A Food cooperative that grows beyond food
PESARO, Italy – It’s a hot, sunny, sweaty day and Filippo Ferri has been working in the field harvesting and cleaning the onions and lettuce for about three hours. Ready for a break, he changes into a fresh set of clothes. “I enjoy picking up the vegetables from the fields and then cleaning them off,” Filippo says. “It is rewarding for me because, once I have finished, the vegetables are transported to the store and I know I accomplished my task.”
Filippo Ferri works for the social food cooperative Campo Base in Pesaro, Italy. He is one of the persone svantaggiate, the Italian phrase for disadvantaged persons, who are employed here as an integral part of the food growing and retail selling operations of the cooperative. “I wanted to give the right to work to those who society doesn’t give the possibility to work otherwise,” says Campo Base co-founder, Antonio Russo. But, as Russo explains, the motivation extends beyond employment to also providing consumers with organic foods that are grown locally and in an environmentally sustainable way
The tasks that the mentally or physically disadvantaged workers complete on a daily basis may seem simple to the onlooker. However, their efforts at harvesting, cleaning, transporting, and selling the produce enables them to gain confidence in themselves and with others. “I find it harder to socialize with people I don’t know”, says Filippo. “Since I have been here, it has helped me be open and more comfortable socializing.”
Emanuele Cuccitto, who educates workers like Filippo, plays a major role in their personal growth: “I help them and follow them while they are working and try to make them feel comfortable in what they are doing.” Both Emanuele and Antonio previously worked at T41”A”, a social cooperative classified as type A that “provides various activities of pre-employment, arts and crafts, play recreation, socialization and integration to those who are disadvantaged.” Type A cooperatives cannot, by law, pay the people they train. Antonio wanted to create an environment where disadvantaged workers could be paid for their efforts. With this goal in mind, he co-founded Campo Base in 2008. “In the city of Pesaro there are not many type B cooperatives who work with the people who have a physical or mental handicap, about four or five.” Type B cooperatives are legally allowed to train and pay their workers: type A cooperatives provide skill and social training without compensation.
“I enjoy working here because of the people I work with and the customers,” says Rossella Petrucci, a physically disadvantaged worker at the Campo Base retail store. “It also makes me self-confident and happy.” Before Rossella started working at the store, she stayed at home. This job has given her the chance to form new relationships–including one with volunteer Antonella Omiccioli. Antonella has been volunteering at Campo Base for three years. Even though Antonella works at other paying jobs she says, “I come here because I am happy working with those who need help.” Whether Antonella is re-arranging the produce or checking out a customer, Rossella is by her side grinning with admiration.
Campo Base collaborates with the City of Pesaro to create events that enable local residents to interact with the cooperative’s workers. Last month they held a tasting event featuring their own harvested crops, and local organic and fair trade products sold in their store. “It is a great opportunity for the citizens of Pesaro to see a different reality from their own and to understand and respect those who are disadvantaged,” Antonio says.
Campo Base is affiliated with organizations that follow the Km0 or Kilometro Zero (Food Kilometer Zero) philosophy of promoting food that is produced, sold, and eaten locally. The growing movement is similar to the expansion of local farmers markets in the United States. Km0 started in Italy with the goal, among others, to reduce transportation costs and limit environmental pollution. Campo Base’s adherence to those principles as well as organic food production is gaining attention and respect amongst its workers and its customers. “I shop here because they are biological and genuine,” says Campo Base customer Nives Servi. “I respect their collaboration with disadvantaged people and think it is a great way for them to work and live life again.”