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Surviving Recession, Italian Mountain Style

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ITALIAN MOUNTAIN
coberschneider via Getty Images
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In Italy recession is becoming a way of life.

For example, the 'GDP Growth Rate in Italy averaged 0.60 percent from 1960 until 2016'
http://www.tradingeconomics.com/italy/gdp-growth and today the economy is almost as bad as Greece http://www.economist.com/...economics/21689630-reviving-italys-economy-will-require-sa

As economies around the world falter, is there anything we can learn from Italian survival strategies?

In the Apennine Mountains incomes are particularly low. Historians state that the Apennine Mountains, running the length of Italy, have shaped the economy and history of Italy by making transportation difficult, restricting the amount of agriculturally productive land and creating isolated poor areas (Killinger 2010).

Now earthquakes have diminished tourism. So how do people survive?

Some businesses are thriving. I spoke with Gio Subrizi, who sells and transforms wild plants.

I asked if being in the mountains is important for his business.

'Without a doubt! My business started because of the mountains. All around me I see the abundant growth of wild plants, beautiful wild nature and a pure, healthy environment. I thought: "This is here for a reason. I must use this resource." My father and his father before, lived here and we have a wealth of knowledge passed down through generations about the use of wild plants, and also ancient seeds. It is thanks to my family that some heritage seeds like orzo mondo, are known today.'

Being unsuitable for industrial agriculture, mountains are places where traditional knowledge and old ways are preserved, alongside biodiversity and a healthy environment.

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Increasingly, the very qualities resulting from being 'backward' or 'unproductive' - are valuable today.

Subrizi's makes a large range of products like jam made from wild rose hips (Rosa canina), herbal teas from wild plants, flour made from a wild spinach called (Blitum bonus-henricus) that only grows at an altitude over 800m in Italy, a pasta made with nettles (including a percentage of flour), as well as 16 types of naturally aromatised barley drinks that are very popular. The barley is a heritage seed, the 'orzo mondo' (Hordeum vulgare ssp. vulgare) and is a mountain crop, cultivated at 600 to 1500 meters altitude. He also cultivates a Neolithic pea, called roveja, (Pisum sativum), which is endemic to a small area of mountains in Central Italy.

Many years of taking his products to food fairs has resulted in specialist food shops and restaurants all over Italy becoming regular customers. The demand is greater than the production. This is partly because Subrizi oversees each step himself to guarantee the quality, he believes buyers trust, and that he alone can deliver.

His business Sentieri degli Erboristi is now generating a local economy that is growing.

There are seven groups of young people who forage in the mountains for him. Depending on what they are harvesting, they earn per person on average Euro 9 per hour, which is about 12 dollars CAD. Considering foraging is free and without overheads, where there is no employment, it's a job in a beautiful location.

Although he lost his home in the earthquakes, he comments that his land and wild plants continue to thrive.

'The important thing is that I have no neighbours using herbicides or pesticides,' he says.

He adds he is happy to share what he's learned with anyone who wishes to participate (g.subrizi@yahoo.it)

The foundation of life is a healthy environment - without that no economy will be sustainable. As recession becomes more prevalent, perhaps we'll start to consider the sustainable traditions mountains offer, all over the world.

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(View of Monti Sibillini where Gio Subrizi works)