A few years ago, a friend of mine attended a Slow Food event in Italy. She recounted how one farmer had stood up and desperately pleaded for the artisan food movement to take on organized criminals. Without loosening their grip on farm supply and produce distribution, the farmer argued, it was impossible to make a sustainable living working on the land.
The response from the room, my friend reported, was total silence. The attendees were simply too scared to speak out against the mafia that surrounded them.
From fraudulent wind farms to toxic waste ships sunk by the mafia, we've explored the connections between organized crime and environmentalism before. But here's a more positive spin—it seems a group of organic farming cooperatives is taking on the mafia stranglehold, and even converting confiscated mafia land into vineyards, orchards and sustainable farms. And, encouragingly, Italian consumers seem willing to pay more for products they know are free from mafia influence.
The Ecologist has an excellent piece on the Liberra Cooperative's fight against the mafia, describing how it has built both working farms and a strong consumer brand since its inception in 2001:
Once there was blood. Now there are organic blood oranges. This is southern Italy. These are lands once dominated by mafia bosses but now witnessing pockets of defiance blossoming into a wide network of cooperatives operating under the umbrella of the 'Libera' association. Libera means 'free', just like these freed lands, where small groups of farmers produce olive oil, pasta, wine and preserves under the label 'Libera Terra' (Free Land). They say that in this food you can taste the freedom.
The Libera Tera cooperative website (Italian-language only) has more information on this powerful social movement.