Social farm­ing (SF), or care farm­ing, is a prac­tice that uses agri­cul­tural resources to pro­vide social or edu­ca­tional care ser­vices for vul­ner­a­ble groups of peo­ple, as defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO).

These social coop­er­a­tives were cre­ated to give dis­ad­van­taged peo­ple social and pro­fes­sional auton­omy through social­iza­tion and work.- Salvatore Stingo, Agricoltura Capodarco

It aims to bring together needs, iden­ti­ties, pro­tec­tions and demands for free­dom of all cit­i­zens, regard­less of their abil­i­ties, accord­ing to the char­ter of the Italian Social Farming National Forum (FNAS), which under­lines the value of work not only as an indi­vid­ual income source, but also as a found­ing ele­ment of a more just and inclu­sive soci­ety.

“SF can be a response instru­ment to the needs of the pop­u­la­tion, both in terms of sus­tain­able agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion from an eco­nomic and envi­ron­men­tal stand­point and in terms of the pro­vi­sion of social and health ser­vices,” said the spokesper­son of the Lazio FNAS, Carlo De Angelis.

With about 400 social coop­er­a­tives, 4,000 work­ers and a €200 mil­lion turnover, the Italian SF sys­tem (reg­u­lated by the national law 141 of August 18, 2015) has become a model of best prac­tice for the other coun­tries thanks to its many social and qual­i­ta­tive achieve­ments.

In this con­text, olive grow­ing is prac­ticed with great results, as is the case of Agricoltura Capodarco, which this year cel­e­brates its for­ti­eth anniver­sary of activ­ity car­ried out on farms in Rome and Grottaferrata.

“These social coop­er­a­tives were cre­ated to give dis­ad­van­taged peo­ple social and pro­fes­sional auton­omy through social­iza­tion and work,” said the pres­i­dent, Salvatore Stingo.

Their mis­sion stems from the found­ing prin­ci­ples of the Capodarco Community, a non-profit orga­ni­za­tion which pro­motes and defends the dig­nity of mar­gin­al­ized peo­ple, espe­cially those with a men­tal and phys­i­cal dis­abil­ity, through a con­stant action of inclu­sion and inte­gra­tion.

“The daily com­mit­ment of our coop­er­a­tive is based on two pil­lars, which are the cen­tral role of the indi­vid­ual and respect for the envi­ron­ment,” Stingo pointed out. “Over the years, our activ­ity evolved and now we organ­i­cally man­age a com­pany of about 40 hectares (almost 99 acres), which include a 2.5‑hectare (6.1 acres) olive grove in Grottaferrata and a smaller plot at Tenuta della Mistica, in Rome, con­sist­ing of about 800 ancient plants of Moraiolo, Frantoio, Leccino and Carboncella,” he illus­trated.

The farms became over the years an inte­gral part of the social and pro­duc­tive fab­ric of the ter­ri­tory thanks to the high qual­ity of their pro­duc­tion. Extra vir­gin olive oil is made by a team includ­ing oper­a­tors and peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties who par­tic­i­pate in the social lab­o­ra­to­ries of the coop­er­a­tive mainly focused on hor­ti­cul­tural activ­i­ties.

Harvest at Capovolti social farm

“Moreover, this year at Tenura della Mistica we col­lected olives with the col­lab­o­ra­tion of eighth-graders from a school of the dis­trict,” Stingo spec­i­fied, refer­ring to a beau­ti­ful rural area in the out­skirts of Rome where olive trees flank a road that leads to the ancient Roman aque­duct.

“The moment of har­vest­ing is not only very pleas­ant but also use­ful because it gives peo­ple the oppor­tu­nity to see almost imme­di­ately the fruit of their work,” Stingo explained. “They pick olives and they can soon taste the oil, and this gives great mean­ing to the efforts they made. In this sense, the pro­duc­tion of extra vir­gin olive oil is very effec­tive.”

Hand-har­vested olives are brought quickly to the mill of Americo Quattrociocchi, an expe­ri­enced pro­ducer in Lazio. “Our sup­port­ers and con­sumers are so enthu­si­as­tic about the high level of qual­ity improved over the years, that every sea­son our extra vir­gin olive oil is sold out well before the har­vest,” he revealed.

In less than an hour’s drive, we reach the ther­a­peu­tic com­mu­nity of Palombara Sabina of the asso­ci­a­tion Dianova, an orga­ni­za­tion which devel­ops projects for the treat­ment of drug abuse.

Harvest at Capovolti social farm

“We host eigh­teen peo­ple who par­tic­i­pate in a com­plete course of treat­ment,” said the direc­tor of the com­mu­nity, Massimo Bagnaschi. He explained that the ther­a­peu­tic jour­ney of peo­ple liv­ing in the com­mu­nity starts with the use of med­i­cines and methadone at tapered doses and con­cludes with a socio-occu­pa­tional rein­te­gra­tion which com­pre­hends a series of agri­cul­tural activ­i­ties, at the heart of which is the pro­duc­tion of extra vir­gin olive oil.

“The ter­ri­tory of Sabina, char­ac­ter­ized by rolling hills and clayey, drain­ing soil helps us to pro­duce an excel­lent oil from 400 plants of Leccino and Carboncella,” said Bagnaschi. “Last har­vest gave us an intense fruity oil with medium bit­ter­ness and more per­sis­tent pun­gency.”

This year, thanks to a project funded by the Fondazione Terzo Pilastro Italy and Mediterranean, the coop­er­a­tive had the oppor­tu­nity to bet­ter focus on train­ing in olive grow­ing. “With the col­lab­o­ra­tion of the orga­ni­za­tion of pro­duc­ers OP Latium, we orga­nized an inten­sive course on the pro­duc­tion of extra vir­gin olive oil from prun­ing to har­vest­ing, includ­ing infor­ma­tion on dif­fer­ent vari­eties and milling process,” he spec­i­fied.

“First of all, Dianova is a ther­a­peu­tic com­mu­nity but, along with the prac­tice of pro­duc­tion, sea­son after sea­son, we achieved a high level of qual­ity,” the direc­tor noted. “Probably next year we will sub­mit our oil to the Chamber of Commerce of Rome to obtain the DOP cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.”

Production activ­i­ties in the organ­i­cally man­aged grove are car­ried out by oper­a­tors and peo­ple liv­ing in the com­mu­nity. “They learned the skills needed for this work so well that they are now able to achieve great results,” Bagnaschi observed, explain­ing that one com­mu­nity expert directs the work of other oper­a­tors and res­i­dents, who deal with plants located on a steep slope which makes prun­ing and har­vest­ing oper­a­tions even more dif­fi­cult.

Harvest at Capovolti social farm

“Extra vir­gin olive oil pro­duc­tion is a means of reha­bil­i­ta­tion and the most impor­tant occu­pa­tional activ­ity of the com­mu­nity,” the direc­tor added. “We pro­pose our oil in exchange for a con­tri­bu­tion to the com­mu­nity and the pro­ceeds help us to imple­ment projects so that we shall achieve the dou­ble aim of moti­va­tion and pro­fes­sional edu­ca­tion, and of the eco­nomic sup­port and sat­is­fac­tion from con­sumers.”

This is the sec­ond pro­duc­tion sea­son at Capovolti farm, a social coop­er­a­tive in Montecorvino Pugliano, in the province of Salerno, which sup­port peo­ple with men­tal dis­abil­i­ties.

“The coop­er­a­tive was founded three years ago thanks to a project funded by the Fondazione Con Il Sud,” said the direc­tor, Nathalie Franchet. “We call our­selves capo­volti (upside-down) because in gen­eral you first cre­ate a ‘con­tainer’ and then you include peo­ple, when in fact we decided to take a path with peo­ple with fragili­ties and their fam­i­lies, some of which wanted to put them­selves out there and invest in the coop­er­a­tive.”

Now six­teen peo­ple, half of which are peo­ple with men­tal dis­abil­i­ties, run a 6‑hectare (15 acres) organic olive grove in the ter­ri­tory of the Picentini moun­tains. “We pay close atten­tion to appren­tice­ships with our mem­bers because men­tal health is a spe­cial field, and reha­bil­i­ta­tion needs a proper train­ing process.” Every week, the­o­ret­i­cal and prac­tice train­ing is sched­uled at the coop­er­a­tive, which is com­posed of a day­care and a res­i­den­tial unit, Casa Nadia, which host 10 peo­ple.

“The pro­duc­tion of extra vir­gin olive oil is a means of… I say ‘con­quest,’ rather than ‘reha­bil­i­ta­tion,’ ” Franchet said. “Last har­vest was effec­tively car­ried out by peo­ple who, three years ago, could not stay more than a cou­ple hours in the field, and now are able to work safely for six hours.”

Ten oper­a­tors, includ­ing psy­chol­o­gists and soci­ol­o­gists, and twenty res­i­dents work in teams of ten, of ages from 18 to 50, fol­lowed by an agron­o­mist. “We col­lect the olives which in a few hours are deliv­ered to the Torretta mill, in Battipaglia,” pointed out Franchet.

1,400 plants of Frantoio e Leccino are har­vested by hand since the use of har­vest tools can be unsafe due to the spe­cial con­di­tion of work­ers. Moreover, the har­vest is facil­i­tated thanks to an ade­quate prun­ing.

“Our sec­ond pro­duc­tion was so good in terms of qual­ity that it was already sold out in December, and this sug­gests that we are on the right path because although our goal is above all social, it was nat­ural to improve the stan­dards of pro­duc­tion,” Franchet con­sid­ered.

“Next year we will sub­mit our oil to the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion body to obtain the Colline Salernitane PDO. The pro­ceeds from sale allow us to finance our projects, that is why qual­ity is a fun­da­men­tal goal of our pro­gram,” she con­cluded.



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