This land, with its gray sky barely pierced by dawn, is Arcadia, the rediscovered paradise of Costantino Poluzzi’s childhood. The shaved head, the military jacket, the hard features of this 36-year-old Italian are a mirage that his voice breaks. There is love, devotion, when he talks about the fields that stretch out behind him at the foot of a hill in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. This land, which for him is “a drug”, already displays some of the products of autumn: cauliflower, cabbage, fennel, pumpkins, pears, grapes. All seasonal, pesticide-free, chemical-free. “Without poison”, summarizes Costantino.
Ca’ de Cesari, the farm where this farmer works, extends over 12 hectares in Pianoro, 10 kilometers from the regional capital, Bologna. In this peace, with the property’s beautiful ochre-coloured house – an example of stately agricultural architecture from 1700 – in the background, it seems incredible that this idyllic location is nestled in one of the most polluted regions of Europe. Europe: the Po plain.
The “poison” of which Costantino speaks, the red stain that appears on the satellite images of the European Space Agency, is the price paid by regions like the rich north of Italy for its industry, for its extensive agriculture, for the retail; by the unbridled use of fossil fuels for transportation. This vicious circle is not unrelated to the marginalization of traditional agriculture, explains socialist MEP Clara Aguilera by telephone to this newspaper.
The consequences are serious. According to a 2020 report by the European Environment Agency, 400,000 Europeans die prematurely each year due to pollution. The economic and social cost is also high: without traditional agriculture, Europe’s ancestral landscape disappears. The fields, the houses like the one that presides over Ca’ de Cesari, give way to greenhouses. Ignored by big industry, many rural areas are depopulated, especially by young people, and the culture of the countryside is disappearing. The farm where Costantino works employs five farmers, all under the age of 40.
The pandemic has also highlighted how the relocation of agricultural production and food imports from third countries poses the problem of dependence on foreign markets. “During the pandemic, in parts of Europe, there were shortages due to transport problems. That is why it is very important that we preserve our agriculture”, explains Clara Aguilera.
Join EL PAÍS to follow all the news and read without limits.
Italy was the first Western country to decree, on March 9, 2020, the confinement of the population. Another farmer from Ca’ de Cesari, Chiara Sansone, confirms that at that time, “certain foods were difficult to get to the supermarkets. Local producers, however, were ready to supply them. This 28-year-old history graduate believes that the pandemic “has accentuated the need to return to a local economy, to buy healthier but also more indigenous products”. It is farmers like this young woman who guarantee “European food sovereignty”, underlines Clara Aguilera.
The objective of reducing dependence on third markets is precisely one of those included in the European Commission’s “Farm to Fork” strategy, to which the European Parliament gave the green light on 20 october. This plan also aims to make the production, distribution and consumption of food in Europe healthier. He understands, for example, that by 2030, 25% of the total agricultural area in the European Union will be organic. Also the reduction of the use of fertilizers by 20% and pesticides by 50%. The EL PAÍS report in Bologna is part of the Europa Ciudadana series, funded by the European Parliament.
“From farm to table” aspires to a return to more local agricultural production. One of the keys to the strategy is to reduce the environmental impact of industrial processing and long-distance transport. A study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the World (FAO) calculated in March that food production is the source of more than a third of greenhouse gases. Only the packaging of these products is the source of 5.4% of these emissions.
At Ca’ de Cesari, there is no packaging and transport is minimal. This agricultural estate sells its products in six markets in the region and, since the pandemic, via the Internet, in Bologna and its surroundings.
A “healthy, good and fair” diet
Corticella is a district on the outskirts of Bologna where globalization and the impossible competition with large retailers have led to the closure of traditional food stores. En el mercado ExDazio, que celebra cada jueves en ese vecindario, Antonella Bonora, de 59 años, acompañaba el 21 de octubre a los local producers, todos de agricultura ecológica, que —como Ca’ de Cesari—, venden directamente a los vecinos piece. This market is part of the Earth Markets network of the Slow Food organization. Antonella Bonora is your trustee in Bologna.
Founded in 1986 by journalist Carlo Petrini, this movement fights for the reconquest of traditional food culture, biodiversity and universal access to “healthy, good and fair” food. Slow Food has more than 100,000 members in 160 international sections and 1,500 local groups that bring together producers, associations and food experts. Also to a network of associated restaurants ―such as the Trattoria Serra de Bolonia, an establishment which declares itself “anti-racist, inclusive and LGTBI”—, or to other places which consume their products without bearing the “Slow Food” label and which often have a social dimension. In Bologna, an example is the pizzeria Porta Pazienza, which runs a cooperative for the employment of disabled people.
This market and another of the Slow Food network in Bologna, the Novale, were only closed for two weeks during the confinement. Bonora and his colleagues obtained an extraordinary permit from the city council which granted its reopening because it is located in the open air. This has ensured that in a neighborhood inhabited mainly by elderly people and migrants, this population has access to quality food.
“A few days after the lockdown, we started getting calls from people telling us they didn’t have access to fresh food. As our producers were allowed to travel, we asked them to deliver them to their homes,” recalls Bonora. Among the beneficiaries of this initiative were customers who could pay for the purchase but could not travel, such as Angela Montebugnoli, 76, whose husband has Alzheimer’s, and who says that this service “has save the life”. Others were destitute families to whom Slow Food producers donated a free weekly order of food between March and August 2020. Among these families were mothers who were victims of gender-based violence who, because they were threatened, could not leave the shelter houses of an NGO in which they lived to make the purchase, explains the trustee of the organization.
The five-hectare orchard that sprawls alongside the building that once housed the newspaper rotation The rest of the pug Until a few years ago, it was dead ground. The lead from the ink with which its pages were printed had poisoned the soil where chard and cabbage now grow. A social cooperative, Eta Beta, founded by the artist from Girona, Joan Crous, took on the task of recovering the land and financing part of its activity for the reintegration through work of mentally ill people, unaccompanied migrant minors and children. drug addicts with the exploitation of the orchard.
The Crous is a firm defender of the social dimension of the field. “Agroecology is essential to maintain the soul of the territory and its identity. What identity do the greenhouses of Malaga or Seville have? It’s not agriculture, it’s industry. Agriculture is a central element of the landscape, which prevents its disappearance, and creates economic alternatives such as tourism”.
65 kilometers from Bologna, in a forest that seems enchanted, the chestnut grove of Castelluccio, Domenico Medici, a retired forest ranger, exhibits his chestnut dryer. For centuries, locals have survived winter by grinding this fruit into flour. The resumption of this ancestral activity and this preserved forest, with all the beauty that the colors of autumn lend it, have become a “formidable” attraction for tourism, explains Médicis. And this economic activity which gives life to this “exceptional historical landscape” is also a way of maintaining “the historical memory” of these times of famine.
Follow all the international news in Facebook Yes Twitteror in our weekly newsletter.