In the past, both in the city and, above all, on the many islands dotted around the lagoon, there were vegetable gardens and orchards with fruit trees, as well as animals raised to provide eggs, milk and meat.
These would all be found in the large spaces within the numerous monasteries and convents that were scattered all over the islands, many now having disappeared and others abandoned.
The few that remain include a monastery on the island of Giudecca, with large vegetable gardens at the Chiesa del Redentore and others on the wonderful and popular island of San Francesco del Deserto, as well as the island of San Michele, but the decline in the call to monastic life has resulted in these places falling into disrepair.
The monastery of San Michele is a case in point, where the monks once produced wine, as well as fabrics for their habits on ancient looms.
The island that still farms much of its land is San Erasmo, where the wonderful purple artichoke of Sant’Erasmo is grown and where other produce from the land has led to the growth of agritourism activities, alongside these small farms.
In centuries past, the crops would be taken from the islands to the city, for sale at the market, on a special kind of boat, which can still be seen on the lagoon today, rowed with oars and also by women.
Nowadays, with the technology available, fruit, vegetables and other products can be ordered online from the grower, who on certain days of the week delivers to particular places on a large motor boat.
A few years ago, an association decided to restore the many abandoned vineyards in the lagoon, with volunteers working hard and painstakingly to return them to their original splendour and purpose.
The name of this association is “La laguna nel bicchiere – le vigne ritrovate“ (the lagoon in the glass – the vineyards rediscovered) and it was founded by a teacher from a local junior school who was running a school project aimed at restoring abandoned vineyards, involving the children.
This project has included the restoration of several vineyards in many parts of the city and on the islands, after careful research of the art of vine growing and winemaking and with the involvement of certain experts in the field and some small organic wine producers.
Also this year, following the various harvests around the city and the islands, the grapes have been transported to the old monastery of the Camaldolese monks on the island of San Michele, where the association leases the monks’ vines and equipment, including the old vats, for crushing and processing this ancient product.
The production is small but of the finest quality. The process is completely organic and performed by hand, using the lagoon’s classic grape varieties, such as Dorona and Malvasia. Some of the Venetian calli, or streets, are in fact named after the latter. Once bottled, the wine labels are also associated with the places from which the grapes have been harvested, ranging from the red “Rosso Gneca – Le Zitelle fertili” (Gneca is a Venetian nickname for the island of Giudecca, where the ‘Zitelle’ convent can be found), to the white “Turgide Vignole al vento”, made from the grapes of the island of Le Vignole, and finally the “Arcangeli scalzi”, made from the grapes harvested at the monastery of the Discalced Carmelites, which stands beside Venice railway station.