The Free Home University Blog: Updated Daily December 5-15!

A group of people discuss around a table

Photo courtesy of Lu Cafausu

We’ve been updating the Free Home University blog every day with thoughts and reflections on our time here. Free Home University (FHU) is a pedagogical experiment created in 2013 by an international group of artists and thinkers. It focuses on generating new ways of sharing and creating knowledge by experiencing life in common. FHU’s definition of study is open and includes alternative forms of inquiry, research, artistic processes and experimental practices. Mentors and Fellows are currently living and working together in an intensive first Class of the project: How We Want To Live, taking place from December 5 to 15. Experiencing coalitional learning, each participant is both a teacher and a student bringing together different disciplines and perspectives. You can follow our blog at


Here’s a taste of the blog:

We began the day with a field trip to Alberghiero Otranto, a farm and high school for students learning about agriculture engineering and hospitality services. In the spirit of learning from each other, Alessandro, one of the high school students, told the Free Home University (FHU) participants about some of their aspirations for slow cooking. He talked about some of their new research with hybrid varieties of olives, as well as some experiments with returning to old ways of growing food. The interrelation between food and people became the focus for the FHU participants as they shared thoughts.

The long term aspiration of the farm is to become a space for both living and working. A bike path, currently decommissioned, between downtown Lecce and the farm might allow the people of the city to more easily access the site. The farm plans to push the wilderness gently aside. With this rural-urban conduit, they hope to connect the residents to a new social space for living, playing, and working in close contact with the land.

Giuseppe Pellegrino—who also joined us on the tour of Alberghiero Otranto—shares this idea of living with the land instead of just on it. He’s a co-founder of Agricola Piccapane, an organic farm that reappropriates abandoned land for urban agriculture. He spoke with the FHU participants about how the farm works closely with the village of Cutrafiano; it provides both education and produce for the village and the neighbouring city of Lecce. Piccapane works with the theory that we should start by worrying about satisfying a need within our community. Instead of competing with a larger global market, we must physically and metaphorically connect people with land.

This is a very practical philosophy, and one that can be easily applied as a way of living. With mounting environmental concerns—salination of the fields, shifting water sources, global warming-induced storms—we need to consider how we will grow food sustainbly. In order to survive and adapt to change, we cannot think alone.

There is an artistic element in thoughtful agriculture that is often not recognized. There is a creation in planting and harvesting. The soft silences of the fields, the thundering rush of rain, or the birth of a calf can be moments of poetry. The relationship between the beings who live in and on the land has inspired a new generation of those who integrate both agricultural and poetic aspects into how they live. Farmer-Philosopher Wendell Berry writes about his work in the soil in a poem called “The Farmer, Speaking of Monuments”:

“He remains in what he serves
by vanishing in it, becoming what he never was.
He will not be immortal in words.
All his sentences serve an art of the commonplace.”

As a farmer, one melds into what one grows. The shape of the trees and cultivated plants not only bear witness to one’s labour but are a part of oneself. In the olive groves of the Alberghiero Otranto, it is easy to see the many farmers who have “vanished in” the trees. Though pruning and tending, they have formed the olive orchard into something that supports and resembles the community that it feeds, blurring the boundaries between people and land.

The olive trees are twisted and gnarled, with many openings in their trunks. Sometimes the holes are big enough that you can see a small piece of sky poking through the encircling bark. It is as if the trees are in their own way softening this boundary as well—trying to breathe in the land—to keep as much of the sun and the soft breeze in their bodies as possible.