In Italy, Students Return to Study Among Olive Trees

A pioneering outdoor classroom at the Ciuffelli Agricultural Institute provides students with an inspiring setting to resume their studies.
Ciuffelli Agricultural Institute of Todi
Ciuffelli Agricultural Institute of Todi
Sep. 22, 2020
Ylenia Granitto

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Situated in the cen­tral Italian province of Perugia, stu­dents from the Ciuffelli Agricultural Institute of Todi – the country’s old­est agri­cul­tural school – are return­ing to a rather unique class­room this autumn.

The so-called Green Room replaces the ceil­ing with Umbria’s blue skies and boasts rows of olive trees instead of walls. While the coun­try was in the midst of the COVID-19 pan­demic last spring, stu­dents took their final exams in this out­door class­room.

Spread over three types of ter­rain, in order to rep­re­sent the var­i­ous crops of the region… the prop­erty serves as a wide, mul­ti­func­tional open-air lab­o­ra­tory for our stu­dents.- Gilberto Santucci, direc­tor, Green Room

In 2012, we had an idea to cre­ate an area at its core where they could fur­ther develop the knowl­edge acquired in the field,” the direc­tor of the farm, Gilberto Santucci, said.

The Green Room is located at the heart of the farm­ing estate man­aged by the insti­tute,” he added. Spread over three types of ter­rain, in order to rep­re­sent the var­i­ous crops of the region… the prop­erty serves as a wide, mul­ti­func­tional open-air lab­o­ra­tory for our stu­dents, with its 75 hectares (185 acres).”

See Also: In Italy, Hiking Through the Olive Groves

Shaded by rose per­go­las, desks and chairs have been placed in a clear­ing sur­rounded by olive trees, which allows stu­dents to learn from a cen­tral posi­tion in the con­text of the ter­ri­tory, with the Tiber River below and Mount Subasio, the town of Assisi, and cul­ti­vated fields above.

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Located in the midst of our olive trees and over­look­ing the val­ley, the Green Room turned out to be the solu­tion to orga­nize the final exams last June, in a healthy envi­ron­ment and in com­pli­ance with the mea­sures imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19,” Santucci said.

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In the after­math of a three-month lock­down, Italian schools and uni­ver­si­ties, like many oth­ers in the world, remained closed for the rest of the term and moved lessons online. Students of Ciuffelli and sim­i­lar insti­tutes could at least take solace in tak­ing their final exam out­doors, reunit­ing with their class­mates, even while appro­pri­ately dis­tanced.

Thanks to the Wi-Fi cov­er­age, all the admin­is­tra­tive for­mal­i­ties could be han­dled eas­ily,” Santucci said, adding that dur­ing the sum­mer the space was used to screen movies, present books and host art events. The suc­cess of this ini­tia­tive encour­ages us to use the Green Room even more often than before, espe­cially at this time, in which out­door activ­i­ties are being encour­aged.”

The prop­erty, which was founded in 1863 and housed in the thir­teenth-cen­tury for­mer monastery of Montecristo, is a model for its social and envi­ron­men­tal com­mit­ments.

Since 2014, a small col­lec­tion of olive vari­eties of Umbrian ori­gin, includ­ing Moraiolo, Frantoio, and Pendolino have been cul­ti­vated on an adja­cent plot. Additionally, another 4,000 olive trees have been restored by the insti­tute and become the cen­ter­piece of its mis­sion.

We run an edu­ca­tional farm that orga­nizes envi­ron­men­tal and agri-food activ­i­ties, includ­ing olive oil pro­duc­tion, for about 3,000 chil­dren each year,” Santucci said. Also, we oper­ate as a social farm that, through an inclu­sion project, hires at-risk peo­ple, such as the unem­ployed, immi­grants and asy­lum seek­ers, who work in the recov­ered olive groves.”

In addi­tion to pro­mot­ing local olive vari­eties, the insti­tute also man­ages a col­lec­tion of olive trees from other coun­tries in the Mediterranean basin, the Middle East and newer areas of cul­ti­va­tion.

The plants come from a larger col­lec­tion of the olive germplasm gath­ered and pre­served by the Institute for Agricultural and Forest Systems in the Mediterranean of the National Research Council (CNR) of Perugia.

This col­lec­tion, in addi­tion to the con­ser­va­tion of the germplasm, is intended for its bio­log­i­cal and agro­nomic eval­u­a­tion and as a source of vari­abil­ity for genetic improve­ment,” Santucci said. It rep­re­sents a first nucleus, which will be enriched in the com­ing years with other vari­eties, species and sub­species sim­i­lar to the olive tree. These col­lec­tions are an inte­gral part of the school’s edu­ca­tional offer­ings.”

The prop­erty also includes a vine­yard and wine cel­lar, a cheese fac­tory, a honey lab­o­ra­tory, an ani­mal hus­bandry facil­ity, a botan­i­cal park, orchards ded­i­cated to the study of plants at risk of genetic ero­sion, and an oil mill used to pro­duce a high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil.

We won last year’s Silver Diploma com­pe­ti­tion, orga­nized by Pandolea and Gambero Rosso and reserved for Italian agri­cul­tural schools,” Santucci said. We are also part of a net­work whose next goal is to estab­lish a foun­da­tion that can help make the Ciufelli Institute the dri­ving force of national and inter­na­tional ini­tia­tives in the field of agri­cul­tural edu­ca­tion and envi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity.”





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