Ex-Mafia Land Becomes Co-Op Farms

Land previously owned by some of southern Italy’s most ruthless Mafia bosses has been co-opted…and is now serving as cooperative farms, turning out pasta, wine, and olive oil under the label Libera Terra, or “Free Land.” The group of farmers owes the opportunity to work the land to Don Luigi Ciotti, a priest who collected a million signatures to get the Italian parliament to allow land previously owned by the Mafia to be turned over to the Italian people for “socially useful purposes.” But the farms, which grow products marketed as “from lands freed from the Mafia,” weren’t immediately embraced by residents. “When we first started, nobody from the towns nearby wanted to come and thresh our wheat,” said the cooperative’s vice chairwoman, Francesca Massimino. “Cultivating seized land was something unprecedented, and people didn’t want to be seen as working for us.” Eventually, however, the Italian people got behind the project and started buying the collective’s products. “In the early days, our customers would buy a pack of pasta [just because they] wanted to help,” said Francesco Galante, spokesman for the cooperative. “Our aim is to secure a faithful clientele which will stick to our products because of their quality.”