Founder and Honorary President of Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano (FAI)
“As a child I loved walking in Zelata, a hamlet of Bereguardo, where my family grew rice on an estate of 350 hectares, called le Cascine Orsine. In spring I loved listening to the frogs as I strolled through the woods. And every year I was dismayed: a certain evening, at the end of May, the frogs stopped croaking because the farmhands spread weedkiller for the rice, which also killed these creatures”.
Giulia Maria Mozzoni Crespi was born at Merate, in the province of Lecco, on 6 June 1923. Heiress of an important ancient family of Lombardy entrepreneurs, even as a young woman she was sensitive to and showed an interest in people’s difficulties: until 1960 she worked with the Associazione Ape Laboriosa, an association to help children from the Milan suburbs; after WW II she dedicated her time to the Fondazione Crespi Morbio at Sesto San Giovanni to assist large families; at the same time, and until 1970, she cooperated with the Order of San Francesco to aid the poor assisted by the Capuchin Friars of Viale Piave, Milan.
From 1960 to 1974 she was on the Administration Committe of the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera, initially with responsibility for the financial statements and later for editorial management.
Between 1965 and 1975 she cooperated with the Milan branch of Italia Nostra, founding the Youth Section for Environmental Education, through which she organised refresher courses for teachers and students. With Italia Nostra, she was one of the promoters of the Italian project for urban reforestation, Boscoincittà, started in 1974 on an abandoned area which now extends over a total area of 110 hectares in the western suburbs of Milan. She then went on to become part of the Italia Nostra National Committee and at the same time sat on the committee of Europa Nostra, a pan-European federation established to disseminate and preserve the ‘old continent’s’ cultural heritage.
In 1974, together with Renato Bazzoni and Franco Russoli, she founded the Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano (FAI), an idea of Elena Croce, inspired by the English National Trust, active since 1895. It was an experience fired by the enthusiasm of a few people whose aim was to contribute to the protection of the Italian artistic and environmental heritage, which over the years became a fascinating mission that brought many national marvels back to life, offering them for public admiration. Now spread throughout Italy, FAI promotes numerous initiatives to protect and acquire properties and work with important international institutions, but above all aims at encouraging a different conscience towards art and nature in a country that too often neglects its own heritage. Until her death in 2020 she was Honorary President of the Foundation.
From 1974 Giulia Maria Crespi and her son ran the Cascine Orsini estate, located in the Ticino Natural Park at Bereguardo, in the province of Pavia: here she introduced the innovative methods of biodynamic agriculture, shunning pesticides, weedkillers and chemical fertilisers. In 1978 she became a member of the Association for Biodynamic Agriculture, founded in 1947 to promote this environmentally friendly practice and contribute to de-polluting the Earth, encouraging a healthy diet and preserving precious water sources. She considered agriculture a prime necessity that can guarantee healthy food while safeguarding the public good in the form of environment, landscape, protection of the territory, natural resources (water, land), creating contexts essential for quality cultural tourism and providing occupation.
She received many acknowledgements throughout Italy, including the equivalent of a knighthood from the Italian Republic, for her civic, social and cultural committment to the community, and an Honoris Causa degree in the History of Art from Bologna University.
“For having dedicated most of her life to the protection of our historic-artistic heritage and the environment, and to biodynamic agriculture at a time when no-one questioned, much less worried about, such things.
It was 1975 when signora Mozzoni Crespi founded FAI, modelled on the English National Trust, a private organisation with millions of members that protects and renovates dwellings and monuments. Today FAI has 80 thousand members and has renovated forty properties, some of which open regularly to the public. An idea pursued with intuition, passion and great determination, with the ability to involve the Italian people and transfer awareness that Italy’s heritage belongs to all of us.
Giulia Mozzoni Crespi was intuitive and courageous when in 1974 she decided to adopt biodynamic agriculture on her rice-growing estate, Le Cascine Orsine. The estate is now a symbol and school for this crop-growing method that respects the land and its equilibrium.”