Putting down roots in “Le Macere”

Our article in the last newsletter on soilless food production provoked some interesting reactions. However well we look after an uprooted plant – cutting it, pruning it, watering it – it will wither and die. So we have to start by planting or sowing it and allowing it to form roots in the soil. Only then will life flow through it. These simple reflections are equally valid for human beings, who not by chance are advised to stop moving from place to place and “put down roots” if they want the chance to build a harmonious future life for themselves.

Sometimes the simplest solutions are the hardest to put into practice. If we so desired, all of us could produce most of the food we need by growing it in pots on balconies or terraces or in gardens.  This is not a fanciful idea, indeed it is increasingly common in our crowded towns and cities. On the other hand, in the face of the multinational food companies whose monopolies impact all our lives, these small measures resemble the actions of a hummingbird that tries to put out a forest fire by carrying single drops of water to it.  Fortunately, the situation is not exactly like that. The food giants have feet of clay and can be brought down quickly. We only need to think of the many food scandals we have already experienced: mad cow disease, eggs contaminated with fibronil, blue mozzarella, wine contaminated with methanol, contaminated flour, bread and pasta, bird flu, contaminated yogurt and baby milk, extra virgin olive oil that isn’t, “Chinese” tomatoes: the list goes on and on.

This is why our Newsletter continues to focus on experiences that, like the metaphor of the hummingbird, allow us to perceive solutions and choices that protect the soil for us and for future generations. Anyone who has travelled south of Rome in the province of Frosinone will have noticed an unusual landscape, that of the Macere, in the municipality of Vallecorsa. The “macére” are centuries-old dry-stone-walled terraces for the cultivation of olives. Sadly these areas have been slowly but steadily abandoned, to the extent that in parts they have been taken over by self-sown woodland. The Associazione Culturale le Macere was set up to bring the olive trees of Vallecorsa back into cultivation, thus preserving the landscape. Recovering these trees, some of which are more than 200 years old, also means restoring the characteristic landscape of the area.

The aims of the association are clear:

  • to develop organizations and volunteer groups to protect and restore the land and its characteristic landscape;
  • to promote and encourage the spread of farming culture, and in particular olive growing and the production of high-quality extra-virgin olive oil.

The aim is to restore value to the landscape and production by restoring the terraces and restarting production with a higher quality product, an aim that has already been partially achieved by the listing of this landscape in the “Catalogo Nazionale dei Paesaggi Rurali Storici” (National Catalogue of Historic Rural Landscapes).

What is new here in comparison with other land recovery projects happening all over Italy and Europe?

What is new is the direct involvement of the Association’s members: they support the production of high quality oil at 0 km while at the same time being involved directly both in producing the oil and in supporting the product. For example, they can adopt and cultivate a number of trees, caring for them and protecting them. They are not farmers; they are people from other walks of life who decide to get involved in the recovery of the “macére”. In this way the olive trees have once again become productive, bringing together supporters/producers and consumers in the process. The members are not just passive supporters; on the contrary, it is thanks to their personal commitment that the dry-stone terrace walls have been restored and the plants brought back to productivity, through the protection and reconstruction of the land they occupy. Furthermore, and equally importantly, the fabric of the community has been revived with new forms of cooperation and development. Through their direct involvement, the members are at the same time supporters, growers, purchasers and protectors, not to mention witnesses of their own land. The Associazione le Macere has helped to rebuild the identity both of a food product – the olive oil – and of the land that produces it. The result is a landscape and an environment that are cared for, open to the enjoyment of all, even those who are only passing through.