese), Crescia Sfogliata (a flaky bread), Bianchello del Metauro (a white wine) and Sangiovese dei Colli Pesaresi (a red wine), and organic honey from La Fattoria dei Cantori.

Not only does the degusteria commit itself to selling organic and local products, the store utilizes environmentally conscious techniques like recycling, using energy-saving appliances and lighting, and selling reusable bags to loyal patrons.

The store’s practices are unique in a community slow to embrace technological advancements. Matteo Ricci, president of the Pesaro-Urbino province, says green technology in Urbino is one of the major economic opportunities to be worked on. New incentives for the townspeople to invest in alternative energy are being implemented. Small business owners can receive a 36 percent tax refund for using energy-efficient lighting as well as a 20 percent refund for replacing freezers and refrigerators with energy class A+ appliances.

The town of Urbino is also encouraging private citizens outside of the town center to use alternative energy. In partnership with Megas.net, Urbino is supporting an initiative to install 1,000 photovoltaic roofs in the Pesaro-Urbino province at no charge to the individual citizens. After 20 years, the city gains ownership of the electricity generated from the photovoltaic roofing.

As the government continues to work toward integrating new technologies into a culturally traditional setting, project planners like Cherchi and Serafini realize the importance of leveraging existing cultural traditions to ease the population into a greener way of thinking. Sun-dried laundry, homemade bread and local markets are an integral component to the cultural experience of Urbino. A clothes dryer is the second biggest electricity-using appliance behind the refrigerator, according to the California Energy Commission. The simple act of hang-drying clothes has a positive impact on the environment, saving households $1,500 annually.

As the struggle to integrate new technologies into a Renaissance city continues, Cherchi recognizes the need to mobilize people as individuals. “If you really want to change things, they are not only to start from the government, from the state, but also from the civil person, from people’s mentality. They have to understand this matter is very important. This project wants to change the minds of people about this matter,” said Cherchi.

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