They won’t have seen him working tirelessly since the age of 14, making handmade shoes, enduring 12-hour shifts, and being told that he won’t amount to anything. They won’t have seen him leaving behind his home in Italy at a young age, saying goodbye to his family, and moving to London. And they won’t know the loneliness he felt in those early days, working every hour possible just to keep a roof over his head.
“For those first few months in London, I had to move probably two or three times, and I really wanted to go back home,” Alessandro tells us. “I had almost decided, ‘This is not for me.’ I was working all hours of the day, earning a low income, and it was hard.”
When speaking with Alessandro, you can’t help but feel captivated by his indomitable and resilient spirit, his relentless energy and his desire to create a career and life for himself and his fiance. He doesn’t know the meaning of the word defeat.
Born and raised in the rolling countryside of the idyllic, San Bonifacio, outside the city of Verona, he grew up surrounded by nature, fresh food, and bustling farmers’ markets.
His Grandpa would take his hand from a young age and together they would forage for mushrooms and asparagus, and show him the importance of growing your own food and never wasting anything. Alessandro would also watch his Grandma cook in the kitchen, savouring the smell of freshly cut tomatoes and together the whole family would sit underneath the warmth of the northern Italian sun, eating, laughing and smiling.
It was those endless days of youth that were some of the happiest of Alessandro’s life, and it would be his Grandpa who would inspire him to start gardening, teaching him everything he knew, and it would be those lessons he would keep close to his heart. He would listen eagerly as a child as his Grandpa spoke of how to garden without using chemicals, the importance of soil and how to cooperate with nature.
When Alessandro arrived in London, he created an urban garden to disconnect from his daily routine. It would become his saviour and give him sanity when he felt lost in the grey of the city. He would think of home and the lessons his Grandpa taught him as he began to grow organic raspberries, gooseberries, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes, tomatillos, different kinds of chilli, beetroot, parsnip, celery, beans, edible flowers, varieties of herbs, leeks, onions, garlic, pumpkin, and sweet pepper.
Driven by passion and love for nature, he started to use social media to teach people about gardening, how to grow their own food, preserve it, and live in a more sustainable way to help the environment for future generations. “It’s funny because I used to be so against social media, but I began to see it could be used positively. I saw it as a way of encouraging people to create more green spaces, becoming more self-sufficient and not relying on mass production and companies that use chemical fertiliser and pesticides which alter natural biodiversity and damage the environment.”
Alessandro has been an Urban Gardner for over 8 years now, producing educational content about gardening, foraging wild food, natural remedies, and zero-waste cooking, and his messages and content have reached millions of people across the globe. He’s worked with some of the world’s most recognisable brands, helping to impact the lives of others and he’s even written a book, about growing your food, no matter where you live or the space available and Inspiring people from Peckham to Puerto Rico.
“We have one single opportunity to make things right in this world and I won’t waste even a single second of my time. I’ll use it to share knowledge and help every single person I can to become a better version of themselves, myself included.”
He may not look like the ‘traditional gardener,’ but what Alessandro is doing is proving that gardening is not made for specific people but that it is accessible to everyone. It was an absolute pleasure to sit down with the man as we spoke about what has been the adventure of a lifetime.
In our time together, he tells us about his life growing up in Italy, what made him move to London, the importance of his fiance and soulmate, and why you should always believe in yourself.
they were pretty much the best memories I have as a child.
I’m from a small town called San Bonifacio, which is more in the countryside, so I was always surrounded by nature, there was always fresh food, and we would shop at the farmer’s market all the time. Here in London, you might have a farmers market once a week, but where I grew up they were always on, all over the place. So we would either get our food straight from the farmer, or markets that we had in town.
I was always in contact with fresh food and always in contact with nature. So much of that is thanks to my Grandparents as well. I experienced so much because of them. My Grandpa used to take me foraging for mushrooms, and also for asparagus, we have a specific variety that comes from the North of Italy, white asparagus, and you can find it in specific spots. So he knew all the spots and would show me how to harvest them.
He would also show me how to grow food because we had a small backyard garden and he was producing all of these foods, he had grapes as well. So we used to make wine together. We would also make tomato passata and so many other things.
It wasn’t only about growing food but also how to process it, and he even had a compost bay outside. Growing up I didn’t know the meaning of food waste until I moved to the city. Because with my grandparents that just wasn’t a word that was used, everything had a second life or it was used in one way or another, so that really sparked something in me. This feeling of recycling and using things that people normally threw away, like old bread that you can make croutons with or peels from every single vegetable to make stock. My Grandma used to make a lot of stock and then freeze it for later use. Or it would go into the compost.
That was kind of my project with my Grandpa and with my Grandma, I was always in the kitchen with her when she was cooking. I was a kid, so I really wasn’t learning recipes, but I was always trying to sneak in and get some food from the table where she was cooking. And we used to meet all the time with the whole family. So my aunts, and uncles and my parents, would have lunch and dinner and celebrate fresh foods all the time. So yeah, that was pretty much the best memories I have as a child growing up in Verona.
I wanted to be free to create my own career.
The first time I came to the UK was with a dear friend from Italy. He is still my best friend to this day. He’s originally from Wales and he moved to Italy as a kid. Growing up, he would always say, ‘One day you need to come with me to the UK.’
So at just the age of 15, I travelled with him and we went to Warwick, and I loved it; the castle, the atmosphere, the houses. I loved every single thing about that trip. It was amazing.
We went to London just for a day and the thing is, I don’t remember much because we didn’t really go to museums or anything like that. It was more about the fun of just walking around and seeing the red buses and the red telephone boxes. Even at that age, I was super excited about the idea of moving to the UK. It was funny though, I had never really seen or been to a McDonald’s before. When I came to London, I was shocked, they were plastered everywhere. I was like, ‘Where am I?’
I love Italy, and where I’m from there is a great environment, great people, and great food as well, but there is no real sense of meritocracy. I have worked since the age of 14, and one of my first jobs was with my uncle to make some extra money for myself. Then my first actual job was for a wine company, and it was really intense. It was 12 hours a day and a lot of physical work.
After that, I found a job making handmade shoes. And I worked there for maybe two years. I remember it so clearly, that everyone would say, ‘You should be grateful for having this job.’ And in my head, I kept thinking, ‘This doesn’t feel right to me.’ I wanted to be entitled to decide what I wanted to do in my life. And I wanted to be free to create my own career.
It was then I took this big decision to move and come to the UK. And I decided on the UK because I knew a couple of people that had moved there. They were really close friends from Italy, but they lived quite far away from London, so I didn’t see them much and I was by myself a lot in the beginning. Those first few months were a culture shock and really difficult.
I had almost decided THat This was not for me.
Before I moved, I remember it felt like everyone was against me, especially in the workplace. Everyone would question, ‘What are you doing? Why are you going? You’re not gonna do anything in your life!’ So everyone was trying to coerce me and was taking me down. Everyone except my parents. They didn’t want me to go, but at the same time, they would say, ‘I think it’s a good opportunity for you.’ They have always been so supportive of me and I’m really grateful for my family and all they have given me.
Once I had decided to leave, I booked my tickets and started to prepare for a new life. It wasn’t easy though. Two months before I decided to leave I met my girlfriend. And the funny thing is that she wanted to move to Germany because she’s half-German. So after two months, she moved to Germany, and I moved to the UK. So she was working there, and I was working here. It wasn’t the same without her, and I knew that we needed to get together somehow, so in the end, I managed to convince her to move to London.
The first thing I did when I moved to London was to get a job working in a tattoo studio in Sydenham. It was all the way East, close to Crystal Palace, and it would take me 50 minutes to get there and 50 minutes back. I would do that during the day and then at night, I was working in a pub in Shoreditch. It was pretty hardgoing and intense.
In those early days I also had a lot of issues with the house, just because unfortunately, I think it’s a common issue for most people moving here that if you don’t know too many people, and if you’re not, you know, confident in speaking in English, you can end up getting a bad deal and into a bad situation.
After 6 months my girlfriend moved here, and that changed so much for me, having her by my side made such a difference. I completely abandoned the tattoo studio and I was focusing more on the pub and I started saving up. I think in the space of a year, I went from washing glasses to becoming General Manager. I was happy there and I did that for two years.
What if I put all this effort into something for myself and my girlfriend?
In those first few years, let’s call them my youngish years, it felt like we were always out drinking and partying. I used to love the nightlife. Not that I was an alcoholic of course, but I just loved to enjoy myself and have fun. Then it got to the point where I thought, ‘I really don’t want to do this anymore.’ So I decided to get a daytime job.
I found myself moving around different jobs at that time. I worked in clearance and verification, where I became an operations manager, and then I went back to the tattoo studio but was working in reception, instead of tattooing people. I then worked for a good tech company, doing content creation for them, but it was around this time that my profile across social media started to grow. I had always worked hard for every company I had been with, and I began to think, ‘What if I put all this effort into something for myself and my girlfriend?’
I’d say that probably two and a half years ago, I couldn’t even open an editing program. I didn’t even know how to use a camera properly. But every single night after work, I would teach myself and learn as much as I could until 3 am. I was sleeping a few hours each night, my mood was upside down. But I was so determined to learn as much as I could. Every single day I was editing, learning about filming, learning about photography, learning as much as I could.
If it wasn’t for those nights, there is no way I would be doing what I’m doing now. People see me doing a 30-to-60-second video, but there is so much research behind each video creation. There is a lot of testing, experimenting, scripting, visualising and editing. It takes a long time and I couldn’t have done any of that without practising as much as possible.
During those days I was driven by the fact that the situation at work wasn’t great. This was around Covid and during the first lockdown, and of course, like so many, I wasn’t making a full salary. There was so much uncertainty for so many people.
I felt like every single thing that was happening was inspiring me even more to keep going. Every night and every weekend I just worked harder and harder, filming, editing and learning.
People who see my content now say, ‘Oh wow, you must be living the dream.’ But they don’t know the story behind it. They haven’t seen all the days and nights I would spend trying to learn as much as possible, with my girlfriend always beside me helping out. Her belief helped me so much as well. We are a proper team. That is the main thing that helped me. Having her alongside me, and always being so supportive. Always doing even more than myself.
That is the year when everything really began to take off, and I wouldn’t be here without her. She was and is always behind the camera, helping to take pictures, and videos and supporting me in every step of my life.
If you believe in yourself and put 200% into something and you have a purpose, you can make it happen.
I think when I released my book, that was something incredible for me. As you can tell, English is not my first language. It is something that I take a lot of pride in, to have written a book in English was amazing and it’s a legacy, right? I think that has been one of the best things to ever happen to me. I will remember that for the rest of my life. Even if it’s not going to be the last one, it is a feeling I will never forget.
There have been a lot of moments that have felt surreal, like working with the BBC and brands like Vans. When I was just a kid growing up in Italy I used to walk past shop windows and just dream about owning a pair of Vans. So to work with them was something else. Also, I have to mention working with Charles Dowding, that was an amazing experience. Honestly, it was a big inspiration for me in terms of gardening, and growing food. So the opportunity to work with him was something that I will treasure forever.
I think also proving not just to everyone else, but to myself what is possible. It has shown me that you don’t need to listen to the opinions of everybody. It doesn’t matter what they think. If you really believe in yourself and if you put 200% into something and you have a purpose, you can make it happen. This journey is something that I will remember for the rest of my life.
LIKE ANYTHING IN LIFE, PLAN.
Don’t follow or believe everything that you see online. There is a lot of misinformation about urban gardening and foraging. Lots of people try to make it over-complicated. My advice is to experiment and don’t be worried about failure. It’s not like I tried to grow food yesterday for the first time and had a successful harvest overnight. I had to build up and build up because trust me, there were a lot of failures. But this helped me so much to get to a place where I am now finally able to grow food.
I think it is also important to connect with the community. That is super, super important. If there are community gardens or allotments, or even garden centres, or perhaps Facebook groups connected to the community, then they can all help you so much. There will be experienced people who can facilitate your journey and give you advice on how to start growing food in your garden.
In terms of practical advice, I would say that if you have a garden which is an empty space, then go on Google Maps and check from above the size of it. By doing that you can start drawing its exact shape and start imagining a plan. I would then begin to understand the sun’s rotation. Learn where your garden is facing. Is it North-facing, or is it South-facing? That is super important.
Do not start your garden straight away. Maybe spend half a season understanding the environment of the garden and how it works. Have you got any wildlife that comes into your garden, are there any foxes or squirrels, have you got a building that is always in the shade? Because I do, so I had to understand how the sun rotates based on that building. You know, when do I have shade? Where do I have shade, and based on all this information, you can plan strategically because there are plants that rise best in full sun. Some others are better in full shade or partial shade.
Like in anything I do, I prefer to spend even a month planning because that is what’s going to help me in the long term. So that is what I highly recommend to anybody who is starting.
Also, I would say, don’t start with many plants, because I made that mistake. People can get overexcited, especially when they get to the garden centre, they’re like, ‘Oh my God, we can grow so much food,’ and then you bring them home and it gets overwhelming because you don’t know how or where to plant them properly, and you water everything with the same amount of water, you give them the same soil, they all start dying you and you get discouraged and then potentially you abandoned this amazing journey.
Start with just a few plants, probably three or four, and understand and master the plants. Once you master the plants, you understand how they work, and how they thrive, and then you can scale up to something else.
I think in many ways people have lost touch with nature.
With foraging, I think the majority of people get discouraged straight away. As soon as they go online they read that literally everything can kill you. Urban gardening is about the joy and satisfaction of growing something from seed, but I also like the fact you can kind of stop relying so much on corporations and supermarkets. You can start to have this sense of not being self-sufficient, but that you can do something yourself, and who knows that could slowly spark something bigger.
For me, one of the main reasons why people should try urban gardening is that we rely entirely on a society that provides everything right? Because we go to the supermarket and literally every single product we think of is there. But do we even know the origin? Do we even know if it is natural? Is it good for you? What are all the ingredients? What do they put inside everything? I always had all these questions in my head, you know, but the majority of people are so busy and tucked into this loophole of going to work, coming home and consuming.
We work together, we go out together, everything we do, we do it together.
Sometimes I find myself working a lot. I try to do as much as I can. Although I don’t like to call it work, as It’s not work as such. I dedicate so much time to the growth of social activities, that I find it hard to step away from it.
Sometimes I need to force myself and thanks to my girlfriend that happens. But it is good to take a step back and analyse where you are and where you’ve come from and understand that it’s okay to have a break once in a while. If not, then everything becomes constant, it becomes a constant reach for more. It is not an easy process to take a step back and see what you have accomplished, but it’s important.
I know it sounds like how old people may live, but it’s our thing now. We love to go out for a coffee and go to the farmers market and then potentially to the flower market because there is an amazing one where we stay. Or we will go to Epping Forest for a big walk, even if we’re not foraging, just the walking and the silence is so relaxing.
Me and my girlfriend spend almost every single minute of the day together. We work together, we go out together and everything we do, we do it together. And it’s nice spending time with each other and not talking about work. But also meeting friends. I love to meet up for dinner. I meet with a lot of people who luckily over the years have become great friends.
My girlfriend I and are getting married as well. It’s going to happen in Italy, 100% in North Italy. We were hoping to do it this year, but we don’t know yet. But, for me, it’s already happened. You know, I feel like it already happened.
We’re planning to travel a lot this year. We’re looking at potentially travelling to eight different locations in the world for a lot of things we’re working on. And then there’s going to be, and I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this publicly, but there’s going be a new book. And this time, it’s going to be all about cooking.
I’ve set a lot of goals for next year. I’ve set goals for one year from now, three years, five years and 10 years. So yeah, I have some set goals that I want to reach and I’m going to work as hard as I can to reach them.
All our thanks to the gentleman and all-round legend that is Alessandro Vitale.
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