Arvaia is a CSA located in Bologna, Emilia-Romagna, in the North of Italy. Arvaia calls itself the farming cooperative of city dwellers and organic farmers (“Cooperativa agricola di cittadini e agricoltori biologici”), or “Comunità che supporta l’agricoltura” (community supported agriculture). It started in 2013, producing vegetables on 2 ha for about 100 members. It is now providing food for about 250 people and managing almost 50 hectares, where CSA members are growing vegetables, pulses, grains and aromatic herbs, for themselves as well as for selling outside the CSA. The aim is that more and more of the food produced be used by the CSA community. They have calculated that they could provide vegetables, eggs and milk to 500 neighbouring families.
Accessing land for the farm has not been easy. The process can tell a lot about potential strategies that can be successful in a situation like this, where political relationships are as important as having a solid and cohesive CSA group.
The municipality of Bologna, during the first decade of 2000, started the planning of farming and nature area (“Parco città-campagna”) just outside the city of Bologna. This area was in the neighbourhood of Borgo Panigale, in a park of about 50 ha, that had been farmed using conventional agricultural methods for many years, and had been mostly neglected by the municipality. The municipality was trying to stimulate the development of a project of social farming , but the efforts did not produce any concrete results.
In 2012, a group of people from Bologna, some of whom had farming backgrounds, got together and developed the idea of forming a CSA farm near the city, inspired by several initiatives in Europe. The idea of using the park seemed obvious.
Arvaia funders were clear they wanted to develop their project on public land. Their main motivations were to secure public land from future speculation, to return public land to the benefit of the common good, and to set an example for other cities. They soon realized that in a city like Bologna, a provincial capital with 400,000 inhabitants, without the support of the municipality it would have been impossible to start such a project on public land. This support was provided by two city councillors who decided to support the idea at institutional level.
Arvaia started to work closely with an association, Campi Aperti (open fields), that was implementing a project on access to land in Italy, following the example of Terre de Liens in France. Since the work with the municipality was taking a long time to reach a positive conclusion, in 2013 the group sub-rented 2 ha inside the area from a cooperative that was not farming it. Finally, in 2015 the municipality published a tender for the management of the whole area. This tender was won by Arvaia and since then the cooperative has been able to manage the whole 50 ha of the park, integrating the vegetable production with cereals and pulses, resulting in a wider and more sustainable crop rotation.
It is important to underline that the rent requested by the municipality is higher than the market price, and this shows that the municipality still considers the project merely as a way of making profit on the land that it owns, and not taking the benefits that a CSA in the area can give to the community into consideration.
All the efforts put into the creation of a CSA cooperative with more than 250 members over many years have resulted in the cooperative being recognised by the institutions, the local community and the national public at large. It has also become increasingly easy to dialogue with public institutions. In the last few years many people from all over Italy have visited Arvaia to understand and learn how such a project could be started elsewhere. The municipality itself has recognised the importance of the project: they have leased a small piece of land in another part of the city to a group of citizens, suggesting they use the Arvaia model as a reference.
This case study is included in the study Access to Land and CSA: stories from Europe, 2017
Organic farmers from the CSA project