July 17, 2013

Italian entrepreneur drives the extra mile for local organic cause

Leo Horrigan, MHS

Leo Horrigan, MHS

CLF Correspondent

Center for a Livable Future

Le Colombaie Bio - Siena, Italy

This is a “misery loves company” story. Among U.S. food system junkies a common lament is that there aren’t enough local small-scale producers to match the burgeoning demand for food of this ilk. Nor enough transport infrastructure to support all things small and beautiful. Nor enough coordination among the parts as regional food systems struggle to emerge.

And so on…

During my family’s Tuscan wanderings last week we met a young artful Italian entrepreneur who can relate to all of that. Stefano Paganelli is a farmer, wholesaler, retailer and transporter of food. When we visited his colorful specialty food market on Via del Paradiso in Siena, Italy, he told us he had just spent a 24-hour period traversing 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) worth of rural Tuscany in his 20-foot van, buying produce from sundry small farms that are bereft of transport capacity to send the stuff to him, instead. He does these kinds of excursions every Monday and Thursday.

No doubt Stefano realizes he cannot provide the requisite food system glue all by his onesies, but perhaps he’ll consent to being a one-man stopgap until more passionate foodie entrepreneurs like himself rush in where ordinary capitalists fear to tread.

Stefano Paganelli on the farm

Stefano’s Siena store — Le Colombaie Bio  — is small but packed with regional produce, including some of the harvest from his own farm. Heirloom tomatoes, berries, apricots, nectarines, and assorted greens and vegetables compete for a shopper’s attention. There are also regionally produced grains, pastas, wines, beers, meats and cheeses on display, along with packaged organic products.

Being an Italian who is passionate about food distinguishes Stefano about as much as being an Englishman who loves beer, but what differentiates him is his devotion to food that is regional and organic, and whatever it takes to grow these markets.

“This is a traditional organic shop, not an industrial organic shop,” he stressed.

In fractured English, Stefano related to me his troubles with processing his farm’s tomatoes into a bottled sauce. He believes his organic Altrapolpa tomato sauce “is the future of my business.”

But, the industrial processors wouldn’t touch his product because he was considered too small-scale to be worth their while.

“I begged them for a year before they finally said OK,” he said. But, there were conditions. He had to wait until all of the industrial farms’ output had been processed before he could have his turn, in September. Even then, the processor had a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” attitude.

This all rings too painfully familiar, but at least “traditional organic” producers in the U.S. can take some small comfort in having another comrade in Tuscany.

Photos: Le Colombaie Bio, 2013.

One Comment

  1. I enjoyed reading this. Some of our customers 100+ miles each week to go to grocery stores where they can buy safe quality food (if they are unable to get it from us). There are so few farms around here that produce food naturally and organically that they feel they have no choice. And with more and more people discovering the advantages of eating real food, it seems that sometimes (especially this year–thanks to crazy weather) there just isn’t enough quality local food to go around. But this increase in demand is encouraging and I believe the future of agriculture will be with ethical small scale producers, like Stephano.

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