Terre Colte. Innovation using tradition and culture as a springboard

Terre Colte. Innovation using tradition and culture as a springboard


Saint Francis of Assisi referred to her as his sister and his mother. Native Americans used to say we only have her on loan from our children. We know from farming that if she is abandoned, sooner or later she will take her revenge. But if we take care of her, the Earth will never betray us.

This fact has been demonstrated very recently by Terre Colte, an initiative that was something of a gamble and launched in 2017 by Enel Cuore Onlus and Fondazione CON IL SUD with the aim of turning uncultivated or abandoned land into an opportunity for social inclusion and development. Two years on, we can safely say that the gamble has paid off. 

Thanks to the three-million-euro Terre Colte grant scheme, 100 hectares in 5 Southern Italian regions are now getting back to producing ancient grains, fava beans, almonds, oregano, saffron, goji berries, and microgreens, as well as farming buffaloes, goats and asses for milk production. Most importantly of all, 180 people, many of whom are struggling with social challenges, have found jobs in the fields, on teaching farms and in processing agricultural produce and in the sales sector, e-commerce included. An opportunity for a new start, for redemption.

Innovative social projects

Terre Colte spans nine projects; it has a budget of three million euros and concerns five regions - Basilicata, Campania, Puglia, Sardinia and Sicily. Its name – Cultivated Lands – is more than just a play on words, however. It aims to be a sign of modernity too. 

Terre Colte is indeed an exemplary project which the managing director of our Group’s not-for-profit Enel Cuore Andrea Valcalda describes as “one of the very best we’re supporting. It doesn’t just promote inclusive employment but also focuses on a vision of agriculture that is neither nostalgic nor primitive. Rather it sees it as an innovative element of development linked to local communities”. And it also enhances and boosts the circular economy model in the process.

Local communities and tradition

From horticultural therapy to reviving traditional crops. The sheer variety of the nine winning projects underscores the immense value of Terre Colte and its ability to adapt to people’s own histories, the particularities of local areas and the needs of the community.

Rural Sicily provides the backdrop to no less than four of the projects. Between Palermo and Trapani, the RI-coltiviAMO project spans everything from growing vegetables to medicinal plants and ancient grains, which are then turned into preserves and pastas. It also offers workshops and horticultural therapy to people with psychological disabilities, cancer patients and migrants. In the Palermo area, the Talenti project supports social inclusion and provides opportunities for people at risk of social exclusion. It also combats rural depopulation through the cultivation of organic vines, orchard fruit, tomatoes and lentils, and the rearing of buffalo, cattle and goats.

Staying in the province of Palermo, Terre al T.O.P.P. will be building a social teaching farm in an area where there was an existing drug rehabilitation community. A rural warehouse has been renovated to house a dairy-processing workshop and for the production of Sicilian black bee honey. In the province of Enna, on the other hand, Restart! focuses on hemp seed production for industrial uses, growing Mediterranean maquis herbs (thyme, sage, rosemary, oregano, etc.) and breeding donkeys. A renovated building is now also being used to provide assistance to women who have been victims of domestic violence or are struggling with other types of difficulties.   
In Lecce in Puglia, Utilità Marginale supports a sustainable production model that involves growing and selling traditional Salento crops (legumes, cicerchia beans, black chickpeas and saffron as well as innovative microgreens grown in a greenhouse) and wild plants with commercial potential, such as Jerusalem artichokes. Once again, it provides employment for young people with mental disabilities.

Also in the province of Lecce, the Luna Laboratorio ruraLE project focuses on planting apricot, fig and walnut trees and boosting honey and saffron production to reinvigorate the local restaurant and farming sectors by directly involving local communities including schools. 

In the province of Salerno in Campania, the CO.META, project not only grows vegetables, medicinal herbs, fruit trees and olives, but will also be creating an apiary that will produce local honey and rear donkeys, cattle and goats for tourist activities and donkey-assisted therapy.

Just outside Matera, in Basilicata, the Fattoria degli Enotri is working with the local branch of the WWF to create a social enterprise that will grow, harvest and transport olives, grapes, almonds, peppers, mushrooms (greenhouse-grown) and honey (made as part of a beekeeping educational workshop). Part of the rehabilitated land will also be used for social allotments cared for directly by elderly people and families in financial difficulties. Lastly, in the municipality of Monastir in Sardinia, Tutti in Campo will be creating a food district for growing goji berries, which originally hail from China but have recognised health benefits.

Food is culture

Confirming its ability to spark new energies, the Terre Colte project has also been turned into a photographic exhibition and a live performance. On July 1, the MAXXI – National Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome, of which we are a founding partner, hosted Villani Remix, an electronic music, live cookery, video and LED screen show based on the film I Villani by DJ, economist and foodie Daniele De Michele, aka Donpasta. “In recent years I have put together a real archive of the farming culture of the South of Italy which is where I am from myself,” says Donpasta. “It felt natural that I would come across a project like this which, like myself, is focused on reviving the South and our relationship with the rural world.”

Food is never just food. Our relationship with the land tells our story, who we once were and who we will be in the future: our culture, in other words. And that’s exactly what the Terre Colte project is teaching us.