Practicing sustainable agriculture creates new jobs

The 49th Social Week of Italian Catholics kicks off in the southern city of Taranto on 21 October dedicated to the theme: "The planet we hope for - environment, work, future. #tuttoèconnesso (everything is linked)”. Drawing inspiration from Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato si', discussions will also focus on virtuous realities that adopt a vision for an integral ecology in entrepreneurial, administrative, community and personal realms.

By Giada Aquilino

A perspective is needed "that affirms reality as a gift" and not as "something to be plundered, to be exploited to the bone" and then destroyed, according to Archbishop Filippo Santoro of Taranto, Italy. He evokes the contemplative gaze of St. Francis of Assisi recalled in the encyclical Laudato si' as the "starting point" of the 49th Social Week of Italian Catholics that also draws from the encyclical Fratelli Tutti. From 21 to 24 October more than 140 bishops, 670 delegates from 218 dioceses, experts, representatives of the political, civil and cultural world will discuss the theme: "The planet we hope for - environment, work, future. #tuttoèconnesso (everything is linked)” with the aim of coming up with a new model of development marked by a transition inspired by the perspective of integral ecology.

Work and the environment

The president of the organizing committee of the Social Weeks of Italian Catholics met in recent days in Bari for the Forum of Catholic Information for the Care of Creation organized by Greenaccord. He recalls how the last Social Week meeting, held before the pandemic in 2017 in Cagliari, had as its theme, "The work we want".

Archbishop Filippo Santoro of Taranto, Italy
Archbishop Filippo Santoro of Taranto, Italy

Archbishop Santoro explains that "Work and the environment are two closely interrelated themes. They are the two important issues that we have experienced in a painful way in Taranto, given the problems related to the former Ilva (steel company) and environmental pollution that has caused many deaths of children and adults with the consequent problem of unemployment also." The time has arrived, he points out, where it is necessary "to put an end, to say ‘enough’, and to stop the environmental devastation. This is essential and in other countries it has already been possible to do so", even with steel industries "close to the city". He notes that "there are great possibilities tied to technological innovation: replacing coal with alternative energy sources, such as gas and hydrogen. And with national Recovery Plan funds, all of this is possible" and is "vital both for health safety, which is primary, and for generating employment in order to make a living."

Virtuous realities at the forefront

The meeting in Taranto aims to be a journey of the people as indicated in the Instrumentum Laboris that features input from Italian ecclesial communities. Archbishop Santoro says it is the fruit of "a great synodal work in the preparation", with the involvement of the young people of the Economy of Francesco, conferences, meetings focusing on themes such as the fragility of the environment, issues regarding legality and agro-criminality, the dimension of ecological transitions, the contribution of business and labor with the objective of addressing the common good. Numerous entrepreneurial, administrative, community, and personal 'good practices' were also identified and noted to show the concrete commitment already in place.

"Some of these, those closest to the Ionian capital, will be visited," explains Fr. Antonio Panico, episcopal vicar of the archdiocese of Taranto for society and the care of creation, also among the organizers of the next Social Week. He says, “they are virtuous realities that present a richness from the point of view of biodiversity, the recovery of what is beautiful in that area, even the importance of remembering the many people working in a region that still suffers from joblessness".

The Italian National Institute of Statistics (Istat) data for 2020 notes an unemployment rate of 14% in the Puglia region. He adds that these realities "show how sustainability in all its forms has produced employment and even a bit of wealth." They range from the redevelopment of the Mar Piccolo in Taranto to a district made more energy efficient in Martina Franca. They include a company in Ginosa that produces fertilizer by natural means and a passage created in the 12 kilometers of the Laterza ravine, among many others. Their scheduled visits include one to Masseria Fruttirossi in Castellaneta.

Pomegranate fruit in the fields of Castellaneta
Pomegranate fruit in the fields of Castellaneta

Don Antonio calls it "a new way of producing in an absolutely eco-friendly way," also inspired by deep reflection on Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato si'. Three hundred and fifty hectares of land: around fifty with avocados, olives, and goji berries, and the rest entirely devoted to the cultivation of pomegranates.

Harvesting pomegranates
Harvesting pomegranates

"We take care of the entire supply chain," says Dario De Lisi, sales and marketing manager of Masseria Fruttirossi: "the production in the field, following all the agronomic steps, from planting the seeds to the field management of the orchard, the harvest and then — thanks to the warehouses and processing facilities — the product is processed within hours of harvest in different ways. We serve both the fresh fruit market and the transformation processes through pressing and obtaining 100% pure pomegranate juice".

Sustainable production

Years of work since 2014 and significant investments allow for a production that today is "totally natural" with a certification by Friend of the Earth - Zero Residue. De Lisi says "our production has no chemical residue and we carry out sustainable processes, starting from the field where we manage to achieve a fairly significant water conservation, since we manage irrigation in an automated way with a system that starts irrigation only when it is necessary, when the plant actually needs it." He adds that "the concept of the short supply chain that we follow is already in itself an expression of sustainability, since the fruit is processed in the same area it is harvested, so there is a low environmental impact in terms of CO2 emissions as transport is practically non-existent."

The photovoltaic and irrigation systems of Masseria Fruttirossi
The photovoltaic and irrigation systems of Masseria Fruttirossi

The farm also aims at energy self-sufficiency with a 750kW photovoltaic system mounted on the roofs of the warehouses. During the phases of juice extraction from pomegranates, "everything that comes after the pressing is not treated or disposed of as waste, but is processed through a worm composting plant. Basically, earthworms consume these processing residues and so in a natural way from the digestion of these residues, we obtain humus that we then use as a fertilizer".

Agriculture, income, and jobs

On the occasion of the Social Week, Fr. Panico emphasizes that, "we want to be able to offer some good practices”. For the company in Castellaneta, De Lisi adds that sustainability can be combined in an "environmental, economic and resulting social" way, highlighting the fact that the company operates in an area, especially around Taranto, "were large and heavy industry has always dominated. Therefore, when we speak of the green economy, we can point to healthy and sustainable agriculture capable of creating income and jobs".

19 October 2021, 09:51