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Elena Parmiggiani
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Reggio Emilia, RE, Italy
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Cool Temperate
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Fattoria dell'Autosufficienza

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Bagno di Romagna, IT



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Synergistic Agriculture

Posted by Elena Parmiggiani almost 13 years ago

Permaculture coupled with Natural Farming, thanks to Emilia Hazelip, created a new approach to oldish matter


In Italy this type of agriculture is very well known, and is having a lot of success.

Synergistig Agriculture, developed by Emilia Hazelip (spanish permaculturist) in France, where she lived, is an "experiment" of Permaculture and Fukuoka's Natural Farming.

You can find the video "Permaculture - Emilia Hazelip - Synergistic Garden" on youtube.

Emilia was loved and respected in Italy, she had many students, all of them were very sad when she died in 2003. Since then, they have created a National School for Synergistic Agriculture, and more than one student became a master, a teacher of this discipline.

Of course the concept of mulch garden is well known in Permaculture, mulching is a very common technique to cover the soil and retain humidity.

But Emilia tried to have a more holistic approach, conjugating two schools of thought that sometimes do not go well together.

She brought to the general public the news of oxygen-ethyl cycles regulating the life of plants and soil biota, thanks to Alan Smith's studies.

She was working on 1 hectar of vegetable garden with very good results, and her aim was fertility of the soil and restoring the complex relationships between soil and us. Yes, us. Her approach was holistic, looking at us and the world, not merely productive. Sometimes we forget that productivity and fertility is reflecting on us in a subtle way.

She was taking the work of Fukuoka in Japan into Europe, which has a different climate and humidity. She was friend with another Fukuoka student, Marc Bonfils, which was experimenting winter wheat intersowed with clover.

Their efforts were publicized and many in the Permaculture community took a look at them, some of them interested, some of them ignoring the implication of this kind of experiments.

Emilia wrote a series of articles in Permaculture Magazine UK about her experience.


Three italian students of Emilia, all Permaculturists, took the lead:

Marilia, sweet and strong softly spoken woman

Fortunato, which sadly passed away, a very kind and hard working man

Antonio, the contemporary peasant and compost toilet poet

But many others, where following her, and are teaching and working all over the Country.

Soon, from the experience of this group many ecovillages and societies were born.

A multitude of non-permaculturists were and are fascinated by this kind of agriculture and are captured by the idea of living in nature, experimenting, growing our own food thanks to Emilia's work.


This holistic approach is so accepted in Italy, that in my second PDC with Saviana Parodi, a couple of days were devoted to Synergistic Agriculture, explained and taught by a lovely man, Angelo Tornato.

During the PDC at Tenuta Antica we tendeded the gardens and in our free day we visited his own family garden.

Finally, last year, I took a course with Alessio Mancin, which is working in the North of Italy, the course was held in Anghiari, the same height from sea level as our farm.

From there, I soon find myself involved in many small projects with Transition Town Scandiano, a couple of small farms and Caponago's Time Bank.

I am helping three groups preparing for the spring, main goal is making a few synergist gardens.

And of course, there is my farm big project: a course with Antonio de Falco in which we will build the main garden of Fattoria dell'Autosufficienza, involving the local government and the local schools.


Many of you will be familiar with most of this, if not all. Rember that Emilia was trying to join and marry two different approach to nature and food production on small scale and I am still a student, so beware it's boring stuff.

Principles are in no particular order.

- the garden has a guardian, a responsible person appointed that will show it to the wider communinty and will tend it

- the garden should be loved and cared for all year round by all working and enjoing it

- the garden is in itself a living organism, take great care of it, love it

- you will use beauty in the design but with practical bias, a big mandala or spiral need to be measured up to be sure there are enough paths and so on

- There are no aliens... Err there are no weeds.

- Do cover the soil with mulch (can be anything natural, wool for example or the beloved clover)

- Leave the annual roots in the soil, take out perennials' roots as much as possible and put them onto the paths or continually use their organic material (the leaves) as mulch

- Use the top of the plants and the compostable materials on the paths (if with  seeds) or on the beds, if it does not have seeds

- Make beds (widith 1,20m, height beween 30 to 50 cm), rounded sides

- Make the garden as a group experience, build a community around it, involve kids

- leave the soil undisturbed, the soil does not like too much light or oxygen

- maintain moisture as much as possible

- soil biota, organisma and microflora/fauna are in a full and complete system, you can leave out fertilizers and pesticide/fungicides and so on

- there are no pests, only an inbalance between pests/predators/biota

- adopt companion planting and observe how your garden reacts, sometimes you need to put two incompatible together...

- plant nasturtium, tagetes, marigold, and calendula, plant many different herbs, try to include as much diversity as possible

- use permanent tutors (in Italy the preferred method is iron bars for building, diameter 12)

- plant a mixed species hedge, with nitrogen fixing plants

- use many different propagating techniques to multiply your plants

- in the soil there is a lot of life, that's the fertility of your garden

- build your beds on contour (yes I know it's common sense, but somebodi did not do it)

- use drip irrigation under the mulch, fed by gravity

- use local non hybrid varieties as much as possible and let plants go to seed then save your own, give seeds to your community, share seed saving techniques as much as possible, build a community seed bank

- do one last and final plowing of the ground you want to transform into a synergistic garden, only at this time incorporate loads of organica material if you can

- use all the compostable material on top of beds or paths, there is no need for compost, because this system uses a compost in place technique

- mulch your paths, with sawdust, with cardboard+sawdust, with other mulching material, be careful in the wet season, as new cardboard is very slippery

- work the least possible, let the plants help one another

- respect the spirit of the garden, for some can be a work of art a poem an expression of creativity

- nature is there, always present, we always are close to her. Let's experience her in our garden

- treassure all the goods you will receive from the garden, value the tastes, the diversity, the song, the colours

- the garden can make you free, be aware ;)


A small google search gave me this, have a look.

My friend Mihail ukulele CSA, in NY.

Fall garden preparation


Emilia said to her studens that this kind of agriculture maybe will not have an immediate diffusion, but you know that when it will be needed is there for you.

We are in "great danger of falling food", and we need a set of techniques easy to transfer and teach to children and adults without any permaculture background as well as permaculturists.

Emilia in my opinion did a great job, and gifted us with a kind of agriculture that is easy to follow, beautiful to the eye, loving, and attractive.

It's another tool in your toolbox.

Ortosinergico Antonio%20de%20falco Ortosinergico2

Comments (4)

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Mark Brown
Mark Brown : Thank you for your story Elena - it gives me a great perspective of what is happening in permaculture around the globe. I look forward to more insights from you. Mark
Posted almost 13 years ago

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Elena Parmiggiani
Elena Parmiggiani : Thank you too, I am impressed with your good work. :)
Posted almost 13 years ago

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Vanessa Monge Augusto Fernandes
Vanessa Monge Augusto Fernandes : So many good things to learn! Thanks Elena
Posted almost 13 years ago

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Elena Parmiggiani
Elena Parmiggiani : thank you vanessa! I hope to follow up soon with a new post about this, our meeting will be held the 28 of feb.
Posted almost 13 years ago

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Elena Parmiggiani has permaculture experience in:
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