When In Rome

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Luigi shows us the range of common land available for local cattle and horse grazing

…visit organic farms and become a revolutionary! Well, I’m pretty sure that’s how the old saying goes anyway. That’s certainly what I got up to last week: there was a meeting/conference/general get-together of European growers, farmers, researchers and campaigners looking at access to land issues, which meant somehow I managed to get myself invited to spend four days in lovely sunny Rome when the UK was enjoying its usual drizzly weather. It’s a hard life eh?

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These organic water buffalo get milked just once a day, to Mozart

The meeting was the next step in a Grundtvig project: previous meetings have already taken place in Germany, England (Bristol) and Lithuania, so now it was the turn of Italian partners AIAB to host a meeting. The Soil Association is a partner in the project, and it was through them that I heard about the scheme – as they were unable to attend the Rome meeting themselves, they asked whther I could go as their representative (and an ex-apprentice from their Future Growers scheme), plus my new book Gardening For Profit (clang!) also looks as how to gain access to land, so I knew I would find the trip very interesting and relevant.

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“Camorra not welcome” banner at the co-operative – eek!

Along with members of other European organisations, such as the famous Terre de Liens from France, our group visited 7,000 hectares of common land in the Tolfa mountains north of Rome on Monday (gorgeous); a buffalo mozarella- and ricotta-making co-operative based on land confiscated from the Camorra Mafia a few hours south of Rome towards Naples on Tuesday (scary); and on Wednesday we went to the pioneering co-operative farm Agricolutra Nova just outside Rome, with veg, animals for cheese and meat and other enterprises, which started life in the 1970s as a collective of protestors and farmers who occupied land designated for development (revolutionary).

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Revolutionary restaurant for workers and visitors at Agricoltura Nova

All the farms were amazing in different ways; most of all though it struck me that much of Europe still has a lot of common land, or land that is held by local, regional or national governments – and finding access to farm this land which already exists is the issue for many people in the area. However, in the UK, we face quite different problems: the idea of people taking up possession of the few small commons and village greens we have left is almost unthinkable. Occupation of land does happen, and the Reclaim The Fields movement is keen to make it happen more: but on the whole we expect to find land from private sources. I think we’ll need to change our psychology, as well as regulation, to gain better access to land in the country.

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