Nutrire Milano – Abstract

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Milano, Italy (2010 – 2013) Nutrire Milano – Feeding Milan is a project set in the peri-urban region of Milan, a fringe area challenged by building speculation, where urban sprawl is blurring the boundaries between city and countryside and agriculture is suffering because it is no longer profitable. Such a situation is highly risky in terms of land exploitation and social cohesion. It calls for radical thinking and systemic change in the way we look at relations between peri- or rur-urban agriculture and the city. Despite Milan’s location in one of the biggest agricultural areas in Europe, the Agricultural Park South, the demand for fresh local produce in the city exceeds what is currently available. The park, a blend of living/productive settlements and fields, covers an area of 47,000 hectares and is characterized by intensive industrial farming; a very small percentage is dedicated to diversified agriculture and eco-compatibility systems. Besides its merely productive resources, the Milanese region has an important historical heritage, rural villages, water resources, and a rich cultural mix. All these resources could be turned into assets to rethink the identity and the nature of the area. The project came to life in response to the upcoming 2015 International Expo, which will be hosted in Milan and will focus on sustainable food systems. Shortening the food chain by de-mediated services, fostering multi-functionality in the systems, and implementing collaborative practices are the key concepts of the project, which aims at generating tangible shifts and perceivable changes in the way farmers and citizens relate. More specifically, it intends to lead producers towards more sustainable production systems, offering a greater guarantee of profitability due to a wider, more solid and more organized demand via direct sales to a diversified consumer based. The project also aims to encourage new purchasing habits that are more advantageous from a quality/price point of view, more attentive towards health and the environment, richer on a relational level, but undoubtedly different from the usual trip to the supermarket. Together, these actions imply the use of seasonal food requiring preparation in the home. The main actions of the project are: 1) supporting existing best practices and resources in the agricultural field; 2) activating resources that are as yet unvalued or are no longer used; and 3) creating new services. These actions lead to a general framework of initiatives that forms the reference scenario of Feeding Milano. This scenario includes a collection of services that work in synergy (i.e. economies of scale and scope as well as complementarities) and that are mainly carried out on a collaborative basis. They link the contributions of different subjects into a system, partially integrating already existing initiatives and activating new resources. (Polimi Desis Lab)

Nutrire Milano – Promoters

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Politecnico di Milano Polimi DESIS Lab Italy Daria Cantù, Marta Corubolo, Anna Meroni, Francesca Piredda, Daniela Selloni, Giulia Simeone. Promoters: Slow Food With: Politecnico di Milano, Design dept. Università Scienze Gatronomiche Funder: Fondazione Cariplo Aknowledgements: Alberto Arossa, Paolo Bolzacchini, Alessandro Cecchini, Martino Cazzaniga, Carlo Fiorani, Paola Migliorini, Bruno Scaltriti, Paolo Corvo.

Nutrire Milano – Governance and policymaking

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The project can be considered an attempt to create services of public interest by not-for profit and institutional organizations, thanks to the support of a bank foundation. The local municipality has supported the project in the beginning by granting the use for free of the public land for the farmers’ market. The government of the Agricultural Park South, instead, can be considered as a direct beneficiary of the project and supports it by providing competences and human resources. In response to the upcoming 2015 International Expo in Milan, focusing on sustainable food systems, the project had the ambition to start a real-scale experiment, by converting the principles of the Expo into a “regional monument” to sustainable food; in other words, to create a living good practice rather than just a showcase. In fact, Feeding Milan aimed at becoming a scenario of city-supported agriculture, an advanced system of community-supported agriculture, which aims to involve a wider array of subjects, proposing services with fewer access barriers and commitment conditions for participants, whether they are producers or consumers as compared to the virtuous models of promising practices existing in cities today. In doing this, the project acted as a forerunner of a Milano Food Policy, which design is now in place, involving also experts of Feeding Milan. (Polimi Desis Lab)

Nutrire Milano – Activism and civic participation

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Feeding Milan was the start up of a systemic process, rather than the designing of a desirable state. It is the design of a continuous and in-progress sequence of desirable states evolving toward a scenario. It therefore conforms to the characteristic of working on a process rather than a product, and consequently opens the difficult question of planning an exit strategy for the initiative. In other words, if by project we mean an activity where some designers apply their research and innovation capabilities to a determined issue to identify and develop solutions, then this activity required Feeding Milano to have a totally immersive and participatory approach, the full and continuous presence of designers in the large community involved in the project. This presence was not only professional but also motivational to the same degree; that is, comparable to that of an activist capable of leading the community and supporting it with technical and professional skills. This is called Community Centred Design: an approach that must provide for the presence of designers in the community for long enough to activate the particular initiative or initiatives, enable the it to pursue its path of innovation and implement the project, visualizing it as a common, shared aim; that is, adopting a strategic design perspective. This way of operating opens the question of continuity-discontinuity in the contribution and presence of designers in the local communities and social enterprises, which are the main interlocutors in these initiatives but are usually not equipped to receive such professionalism in a structural way. The participation and activation process was set in place in Feeding Milan through various initiatives, among which the Ideas Sharing Stall at the farmers’ market (the Earth Market). It is a stand where designers were used to discuss emerging ideas for new services with visitors and participants, asking for comments and inviting creative contributions spurred by ad hoc conversation topics. By using are semi-finished ideas design thinking with the community was stimulated. The stall, woking on purpose still today, was the trigger of design experiments and was a visible design bureau in the Feeding Milan community for enabling participatory design. It provided a tangible presence for design, and was one of the immersive situations in which the community-centred design approach took shape. Feeding Milano teaches us that immersion must be followed and complemented by pro-activism, which implies a very deep integration into groups and contexts. This means helping collaborative design practices to happen by fostering conversations around systemic changes exemplified at the level of everyday experiences as well as materializing shifts in tangible lifestyles and business opportunities. (Polimi Desis Lab)  

Nutrire Milano – Social interactions and relations

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Changing behavioral and productive paradigms is labored and risky; it does not happen if the stakeholders do not find convenience, commitment, and trust, which together spur a community to try out new possibilities. “Feeding Milan” is experimenting with a relational principle to lead this transformation: conviviality. Conviviality is not only about eating together, but it is actually about creating pleasurable and collaborative relationships in every activity of life. In Latin cultures, food means conviviality, pleasure, taking care of others, and being loved. Michael Pollan (2008) refers to conviviality as an expedient to moderate consumption on one side and, above all, to benefit from the social approach that food triggers though rituals, traditions, pleasure, and so forth. In this sense, the Slow Food movement is not so much about cooking and eating more slowly as it is about connecting people and regaining meaning for the rituals related to food in everyday life. Food is the most powerful and “natural” tool for conviviality, as by “conviviality” we mean a condition of autonomous, creative, cheerful interaction between people. Referring to Ivan Illich, we can thus consider the capacity to promote autonomy in itself to be a fundamental characteristic of convivial tools (1973). As Tim Brown has suggested, this is a shift from designing for the community, to designing with the community and finally to letting communities design ‘by themselves’ (2009). Conviviality in the Feeding Milan project is about building a network of trust and sympathy among the producers themselves and with the consumers. It encourages the “last mile” of an interaction to be a “human mile” during which relationships occur. This also implies that designers be part of, and create, the human links necessary to operate within such interactions. Conviviality is thus a way to challenge the current industrial retail system by making people experience the pleasure of indulging in relationships around food and using the gentle power of collaboration and feeling good together. The aim here is for conviviality to be one of the main reasons why producers and consumers change behavior: the project, in fact, strived to combine a high value in relationship with accessibility. The project played on the fact that conviviality may convince various actors to reconsider their own choices towards industrial production and sales systems, favouring elements of relational value and trust. This emerges clearly from the description of the various services that constitute the scenario, and which encapsulate the meaning of the planning approach to projects. In Feeding Milano we can see how the concept of conviviality also informs the practice of designing. Emphasis is on the values of being there, spending time within the community, and participating in the first-person in the process of change. Empathy, sympathy and collaboration are therefore the key words in design practice today. They call for skills that result from the combination of service design and social intelligence. Community-centred design requires two kinds of competences: one relating to the capacity to gain knowledge about the community and the habitat where it lives; the other relating to the capacity to creatively collaborate with non-designers. The former results in field immersion, so as to pursue a direct experience of the contexts and develop empathy with the community. The latter requires applying designer creativity in a slightly different way. Feeding Milan offered the chance to apply both of them. (Polimi Desis Lab)

Nutrire Milano – City and environmental planning

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The project adopted an approach best defined as ‘planning by projects’, or ‘acupunctural planning’ (Manzini 2010; Jégou 2010; Ryan et al. 2010): a form of territorial planning based on pinpointed interventions on a micro scale, where single projects are grafted into an interconnected network. Stakeholders already proven to be proactive in the region are engaged to activate the new projects; initiatives were then connected to create synergies (Meroni, Simeone, and Trapani 2011), configuring a system that shares resources and brings about economies of scale and purpose. In other terms, it exoerimented with a prototype for a possible city food policy. To this purpose, the rationalization of certain practices, the standardization and simplification of variables of the offering, synergy and sharing of technical and communicative infrastructure are seen here as paths towards making the activities more fluid and optimizing them in terms of organization and logistics, while the quality of products and interactions, relational richness, the social and aesthetic value of contexts are considered as indispensable to the intrinsic and convivial value of the scenario. Multi-functionality in the production and distribution systems is the strategy pursued to achieve these objectives, since it transmits that natural richness and diversity of practice (agricultural on one hand and of the offer on the other) that creates synergy, enriching the quality of work, and experience. (Polimi Desis Lab)

Nutrire Milano – Production, distribution and consumption

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The very core of the project is a radical rethink of the production, distribution and consumption chain, with the aim of creating a local (‘0-miles’), transparent, environmentally-aware, fair and sustainable food system. To reach this goal, the project has set in place or prototyped an ecosystem of services, such as:  Il Mercato della Terra di Milano (The Milano Earth Market): a twice-a-month farmers’ market, the first to operate in Milan public space, established in December 2009. It is a rich, complex social environment besides being a point of sale.  La Cassetta del Contadino (The Farmer’s Foodbox): a weekly delivery of fresh local food with a logistic system based on pick-up points in various neighborhoods. The foodbox was stopped after the second prototype, in order to better fix the general business model of the service for a reorganization of the logistics and the suppliers.  The Super-Co-op: a concept of a collaborative supermarket totally managed by customers. It is a contemporary model of the consumers’ cooperative, where the members collaborate to run the service so to keep prices as low as possible.  Yes Weekend: the park’s tourist agency has created the first in a planned series of do-it-yourself services for local tourism in Agricultural Park South.  Bike Pass—Bike Sharing in the Agricultural Park: a system of routes and bike-sharing stations in the farmhouses of the park, connected to the Milan public transport network. Partially tested, preliminary routes are up and running.  The Pick Your Own: a network of farms where you can pick and buy fruit. The service is now at the conception stage and will be possibly organized as a community-supported system.  The Local Bread Chain: bread entirely produced in the region, from the wheat to the loaf. The first crop was harvested with pilot farmers in summer 2011 and the first bread was sold in the Earth Market in September 2011.  Coltivando, the first idea for a vegetable market in the Politecnico Bovisa Campus. (Polimi Desis Lab)

Nutrire Milano – Skill training and Design education

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This project have drawn competences and tools from the disciplines of strategic design (for issues that concern stakeholder involvement and quality of the processes) and service design (for issues that concern conceiving, structuring, and modeling the service activities). As such Feeding Milan has regularly involved students of Master level in service and strategic design to conceive the new service concepts and has pushed them to design tools and artifacts to interact with the users at the Sharing Ideas Stall and to work on the field. (Polimi Desis Lab)

Nutrire Milano – Job creation

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Feeding Milano project can be seen as an attempt to develop a form of territorial ecology by creating a sustainable foodshed. In this sense it is an experimental platform for a variety of activity models and modus operandi. As a whole, the project assumes and potentially exemplifies the possibilities of local distributed systems, which must find efficiency and effectiveness in collaborative strategies. In doing so, it proposes an unprecedented mix of organizational and economic models – public and private, profit and non-profit, professional and amateur – and which requires a profound rethinking of the organization and structuring of services. More specifically, it intended to lead producers towards more sustainable production systems, offering a greater guarantee of profitability due to a wider, more solid and more organized demand via direct sales to a diversified consumer based. The project also aims to encourage new purchasing habits that are more advantageous from a quality/price point of view, more attentive towards health and the environment, richer on a relational level, but undoubtedly different from the usual trip to the supermarket. As a result, the project has created diverse new market opportunities (the farmers markets, the local food corners, the agri-tourism services…) and significantly contributed to the increase of different percentages of the income of existing farmers/producers and encouraged the birth of new ones. On top of this, it has challenged the Slow Food model, determining the more recent creation of a new venture which is now in charge of running the market and other services. Finally, the project has added value and prestige to job of farmer, defining an aspirational career for the youths. (Polimi Desis Lab)

Nutrire Milano – Storytelling and visualisation

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All Feeding Milan services went initially through one or more co-design sessions aimed at defining or testing some of the features of the solution. It is worth mentioning that, after this phase, some solutions were tested on real scale, while others, due to the context constraints and to the results of the co-design, stopped and were put under re-discussion. The main tool to depict and share the future services with users and stakeholders was visual storytelling. Among the other forms of visual storytelling (story boards, advertising posters, moodboard, physical moke-ups…) a specific toll can be mentioned: the Videoscenario a short movie depicting a draft, evocative, idea of a service. It has been used in particular fo the design of the market, where the different activities and interactions between the farmers were simulated to be discussed in co-design sessions organised before and after the launch of the first market. (Polimi Desis Lab)