This is a guest blog by the Sicilia Integra Team.
A new program is helping both North African migrants and unemployed Sicilians come together and succeed, highlighting Sicily’s role as a cultural crossroads and generous community.
Sicilia Integra, or “Sicily Integrates”, was developed by the University of Catania, Gaia Education, Sicilian farmers and others. It aims to support the socio-economic integration of migrants arriving to the shores of Sicily through sustainable agriculture.
Migrants – primarily from North Africa – and young unemployed Sicilians are enrolled in Italian language courses, taught regenerative and organic farming techniques and are offered training and livelihood opportunities. By helping newcomers integrate into organic farming communities the programme capitalises on the fact that multicultural communities tend to inspire social change.
The project has been running since 2016 when a group of 17 migrants and 2 unemployed Sicilians were taught agricultural skills by organic farmers and mastered the art of making organic pasta. Empowered and inspired by the training, the migrants went on to establish their own social enterprise, “Grani di Gaia”, in the heart of Sicily, the home of organic agriculture.
Recently, migrant youth and unemployed Sicilians embarked on a two-month learning journey, undertaking a 5-week Design for Sustainability and Organic Food Systems course and a 3-week field implementation.
The program took place at the Il Nodo Migrant Welcome Center where participants designed and rehabilitated an urban garden that had been abandoned for over 20 years. The migrants and Sicilian youth learned how to develop a productive garden oasis system using minimum water and maximum fertility retention, and diverse microclimate opportunities. They recovered an old orchard with lemons, oranges, prickly pears and medlar trees and established a vegetable garden with lettuce, onions, tomatoes, cabbages, broccoli and eggplants.
The course graduates, now empowered with design for sustainability skills, are planning to establish their own cooperative for organic garden management services, with some becoming trainers on urban garden design.
Sicilia Integra supports migrants and unemployed youth to reflect and act on viable alternatives towards food security while promoting good food and healthy diets, strengthening local economies and sustainable small enterprises and the viability of small farms. In so doing, it promotes the vertical integration between the project and the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Next to its meaning of “to integrate”, the term “integra” also means “upright”, “righteous”, hinting at the bright face of Sicily, where the sun shines on wide organic fields and different cultures work together, and learn from each other.