Italians plant libraries – Bibliorto

P1040589 P1040575 P1040573 P1040570From the outside the Isolloto library in Florence looks like any other conventional library, yet inside you will find yourself with a particular type of library never to have been seen before. Once you enter the white-looking-building, on the second level you will be tricked to think you are in an agricultural farm; apart from books you can also find red tomatoes, zucchinis, apple trees and others of the kind.

Isolotto library is the first library to have opened a didactic garden built by and for the community, officially known as Bilbiorto, which in english traduces to libra-garden. Although it was not easy to build a project of a kind, today this library enjoys of diverse types of local plantations. Bilbiorto represents a new way of learning that is not necessarily reachable by books. Here kids and adults of all ages can come to learn about agriculture and practice their skills.  This garden is particularly beneficial to the city people that do not have access to rural areas but would love to get in touch with nature. Bilbliorto is officially one of the many projects supported by international group Slow Food, working everyday to ensure international food sovereignty.

In an interview with Bibliorto’s coordinator, he tells us about the long yet successful process of the building of this garden. It was a project 100% built thanks to voluntary work, where Florentines got together to construct it.  Hear what he had to say in regards to Bibliorto and also about food sovereignty in general.

Why did you choose to build an orchard in a library?

Before this library was built this land was filled with farmers that had their own plantations. Bilbiorto was built to remember then and to keep that agricultural culture alive. Also back in the day there were no libraries that dealt with the theme of agriculture, and what better way to do it than in a didactical way.

How important has voluntary work been in the establishment and development of Bibliorto?

Voluntary work is the biggest act of generosity a person can give. Today it is very hard to receive voluntary work, because today time is gold and is really a commodity. When people give their time to help others is a huge help, but not a luxury we can all have. Voluntary work also fluctuates a lot, at first it is very strong but people need to be kept motivated. For a project to work it relationship of work cannot only be based only on friendship, but it requires of willingness and perseverance.

How does Bibliorto benefit your community and what problems is it trying to face?

We only plant local fruits and vegetables, not hybrids nor genetically modified foods. The problem we have today is that major supermarkets are choosing uniform types of foods that have sometimes less flavor but are better for transportation or for sale. For example the common tomatoes you find in supermarkets are there because of their thick skin that allows long transportation. But here we are interested in flavor, and the softer the skin, the better flavor you will get. Here we have ‘cosoluto’ tomatoes, they are thin skinned and they are not smooth but have texture. They are good for cooking because they have less liquid and more pulp.

We also have three types of local trees of figs, plums and apples. For example here in Tuscany there were about 500 to 600 different species of apples with specific characteristics and territories, but in the super market you can only find 5 or 6.  Each of these types of apples constitute a large 25% of the whole of apples sold, but if a pest were to hit a type of apple, a whole 25% of these fruits would be lost, a massive loss. If production is more diversified it means that a pest would only hit a smaller stock of food. Therefore diversified production helps to reduce risk.


Well this library has certainly a whole load to teach us! perhaps we should start asking our local library to start filling empty spaces with knowledge-rich plantations!

For more info about the library visit



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