Volunteers at Libera Terra’s Centopassi winemaking co-operative in Sicily
The Sicilian village of San Giuseppe Jato does not look like a war zone. It dozes in the hills above Palermo, amid dusty olive groves and rolling fields of wheat. On long afternoons the local carabinieri leave the caretakers in charge of the police station and the dogs in charge of the empty streets.
This is mafia country, although mob violence is rare. Yet San Giuseppe Jato is also the headquarters of Libera Terra, an agricultural organisation at the vanguard of Italy’s anti-mafia movement. Many of the area’s crops and vineyards are Libera’s. Its packets of pasta are labelled “mafia-free”; each of its wines bears the name of a mob victim.
As you might expect, the choice of location caused friction. “The first year we tried to harvest the vines our fields were burned and our tractors stolen,” one Libera activist told me. Yet the organisation had to set up here; every acre it farms is confiscated mafia land, handed over by the state. The site of Libera’s Centopassi winemaking co-operative belonged to the mob boss Giovanni “the Swine” Brusca, until his 1997 conviction for murdering a judge. Libera volunteers have turned the nearby villa of the jailed Toto Riina, “the boss of bosses,” into an eco-tourist bed and breakfast.
The anti-mafia food revolution hasn’t happened overnight. Libera Terra was founded in 1995 by priest Don Luigi Ciotti. The organisation helped sponsor a law, passed in 1996, under which property seized from the mafia is distributed to local communities to promote social growth and development. Despite co-operatives in Campania, Calabria and Puglia, Libera manages less than half of the confiscated land. But in Italy, the anti-mafia label shares the same cachet as organic, fair trade or GM-free food. In the last financial year, Libera’s turnover was €4m and a handful of small shops in Britain now stock its produce.
In a café in Palermo, I met Edoardo Zaffuto, co-founder of another anti-mafia collective, Addiopizzo. Zaffuto protects restaurants, bars and other businesses from pizzo collection (protection money). “Some people still think you can find a compromise with the mafia. There’s a feeling it would be un-Sicilian to abolish them,” he said, lamenting how many businesses were still in the mob’s pocket.
You don’t have to look far to see evidence. In the run-down neighbourhood of Vucciria, most shops have given up trading…