SAFFRON CULTIVATION IN THE MOUNTAINS
— text and photos by Davide Torri / may 2015
The upper Brembana Valley is the upland area of the Bergamo region with the highest percentage of depopulation and offering the least work. So, more than a year ago, a work group under the guidance of the parish priest of Piazza Brembana, Don Alessandro Beghini, tried to build up a path of human, social and economic growth for the local inhabitants. And that is how a “good practice”: saffron cultivation was identified.
The idea of experimenting with saffron production in the Brembana Valley was first mooted about three years ago when two young local farmers met some saffron growers from the Abruzzo region. Saffron production in the Brembana Valley currently amounts to just a few hundred grams and cannot therefore be considered the main business for a family or a company but simply a complementary activity. There is, however, a huge potential for development, given that the demand far exceeded the 2013 and 2014 productions.
A group of families is actively involved with Zafferano OLG (the letters stand for Oltra La Goggia, indicating the area of cultivation) and is planning the future of this good practice through the creation of consortia, networks of producers and a GAS – Solidarity Buying Group. It is, however, the small actions and deeds that make this approach invaluable: meetings in the evening with land workers, the young, mothers and grandmothers, family farm enterprises and simple enthusiasts all taking part. A group of fifteen/twenty persons, who discuss cultivation methods and are prepared to work together in harmony, for example harvesting the mature flowers in place of someone who has a work commitment.
Ideas and small joint ventures have gradually taken shape and saffron has become exceedingly precious: the artisan ale Safrà produced by a brewery in the valley, saffron bread and biodynamic crackers baked in an old stone oven located in one of the most beautiful (uninhabited) districts of the valley.
The bulbs, which have been collected partly from typical Italian areas of production, such as Abruzzo and Tuscany, and partly from self-production, are slowly growing and guaranteeing better yields and productions as well as greater specific biodiversity. This variability will in the short-term help the species adapt better to the pedoclimatic conditions of the Brembana valley, to the different microclimates that exist there and to the climate change in progress.
It should also be borne in mind that the cultivation is carried out with the recovery of marginal land that would otherwise be abandoned. It also brings people together during the harvesting and stripping of flowers, with offers of mutual help and the involvement of particular groups of persons such as pupils from the local primary school and disabled children.
Now, while the bulbs rest under the snow, the Saffron OLG project continues, new families have joined the group and other mountain areas in the Bergamo region are also looking at this small activity as a good example to copy.
AKU, together with many other entities and associations, actively supports Zafferano OLG.
♦♦♦ “Saffron cultivation in the mountains” is a story written for GOOD FOR ALPS 2015, magazine of AKU trekking&outdoot footwear.
Davide Torri, teacher and founder member of the Bergamo association Gente di Montagna (www.gentedimontagna.it), has been interested for years in both the positive and negative social dynamics that develop in the Upland areas.
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