Toscana Biologica- supporting local Tuscan farmers

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As the week ends it is time to write up a list and go and purchase some veggies to fill your fridge once again.  But what if every time to did this dreary exercise of grocery shopping you could contribute to your neighbour farmers and support the economy that at the end of the day supports you? and even more importantly, what if instead of giving your money to big chains of super markets, you could see, talk to and even have a friendship with the people that produce the goods that you are buying?

Another key area to take into account is our health, in the sense of wether we really know what we are feeding ourselves and our kids. Are you really consuming a live-some vegetable or fruit? or are you eating something that looks like a vegetable, but does not really taste like much? with little conscience and knowledge of the products we eat, you could very easily be eating poison and you would never know it.

Thankfully there is global action to secure food sovereignty. Here in Florence, Italy for instance a lot is being done in this regard, where more and more people are supporting the idea of consuming ’0-km’ products. I had the pleasure of meeting Daniele Marchetti, from Toscana Biologica, who kindly had some time to talk to us about the marvellous work his shop is doing for the Florentine community.

Can you tell me about the concept of ‘0-km’, and how is growing here in the Toscan region?

Here in the Toscan region we identify products as ‘0-kms’  if they have been produced within 70kms of proximity to their point of sale.  This is specifically used to promote local production. This initiative is a response to our loss of food sovereignty, where we should be able to support ourselves with our local production. Unfortunately today there are not as many farmers and therefore production is not meeting demand. Consuming ‘0-km’ products is important firstly because it reduces transport cost and pollution. Secondly because for those with health problems it is very important to consume organic products, as they need to their food habits.

How is Toscana Biologica helping the Florentine community?

I studied agriculture and for the last 10 years I worked in farms, that’s when I realised that I didn’t want to work in a farm that uses chemicals, I wanted to be able to go home and hug my kids without worrying about contaminating them.

Here we sell good products, and I know that the money that people spend here goes towards building the local economy. And I have witnessed very positive things. What makes a man free is a healthy diet. We support local production, 80-85% of the products we sell are from the Tuscan region. We also have some seasonal products from Sicily. Even though our prices are not as cheap as in supermarkets, you have to remember that we only collect 30% of profits from every euro spent; the other 70% goes to the farmers.

What has been the reaction of Florentines?

We have started slow, but today we see a lot of interested people. They are starting to realise this is a particularly different shop. Apart from its good cause there are also very skilled workers who are able to help our customers. We have a good knowledge of the fields, we know our products and agriculture. So our customers can trust us. We also recommend our customers to visit the farmers themselves, we  facilitate their contact. In other words we are not just a retail store.

How do you contact the farmers? Are they easy to reach?

Some farmers are very small and it’s hard to contact them. Some of them don’t have phones. But now we all know each other. We have built a net of relationships. As we continue to grow what we eventually want is to connect all farmers, and have a bigger system of distribution. The problem has always been the lack of communication between farmers themselves.

It is also hard for them to do everything at once, grow crops, get contacts, sell the products. But if we can help them with this, eventually they can just concentrate in growing crops. This would surely make their work a lot easier.

Even though there is considerably a lot more conscience about the problems of food sovereignty, we all need of your help and support. We can take the example of Toscana Biologica and start supporting our farmers. Without local food stocks communities are extremely vulnerable to all types of crises. The more united people are and prepared to fight giant supermarkets that are feeding us nutrition-less food, the better chances we stand to overcome any type of problems.

Thank you to Daniele and to Toscana Biologica for the example they are giving us!

 

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Italians plant libraries – Bibliorto

P1040589 P1040575 P1040573 P1040570From the outside the Isolloto library in Florence looks like any other conventional library, yet inside you will find yourself with a particular type of library never to have been seen before. Once you enter the white-looking-building, on the second level you will be tricked to think you are in an agricultural farm; apart from books you can also find red tomatoes, zucchinis, apple trees and others of the kind.

Isolotto library is the first library to have opened a didactic garden built by and for the community, officially known as Bilbiorto, which in english traduces to libra-garden. Although it was not easy to build a project of a kind, today this library enjoys of diverse types of local plantations. Bilbiorto represents a new way of learning that is not necessarily reachable by books. Here kids and adults of all ages can come to learn about agriculture and practice their skills.  This garden is particularly beneficial to the city people that do not have access to rural areas but would love to get in touch with nature. Bilbliorto is officially one of the many projects supported by international group Slow Food, working everyday to ensure international food sovereignty.

In an interview with Bibliorto’s coordinator, he tells us about the long yet successful process of the building of this garden. It was a project 100% built thanks to voluntary work, where Florentines got together to construct it.  Hear what he had to say in regards to Bibliorto and also about food sovereignty in general.

Why did you choose to build an orchard in a library?

Before this library was built this land was filled with farmers that had their own plantations. Bilbiorto was built to remember then and to keep that agricultural culture alive. Also back in the day there were no libraries that dealt with the theme of agriculture, and what better way to do it than in a didactical way.

How important has voluntary work been in the establishment and development of Bibliorto?

Voluntary work is the biggest act of generosity a person can give. Today it is very hard to receive voluntary work, because today time is gold and is really a commodity. When people give their time to help others is a huge help, but not a luxury we can all have. Voluntary work also fluctuates a lot, at first it is very strong but people need to be kept motivated. For a project to work it relationship of work cannot only be based only on friendship, but it requires of willingness and perseverance.

How does Bibliorto benefit your community and what problems is it trying to face?

We only plant local fruits and vegetables, not hybrids nor genetically modified foods. The problem we have today is that major supermarkets are choosing uniform types of foods that have sometimes less flavor but are better for transportation or for sale. For example the common tomatoes you find in supermarkets are there because of their thick skin that allows long transportation. But here we are interested in flavor, and the softer the skin, the better flavor you will get. Here we have ‘cosoluto’ tomatoes, they are thin skinned and they are not smooth but have texture. They are good for cooking because they have less liquid and more pulp.

We also have three types of local trees of figs, plums and apples. For example here in Tuscany there were about 500 to 600 different species of apples with specific characteristics and territories, but in the super market you can only find 5 or 6.  Each of these types of apples constitute a large 25% of the whole of apples sold, but if a pest were to hit a type of apple, a whole 25% of these fruits would be lost, a massive loss. If production is more diversified it means that a pest would only hit a smaller stock of food. Therefore diversified production helps to reduce risk.

 

Well this library has certainly a whole load to teach us! perhaps we should start asking our local library to start filling empty spaces with knowledge-rich plantations!

For more info about the library visit http://bibliotecanovaisolotto.comune.fi.it

 

Orti di Pinti- Grass roots gardening in Florence, Italy

The city of Florence is one of the biggest and most popular attractions in Italy. Apart from its historical buildings and famous museums, the city is also known for its dazzling gardens such as Boboli, Bardini or Garden of the Rose (to mention a few). However one gorgeous garden that has failed to be mentioned in main tourist brochures is the garden of Orto di Pinti.

There are many reasons why this garden will captivate your attention and hopefully  admiration as well. Orto di Pinti was the first community garden to be established in the city of Florence. The project was developed by well-known architect Giacomo Salizzoni. This garden is part of the new trend of didactic community gardening taking place today around the world. The garden offers a sustainable system consisting of modern technology and also traditional agricultural techniques. This grass-roots garden (built by the people and for the people) promotes education in the community for instance in techniques such as clay pot irrigation, mineral salt production or food making. It works with different sectors of society such as kids, adults and individuals with disabilities. Orti di Pinti is already creating international awareness and has received important visits such as city majors and even the famous Vandana Shiva.

In an interview with Giacomo, we were able to learn more about his project and how we has able to turn an empty space into a tremendous valued social and environmental endeavour.

Can you tell us more about the functioning of this garden?

We are currently working to develop a sort of electronic brain that will identify when the plants are thirsty and will automatically activate rain, an irrigation system to water the plants. This is the latest and its costly but we are working on it, the point is to stop wasting water. Another important aspect in an info point that will provide information about activities and also to educate people and also produce products. For example we produce salt here, it not only bring back income but also educates people in the process of making it, eventually it will also create jobs.

How does this park contribute to the Florentine community?

This garden contributed both in the social sphere as well as in the greening of the area. This is interesting social technology.  There is collaboration with teachers to instruct the public about new agricultural practices, for instance about sub-irrigation with claypots, an irrigation technique which works very efficiently and is not really known by anybody.

Do you think Florence is an environmentally sustainable city? Is there any projects going on currently or is there any missing?

There always needs to be more, however I think we are doing quite well because finally there is some awareness of the fact that there is a push that is much stronger than the trend itself. There is a push from normal people like me, a strong example. I wanted so hardly to bring good to the community. We have had visits from the city major and even Vandana Shiva, everybody loved this, and who wouldn’t. This itself gives us power.

(05/06/13- AMP)

Orti di Pinti garden 3 garden 4 pinti garden

For more information about this garden visithttp://www.facebook.com/communitygardens