Tag Archives: italy

Models of Repopulation

As you may know, alongside making yurts and other tents and supplying replacement yurt covers for a big chunk of the UK campsite industry, we also are looking to create a sort of multi-use site in the centre of Italy, yes juggling many balls may be demanding at times,

Lately we have had a short break from making yurt covers that has allowed us to focus on a model for repopulating rural villages in southern Europe.

We are now working on the creation of a cultural association called Heartland (like the site we are building), whose aims are to promote eco-tourism, organic agricultural and low impact ways of building, as ways to repopulate the abandoned lands of southern Europe.

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The abandoned church of Valley Piola

In Italy there has been a very strong trend of rural depopulation: whole villages on the Apennines are now empty, one example is valley Piola now for sale as a whole village and in other places, you can be given an old house for free if you agree to renovate it. The historic centres of quite a few villages in south Italy are drawing investors that way.

We felt that we want to find a way to give something back to the region of Abruzzo and the best thing we can focus on, is to help this amazing region to introduce systems of sustainable tourism and green building legislation. Italy, as a whole, is still behind Northern Europe when it comes to the green tourism wave: yurt campsites, holidays on working farms, low impact building etc., even though the Italians love going on holiday and have lots of it.

Anyway we are getting off track here, the issue is that many places in southern Europe have become depopulated, due to economic issues (mainly), a change in life style and the hardship of mountain living and agriculture –  the village contracts inwards so to speak, the land furthest from the village core, at times become totally abandoned, the dirt roads fall into disuse.

The model we are developing currently is one in which those lands which are furthest from the village get developed as a sort of green belt, – we realise that the fact the village contracted inwards, (meaning that most people from the surrounding countryside now live inside the village), means that change in the centre is hardest. The Italian village is like a fortress. In the mountains it usually has a very strong identity, people still mill around until late at night in summer, sitting on benches and having coffee. It is hard to bring change to local communes – the village people are welcoming of course (it’s Italy after all), but the strong identity of who they are also serves to inhibit change, the traditional way which is so attractive, serves to keep things as they were.

So instead we are focusing on developing the furthest reaches of rural communes in the mountain region where we want to create the Heartland centre as the place where new movement will come from.

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yurt campsite

The focus is on creating an eco-centre in each commune, it could be a green tourist attraction, a small yurt village or maybe an organic farm where you can stay, maybe a place that studies new organic farming methods one that can be implemented in the fields of the old farmers, crops like giant bamboo, truffle growing, ancient grains.

Or it could be a small mobile saw mill focusing on km zero production in this region where massive mountains oaks grow wild. The only forestry the locals know is called firewood. Anyway you get the point, endowed lands gets developed into a green zone, that serves as some sort of responsible and ecological attraction.

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mobile saw milling

Next we are looking to the Region to establish new laws to help green building and low impact structures to be built in that green zone, with the hope to attract those green operators: the people that will come like pioneers to dig the ancient hills and plow it into an organic paradise will get an incentive The back-to-the-land movement is strong, if a bit under publicised, in Italy.

There has been so much in the area – growing ancient varieties of grain, fruit and vegetables, there is so much nature, amazing mountains, in fact Abruzzo has more national parks than almost anywhere else in Europe, walks between caves in the mountains, wild life to dream of, but yet it is still falling into abandonment. It is amazing, because, being specialists in alternative tourism and professional campsite builders, we feel we are able to help this region take a leap into a sustainable future, away from creating hotels on the mountain and paved walking paths. We envisage more old stone houses becoming Alberghi Difusi, yurts serving as small places to stay, safari tents as places to holiday on working organic farms, small dirt roads that lead from one small mountain municipality are tied together green area to neighbouring green area, what a dream right?!!.

There is a lot of work to do that is for sure, but it’s nice seeing the first seeds starting to grow, people coming to the region in a responsible manner, no more of selling whole villages to some foreign investors. Rural communities need to maintain their identity not to sell their soul, if you too are looking to help the sustainable future of southern Europe we urge you to get involved, thinking about having your own campsite?, your own little bit of paradise where you grow organic produce? The situation in a lot of rural Southern Europe is similar to that in Abruzzo, Italy.

Little by little we see how our small area of activity has already made a difference, our centre building is already forming new relationships, already bringing energy and people to an abandoned area, and its amazing to realise that the whole side of the local hill would turn back into jungle if it wasn’t for our efforts, to know the olives are cut again, the wells are all clean, to know that the thousand year old road is now being resurfaced by us in conjunction with the local commune. It feels good to be able to make a difference and help those mountain people of southern Europe come back to their roots in a new people, a new generation of green mountain people.

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Building old roads

If all of this speaks to you too feel free to contact us, you can also become a member of the Heartland Association or subscribe to the mailing list (button at bottom of page) to keep abreast of new development of the association and our tent making activity.

Wood and Earth

Winter has finally come around and although it is  our busier time of the year, I took a moment to lay in some garden beds for the next season, at our land in Italy. The weather has been amazingly sunny and warm: we seem to have endless string of sunny days, and the little dusting of snow we had just adds to the beauty of it all. The mountain is majestic and it is so good to be outside all day long in the sun – we are even sweating  most days.

We decided to take a moment break (well I did) and make some raised garden beds. There is an old method that used to be practiced in Eastern Europe and Germany for decades – it is called Hügelkultur, and it calls for burying wood under earth, and layering to create compost, which ensures constant moisture to the bed. It is said that this method can be used in the desert and would not need watering if done right so I thought well we should give it a go, as we sure did water our garden last year in the hot, dry summer.

We have dug a wide long trench. This was quite easy as we used our digger instead of having to do the work by hand and the ground is nice and dry. The commotion drew the neighbouring farmer so we used the opportunity to have him deliver some horse manure.

First step was to fill the dug section with logs and as we have just been clearing the old orchards, there was quite a supply of weeping elms.

Weeping Elm Logs

Filling the trench with logs

 

Horse Manure

Horse Manure

The logs were covered in earth and we piled some straw out of an old straw bale that came from another neighbouring farmer, it seemed it was all just flowing, whenever the next layer was needed someone would happen to be driving along and come and deliver it.

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Straw covered earth.

The best thing about the straw bales is that they need to be really old or one has to go through a process of maturing them, and the good thing was that the old farmer that came to pick the bales for his horse, was picking up last years bales and some have got in a bad way or might I say, they ended up in a raised bed.

As we were rather rich in horse manure we thought we would lay one layer of that afterwards to help the composting process. The whole Idea of the process except for its compost quality is that once the wood rots, its acts more and more like a sponge collecting water when the earth is wet, and delivering it back slowly once it dries up, or in another sense, as I was telling the local farmers who could not really believe I was burying my wood pile in a nice clear field, it’s a method for having a garden without the need to water it.

Horse Manure being used for gardening

Laying horse manure

As things were in swing and all the local farmers seem to be out and about in our parts, I thought maybe we can kill two birds with one stone, and got one of them to come with us to pick up some of the olive branches of the olives we just pruned. These olives have been neglected for 10 or so years, and there was a surprising amount, and i thought great that would be another nice layer for the raised bed. Back in the day Olive wood was quite sacred, and its amazing smell when burnt made feel like a sacrilege to just throw it in the ground, but somehow we managed.

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Olive branches delivery

To top it all up we have put the remaining earth, another load of horse manure, and another whole straw bale, seeing that no manual digging was involved I was rather pleased with the speed it all came together, and it was nice education for us and the local farmers, who promised that if my gardening experiments work they would make their own garden the same way.

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The bed is raised!

It felt funny teaching them how to garden, like selling snow to eskimos, but in a way it is time for new ways to take place, and as the Italian country side is suffering from the lack of governmental reforms more than most and the old day farming methods seems to have been swapped to simply plowing in grain once a year, I guess it is a turn for the good. It sure felt like it was flowing and I hope the abandoned lands and olive groves would flourish again at the foothills of the Magellan. The locals seem to have put a little more effort than usual this year into their fields and I hope we helped in some way to revive the abandoned fields and get the locals to not abandon their plots.

 

Nomadic 102 – Women empower

We have been cruising through the Apennines for a few weeks now, settling to a rhythm. Travelling in convoy is an art, and so too is learning how long to hold a park up and when to move on.

The Italian landscape is quite helpful, although the lay-bys are smaller, than their French counterparts.
One can be cruising amongst the snow peaks one minute and on the next park up be by the sea, where it is still just about warm enough to jump in.
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The best thing is that we have managed to work some of the winter sewing load into it, so the push to find a place to work is not so strong. That is the advantage of the sunnier climate: we can sew outside in the winter.

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I love Italy. It flows in much more open ways: in the mountains it’s slower and old, by the coast it’s pulsing and constant, and the food is great. We have been getting into making pesto again, the most crucial ingredient-Pecorino is sold direct from the cheese
Makers. Of course it gets even better with locally gathered truffles put into the cheese, but we like to keep our foods simple, making our own pesto for example, although looking at a piece of land for sale next to the “Città del Tartufo” (truffle town) was tempting.

It’s a nice way to get to know an area, to park in it’s various lay-bys and to talk to the locals, interaction by interaction. All too soon one settles down, and we tend to be very private.
So although we love to chat to the munchkins wherever we go, we don’t always get too many opportunities.

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I love cruising the land and feeling it’s power like that, learning the old stories, and creating power ones for ourselves. We do group conscious work on the road, and it feels very right, at times it is explosive and hard to contain, at others it’s sheer elation. my heart goes out to all those that travel in trucks, but more so to the few that travel like that, the few that really integrate, that really feel through it.

It’s hard to explain, but certain spots bring certain truths out in us. it’s a greater challenge to travel with women, because they are so fluid, and they ebb with the energy itself.
I guess my greatest love is for those
Wild women that dare travel the real way, that dare feel and go through it,
Those that rise out of the crowd.

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Europe’s best mountains

I have been travelling for almost 20 years, mostly in Europe, but elsewhere too, I have a love for the mountains because people tend to be more open and hospitable, and much simpler, so I have traveled through quite a few ranges over the years.

Driving through the Apennines was a real voyage of wonder for me, here was a long range of mountains going through my favourite country in Europe and they are….. amazing, and I never new about it, thinking them to be a little range of hills.
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We drove into the mountains just after Assisi, famous for St. Francis,
Instead of going up to chiusi della verna (where he got his stigmata wounds), like we did last time we came here.
We chose to continue down the road a little and enter into the mountain there.

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Reaching the mountain top I was amazed by some of the scenes, like the grand plane (piano grande) in the south of the monte sibilini national park. The scenery looked as if it could be in Mongolia, with horses roaming free and open grassy planes with Shepards walking their flocks, although the distinctive hill top village was looking like something out of the Middle Ages and very European.

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We left Umbria at Forca di presta, another amazing mountain overlooking the hills, covered with hardwoods.

We entered Abruzzo by Lago di campotosto, back in the UK this would be a tourist hot spot, here it is quiet and on it’s own, the snowy cap of the gran Sasso mountains can be seen and one starts to appreciate the diversity of Abruzzo, with it’s high mountains and national parks it is becoming one of my favourites, very slow and very spectacular.

All in all the mountains here are such a wealth, it’s Northern Europe nestled inside the meditarenian, so one can walk through beech forests one minute and be next to cane and fennel the other, from broad oaks to fig trees, it’s got it all, with wild goats, and deer, and even a few bears, and of course plenty of wild boar.

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