Tag Archives: organic farming

Sustainable development and the real star Grillo

This isn’t a yurt related post – it’s about the rule of sustainable development. As you may be aware we are developing a site in the mountainous region of Abruzzo, the land that God forgot about, but the fact he forgot about it doesn’t mean he didn’t love it when he made it, because Abruzzo has been blessed with it all.

Sustainable Rural development is a key word right now – Italy has been too forgotten: the election earlier on this month has shook the country, in fact it shook the whole of Europe, as more than 50% of the vote went to fringe parties. The power, you may say is going back to the people, Italy has grown so tired of bureaucracy and the biggest winner was the 5 star movement, trying to take down the establishment and start new initiatives like circular government, lower taxes and even to pay each citizen a salary. It is headed by Beppe Grillo the comedian.

The 5 star Grillo

But it’s another Grillo that is the real star of this post and it’s not a person but a machine, a 14 horse power motocoltivatore (as its called in Italy) and this is why we are going to talk about it a little, because alongside everything we are hoping to introduce to Central Italy, like ecotourism, there are some things we think Italy should introduce to the rest of Europe. Italy has become a world leader in small tractors and special terrain machinery, tractors that have been developed to suit a sustainable farming tradition, small plots worked by hand driven tractors, like our famous grillo, and tracked tractors which are suitable for mountain terrain. It’s this small scale production that we believe is the thing that may save Europe.

Those small cultivators are adaptable to a myriad of uses: pumps, small ploughs, grass cutters, they even are coupled to small propelled trailers to transport the old farmers about. It’s this small scale life style that is the real jewel of Central and southern Europe, a lifestyle that is disappearing, but it’s exactly the way we see development. We talk a lot about organic farming with locals, but sometimes driving around the small villages, I’m amazed, because with all the innovation we seek to introduce here, I look at the way they cultivate and realise that they actually have it all: they grow all their own food at times, from olives for oil, grain for pasta and bread, to tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. Each old house has an orchard of fruit trees: figs and mulberry, lemon and orange, grapes for wine. It’s a self sustainable lifestyle driven by our famous Grillo, they don’t need a 5 star movement – their rebellion is a minimalism, their answer to progress, is to use machinery on a mini scale, and keep it small.

With the disaster that is modern farming methods, with the health hazard that modern wheat has become (i’m not joking but eating bread from modern wheat is like killing yourself by disintegrating your gut – read here), so this country we have come to sustainably redevelop, has actually taught us its’ old ways, and we hope those will take root elsewhere, as the mainstream for real farming, a sustainable living.

The model is very simple – you don’t need to be successful in a business to buy your dream home to retire in. Your home can be a relationship with the land, you live by cultivating organically grown food with minimum machinery, sure you can do it all be hand, but the marvel of small scale machinery means, that with minimal effort you can grow all your own food easily. So instead of becoming more rich and more removed, we decided to go back to the earth, to let Italy teach us about its farming. We aim to start offering Ancient grain from this region for sale (contact us if this is interesting to you) and I didn’t even start talking about the Olive oil, because the in the immediate locality of our site, is a special olive variety called Intosso, or Olive Grande by the locals. It doesn’t produce the highest percentage of oil per weight, but it produces one of the world’s best quality olive oils, a bottle of which can sell for £18 per litre.

So in this time of change in Italy, with Beppe Grillo leading a revolution in politics, and yes Italy does need an overhaul, but MY vote is for that other Grillo, the real motor behind sustainable development, and its called minimalism, live within your means. 

 

Ancient Seed in neo-integration

There is a small slow revolution happening in Central Italy, you haven’t heard of it because it isnt spoken of loudly, but its happening …….

In Italy all the subjects of Glamping and organic farming and slow nature walks are less developed, but where they do take place the approach is very different, its deeper, its like people have gone all the way back to an old life that still lingers in small village communities, villages that still hold their cultural identity and history, something which is becoming hard to find now in the countryside in the UK, not to say our villages arent special they are, its the link with the past that is lost.

Because of our work in sustainable tourism in the central Italian region of Abruzzo, we have little by little, been exposed to a host of small eco projects,  always started by young people that have gone back to the land, and started farming the old way, usually with a twist, there is a wealth of ancient grain, cereal, fruit and vegetable varieties that are being harvested and preserved by these  projects, from tomatoes to cucumbers, apples, melons, but above all in Italy, its the ancient wheat, the secret indigent in speciality pasta, some of which is almost gulten free, and if you have heard of people with wheat intolerance going to Italy and eating pasta and noticing that for some strange reason they can digest it….. well there is a reason.

We have made some efforts with the Heartland Association, to get all those projects unified and create some sort of net, a net that can share and offer some sort of alternative, obviously our main focus is sustainable tourism, but its there in Central Italy that a small revolution is taking place, its not Glamping, its going back to the nature of two generations ago, and its there where the old and the new are coming together in a way we believe is more wholesome, no longer camping in nature is just a chic experience, its a whole way of travel into the past, into meaning and health, into foods we forgot existed. 

Having this window opened to us through our work in tent making, we felt that we need to help share it with others, especially now, as the UK is looking to be disconnecting itself from the Mainland of Europe, there is an option we must not neglect, and possibly one worth considering before (and if) the gates are closing, is that on the mainland and especially in the southern and central countries of Europe one, one can still reach back in time and develop a new way to socially innovate in marginalised rural areas. 

I dont want to put people back home off, there is much scope of this in the UK too, and actually we who have been responsible for the glamping industry taking such an important place in countryside development, should have been a little more responsible, so yes often things did go hand in hand and organic farming and country life did get enmeshed with the this new way of camping.

But im afraid the biggest problem is that in the UK, rural identity has been mainly lost, and so the old way of farming, the culture of place can no longer be integrated as equal parts with camping in nature, and so we focus more and more on new ways and new styles to spoil ourselves in the outdoors, which is nice of course, but to me seems a little lacking. 

This blog post is already quite long, but we havent even reached its main topic, and that is Ancient grains, hope you manage to keep on, we are almost there.

The vision we are trying to develop is where sustainable tourism is based on taking people into rural areas, developing a system of slow ventures into wildest nature, inner work, personal transformation, and all taking place in the framework of small scale organic farming based on local culture and most importantly local food, its food that can heal, its been cultivated by nature for us in an unbroken chain of the love of man and his surroundings, the toil of his soil and the mountains, the wealth of health these older food verities offer us is a link, and together with the cultural aspect of living in nature, one thats still holds in Italy undisturbed, you can reach back in time to pre-Roman inhabitants of the land, and thats the experience we want to develop, to take us all back into that primal connection that was lost.

So…. on our site in Abruzzo, we have been cultivating ancient grains, other have gone into this in more detail so here is a link to read further, most of these grain verities have been grown in the mountain regions of Abruzzo for over 1000 years, Solina (grano tenero) and Senatore Cappeli (grano duro) and others, those are wheats that have not been modified so heavily, and of course spelt the mother of wheat, it seems like what is the big deal, but you wait until you eat a plate of fresh Solina pasta, when you eat organic spelt whole grain cooked like rice, when your body accepts the right levels of gluten, and isnt poisoned by herbicide, its amazing to see our small whet field shining like gold next to the modern wheat fields of the neighbours, one of which we knew was sprayed with herbicides and is literally brown, and that should tell the whole story. 

So this year having grown all of those from seed on our site, Its amazing to observe this integration with the old and the new, and I feel sorry that we have lost the chance to have the same in the glamping industry in the UK, the Vision we should offer to clients coming to nature is of slow walks, of local foods, but more than all we should be able to bring back the foods that have kept us healthy, and the culture that has made us rich, those should be key elements I think in going on holiday in a sustainable tourism destination, I feel that as we are developing the concept from the ground up in Italy, we have a chance to make it slightly different, and I hope it will be more integrated. 

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.

heartland-9 copy

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.

abruzzo road building

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.