Sicilian Farmers Take Over Mob Land

Photo by gnuckx. Some rights reserved.

Photo by gnuckx. Some rights reserved.

I don’t know that I’ve ever met a mobster in real life; in fact I think it would be safe to assume I haven’t. Still, I’ve seen enough about the mafia in film and television to know you wouldn’t want to make them angry by, say, stealing their stuff. Yet in a way, that’s exactly what Sicilian agricultural group Libera Terra are doing. Well, they’re not stealing, exactly – instead, they’re using land in Sicily formerly owned by the mafia (since seized by the government) as shared farming space to grow grains, fruits, olives, etc.

The story of Libera Terra (which I have to credit Modern Farmer for turning me on to) begins in 2001, when the Cooperativa Placido Rizzotto (one of the branches of Libera Terra – each is named after a slain mob victim from the region) began operations. Those involved say it was slow goings at first – many in the area feared retaliation from the Cosa Nostra for what could be interpreted as disrespect for former mafia property. However, over the following years, with little violence to point to as evidence and with the assistance of a police presence protecting the farmland, local farmers began to change their attitude.

Now, there are over 200 people involved in the Libera Terra network’s eight different coops, producing a total of over 70 products (wines, oils, jams, and other artisinal goods) sold internationally for a gross annual income of over 6 million Euros (or $8.2 million). Those are impressive figures for any coop, let alone one built from the ashes of a criminal empire!

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