Rome is a city buzzing with motorbikes, noisy buses, busy cobblestone streets, and tourist-packed Roman ruins, but just outside of the city, the U.S. Ambassador’s residence, a 14th-century mansion known as Villa Taverna, sits elegantly and quietly on seven walled-in acres of carefully tended classical gardens and terraces. Near the rear of the property, though, one is surprised to find an organic vegetable and herb garden.
The garden—dubbed the Villa Taverna “Orto,” or “vegetable garden”—was planted this past April, when Rose Thorne, the wife of Ambassador David Thorne, became inspired by Michelle Obama’s organic garden at the White House, and decided to turn the ambassador’s residence into a living example of her values: “It’s really important to be connected to your food source,” she explains, “and so many people don’t even know that their food comes from a garden. This garden shows people the direct connection between who we are, what we eat, our health, and the health of the environment.”
The Thornes have always made it a priority to feed their children fresh, organic food, so the focus of the garden was to build awareness amongst young people about starting healthy eating habits at a young age. For that reason, kids were involved in this project from the start. The Embassy organized a garden design competition among the students of the Giuseppe Garibaldi Agricultural High School in Rome, and elements of all of the student’s designs were incorporated into the Villa Taverna Orto.
The crops in the Orto will be rotated according to seasonal growing patterns. Right now, the garden is producing kale, zucchini, lettuce peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, herbs, and even pomegranates. This winter, the crop will include pumpkins, garlic, and the cardoon vegetable, which looks like celery and tastes something like artichokes, and has been part of the healthy Roman diet for centuries.
Still, while it’s easy to associate the Mediteranean diet with fresh vegetables and produce, Italians surely need to be reminded of the importance of fresh food just as much as Americans. “Italy is changing its eating habits because people are working longer hours and there are more women in the workplace,” suggests Mrs. Thorne, “but good, healthy food is a crucial part of the culture here.” Although Italians eat less processed food than Americans, obesity and diabetes are becoming important health concern in both countries.
The Villa Taverna Orto is cultivated organically, without the use of chemical pesticides, and it’s fertilized entirely with compost. While the Orto is awaiting organic certification, it is already helping to beautify and enrich the already stunning Villa Taverna, and to add another level to the property’s environmental distinction.
Read more about the Villa Taverna Orto garden at the United States Dept of Agriculture website.
Photo credits: US Embassy, Rome, Italy