Frontiers’ volunteers: Supporting the community through rooftop farming

Gabriella Zozzaro, office manager of Frontiers in Switzerland, set up the volunteering and philanthropy program with Francesca Tettamanzi. She talks to us about her experience volunteering with Legumes Perches, and how it reflects her day to day work ethic.

Gabriella Zozzaro, center-right, and colleagues volunteering with Legumes Perches, Lausanne.

What is your role at Frontiers?

I am the office manager at our Lausanne headquarters, the go-to, kick-boxing, problem-solver for all the office needs. My team and I make sure  the office runs smoothly and oversees the day-to-day operations of the Lausanne office. My role is very people-oriented with a focus on the health, wellbeing, and happiness of our people. Our team also ensures that all global teams are supported and equipped with the tools they need to be both happy and productive, from organizing our internal social events to spearheading new employee engagement programs.

What’s your background and where do your interests lie?

I grew up in the United States where community service is ingrained in everyday life from a young age. Schools and extracurricular activities tend to have a focus on community service. Understanding the concept of social responsibility and caring for both your immediate and the wider community is a really powerful message and which has always resonated with me. Even as a teenager it was something I knew I wanted to carry with me into the future. I have a background in International Affairs, which further developed my enthusiasm and understanding of how the world worked on a global level. After my studies, I began my career at John Cabot University in Rome, Italy. There I had an incredible opportunity to work in an international establishment, creating a bridge for the university and the local Rome community. It was a great way to contribute and give back as a global citizen.

What does the organization you volunteered for do?

Legumes Perches is an urban community garden program based here in Lausanne. The organization provides expertise and services in sustainability and urban gardening. They work with commercial property developments, assessing the environment dynamics of particular projects, before installing rooftop gardens where vegetables can be farmed. Once the gardens are set-up, groups from the local community – ranging from school kids learning about agriculture, to community sharing their harvest, and to therapeutic gardening – can visit and enjoy the space.  

Why did you decide to take part in the volunteering program?

Growing up I loved gardening. My house always had a veggie patch and I always have a couple of plants at home.  I was naturally intrigued by Legumes Perches, not only because I have a bit of a green thumb, but also because I saw this a great opportunity to give back to the local community while enabling some team bonding with some other colleagues.

Can you describe what you did during your placement?

Smaller-scale farming. As the main summer harvest was over, tasks included pulling out stalks of corn, gathering potatoes, and trimming sunflowers. Once all the garden beds were prepared, we carefully transplanted seedlings and planted more seeds for autumn/winter veggies. The team at Legumes Perches was great, providing guidance and teaching us exactly what to do and why. We met with local activists, learned about urban gardening and sustainability, bonded with other volunteers, enjoyed some light physical activity, all the while giving back to the local community.  

Were you able to draw on your professional experience to contribute?

We are always ready to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty, so this was just another in the office in some respects! Maybe it was a different type of dirty – literal instead of figurative, but much like in office management we jumped from task to task, coordinating, and maintaining open communication with other teammates to get the job done. These are all skills needed to run an office and, as we found out while volunteering, help run an urban community garden.

What did you learn or take-away from the experience?

Volunteering at Legumes Perches was a great way to learn about urban farming and sustainability. Growing up in rural New Jersey, space for gardening was never an issue. However, since then I have lived in urban areas. Outside of community garden patches, you don’t tend to find gardens integrated with your city settings. Through working with Legumes Perches, I’m was able to learn just how much research, careful planning, and attention to detail goes into urban agriculture, as well as how much value these kinds of projects are to the community.