The amazing story of an extra virgin olive oil from Sicily.
There is a farm in Sicily that makes high-quality extra virgin olive oil, and beside that, it promotes research in a variety of sectors, implementing sustainability and preserving the environment; it aims to boost the local economy and welfare services, encouraging job creation and social activities for adults, children, and people with disabilities; and it has the forthcoming objective to give all profits to charities in Sicily and USA. Bona Furtuna is a vision, more than a company.
Sicily is a magical place with a way of life that should be honored.
We can’t talk about this far-reaching project without telling you about when, at the beginning of the last century, little Rosalia moved with her mother and two sisters from Italy to the United States. In 1901, after a long journey on a big ship, she landed in a new place whose inhabitants spoke a language she never heard before, and she had no other choice but to start working hard, despite her young age, to help her family make a new start.
Picking strawberries in the fields of Louisiana, she kept Sicily in her heart with nostalgia while, on the other side of the pond, the country house where she was born was given away. But eventually, the energies spent on rebuilding her life in the new country were paid off when America gave her a love called Cosimo, loving children and nephews, among whom is Stephen Luczo.
“When I was quite young my grandmother used to tell me how beautiful her homeland was, and how deeply she missed it…,” revealed Luczo, the former CEO and current chairman of Seagate Technology, one of the largest technology companies in the world. “I made a pledge to myself then, when I was 10 years old, that one day I would find the land and buy it back for nonna Rosa and our family.”
If perseverance is a thread in olive oil affairs, Luczo fully embodied this attitude when, 35 years later, he was able to find the property with the help of his great friend, the botanist Pasquale Marino (aka Mimmo), and he retrieved the much-coveted land, which he now manages with his wife Agatha, an internationally recognized model.
“The company was called Bona Furtuna because my grandfather would always say this to us whenever we said goodbye after our meetings, while he was kissing us on both cheeks,” Luczo pointed out. “He explained it meant ‘all good things in life’ — more than just ‘good fortune.’”
Over the years, much land was added to the original plot, as part of their effort to create a biodiverse organic farm and to generate employment opportunities in the territory of Corleone. Now, 12,000 olive trees give life to three organic extra virgin olive oils: the NYIOOC-winning monovarietal Biancolilla Centinara, the Heritage Blend, and the Riserva di Nonna Rosa, a tribute to the beloved grandmother.
“We have plants belonging to the Sicilian heritage like Cerasuola, Moresca, Nocellara del Belice, Nocellara Etnea, Passulunara, Tonda Iblea, Biancolilla and Biancolilla Centinara,” said Mimmo Marino, who is now the chief scientist of the farm. “The latter is part of a research project for the conservation of regional germplasm. As it was almost extinct, we have cloned trees through grafting from a few secular plants, which have been reproduced in a nursery and put back on the market. We also have some Murtiddara, which in Sicilian means ‘small blueberry’ as it bears tiny fruits, and a small amount of Leccino, Frantoio and Moraiolo.”
The botanist revealed that the property includes significant natural resources, as 70 percent of the 350 hectares (865 acres) fall into a special protection area which is part of the Natura 2000 network. “Alongside the institution’s research, our company on its own surveyed over 600 plant species of vascular flora and analyzed the mycological components, finding truffle, which is rare in Sicily, and other edible species,” he pointed out.
They are also implementing archaeological research since a Bronze-Age village has been discovered, for which they entered into a partnership with researchers of the Universities of Palermo and Konstanz, in Germany, and they are starting a collaboration with a Spanish university.
At Bona Fortuna, the natural wealth of the land, which comprehends several pristine springs, supports the presence of chemical-free crops. “All the surrounding farms are organic, and we are far from sources of pollution, in a heavenly scenario for modern agriculture,” Marino affirmed. “The farm is located in a difficult territory, where the unemployment rate is high, so Steve’s idea is to create a reference production model that can set in motion many other activities and support the community.”
To date, the company is still in the startup phase, and it is absorbing the substantial investments made in the land, infrastructure and people. “As we are now ramping our production and gaining international recognition for our high-quality extra virgin olive oils, we believe we can achieve profitability in the next few years, in order to honor our commitment and promise to give all excess profits to charities that share our support of Sicily and its people, as well as in the USA,” Luczo pointed out.
“However, we have already supported a variety of causes through the Zimbardo-Luczo Foundation, which provides scholarships for high school students in Corleone and Cammarata,” he said. “We have provided technology and musical instruments in the local schools, we have help fund a center for mentally and physically challenged adults in Cammarata, we have promoted arts and cultural festivals, and we have sponsored a local soccer team. In the USA, we have supported No Kid Hungry.”
At the heart of their mission is the welfare of the territory through employment creation. “It’s been an amazing journey,” Luczo revealed. “It’s really something to see the love that the workers have for what they are doing. To have a solid job brings such an important element to one’s life. The workers are proud to be working the land. And, most importantly, what we are producing for the world is important and unique.”
“I believe that Sicily’s best chance for economic growth is related to tourism and organic farming,” Luczo concluded. “We are trying to provide a roadmap to build a sustainable business with these elements. Sicily is a magical place with a way of life that should be honored.”