What Does Olive Oil Have to Do With Love?
Well, if you ask my friends Mario and Adria, they will say everything!
Mario Dodici was born and raised in Borgonovo, a small village north of Cinque Terre in Italy. He and his wife Adria met more than 20 years ago while she was on a vacation from the United States visiting her aunt, Mario’s next-door neighbor. Both Mario and Adria have deep ancestral roots in the region and share a love for the beauty and the rich cuisine that has become synonymous with Liguria. They returned together to the United States shortly after they met and resettled in Oregon. During their twenty years in the Pacific northwest, Mario started a successful tile business, an operation that grew to over 50 employees at its height. Adria worked as a teacher and eventually earned her doctorate degree in education. Their trips back to visit family in Liguria reminded them of a different way of life, one deeply rooted in the land, family, food, wine and, yes, olive oil, once a cornerstone in the region’s economy. In 2013 Adria and Mario returned to live out their dream of returning to Borgonovo.
In the hills above Borgonovo in Mezzanego, Italy, lies a small agricultural co-op that consists of a few hundred members dedicated to a way of life and agricultural heritage that has been part of this region’s identity for centuries. The co-op, Cooperativa Rurale Isola di Borgonovo, produces extra virgin olive oil, truffle oil, hazelnut products, chestnut flour, honey, cured olives, polenta and pesto. Like the vast majority of small farming town and businesses, Borgonovo and the Cooperativa have been struggling to be viable.
Mario is now the president of the Cooperativa and he is leading it with passion and immense respect for the locals’ hard work, skills, and genuine products they have been producing for several decades. Thanks to Mario’s vision, entrepreneurial experience, and dedication, this group of local farmers are reigniting interest and excitement in a resurgence of an economy based on the land—growing olives, hazelnuts, vegetable crops in a traditional way that dates back for centuries. The area has long been renowned for its beauty, traditional architecture and outstanding cuisine with food made fresh farm gardens and local markets.
Isola di Borgonovo where the co-op is located, is due north about twenty minutes from the beaches of the Mediterranean and about 45 minutes from Cinque Terre. On the winding road to Isola, three foot stone walls—terraces built during the Roman times, hold rows of olive trees, occasional gardens, and lush forests.
Mario continues to work with the community to organize an agricultural cooperative whose mission is to restore the legacy of the region’s heritage in the land. He brought together older single-family farmers and people who were interested in forming an organic Rural Cooperative where everyone is a stakeholder in the outcomes. They specialize in the production of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and a few local other products (mentioned above) many of which are exported to the USA.
Similar to the economic and social pressures felt on family farms and small communities in the United States, Italy struggles against a tide of influence from multi-national corporations and vast agribusiness. These trends have put substantial strain on local farmers and rural Italy. The statistics are stark—according to the Italian agency Legambiente, Italy has nearly 6,000 villages with less than 5,000 people and almost half of those villages face both a population and economic crisis. What is less talked about or known outside of Italy are the real struggles of single-family farmers who can no longer afford to cultivate their land, raise their crops and survive doing it as they have done for centuries. Given current trends, it is expected that within the next 20 years, as older people pass away and younger ones emigrate, many villages will be left almost completely deserted.
What is the real danger? As the previous generations of those who were once connected deeply to the land and its rich traditions move on or pass away, the knowledge and the ways of living risk becoming extinct.
Spurred on by reviving the long-neglected form of agriculture that was part of the fabric of this region, the tenacious little cooperative in Isola di Borgonovo is looking to change that story. It takes a clear vision and a commitment to accomplish what the co-op has done in a few short years.
Each of the products created by the co-op are an expression of love for the land, of centuries old traditions rooted in the steep terraced hills of olives, grapes and chestnuts. You know can understand better what Olive Oil has to do with LOVE at more than one level.
The co-op has formed a partnership with friends in the United States including Tad Seestedt owner of Ransom Wines and Distillery. Tad, met Mario and Adria while they were living in the United States. On several occasions Tad accompanied Mario back to Borgonovo, met members of his extended family and was immediately moved by the warmth of the people along with the beauty of the area. Ransom has become a partner in the Isola di Borgonovo co-op working as a United States distributer for their products.
I have personally been to the Cooperativa with a group of clients on one of my custom trips to Italy. We had the most memorable time visiting the coop, tasting all of their products, and cooking with them at Mario’s house with his mother. I am proud and honored to also represent their genuine products in the USA. I would be more than happy to take you there to experience it. Travel is an incredible teacher. The beauty of travel is often in the places we visit, but unmistakably the richness of travel is in experiencing the people we meet along the way, their culture, and their way of life. Spending time with Mario in Borgonovo, cooking with his family at their farm and taking in the beauty of the region, connecting with the farmers and their families are simply priceless memories awaiting to be made.
If you wish to join me on a wonderful trip to Italy, visit Mario’s Cooperative, savoring incredible food accompanied by delicious wine and have a memorable time, visit VoomaGo to find out more.
To contact Antimo directly: Antimo@voomago.com