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A farmer’s market, and more! discovered in Northern Rome

20 May

One of the most pleasurable ways to develop an intimate relationship with a place is to explore a farmer’s market and meet the people who grow our nourishment with their own hands. So imagine my joy when I stumbled across this hidden & unique gem in the northern outskirts of Rome as I was cycling in Parco Regionale Urbano di Aguzzano.

Actually in Rome

It had all the features of the most innovative farmer’s markets.  Indigenous wildflower garden, check.  Solar panels, check. Wonderful local produce and products. Dogs and bikes. Check, check and check. And something you don’t get to see at farmer’s markets in Canada – local, organic wine!

Wildflower garden

Organic wines

But there’s even more to this bucolic oasis on the outskirts of Rome, which to my surprise was mainly populated by students.

I stopped to talk with Lucia, a friendly vendor selling wonderful local honey and whimsical beeswax candles scented with, of course, 100% organic essential oils.

Lucia & her Mom

Originally from Romania, she now shares her talents and passion for natural health and wellness with the lucky residents of Rome. Lucia graciously told me the history of this unique place.

It used to be a farm over a hundred years ago, and the building that dominates the site still features the feeding troughs for cattle.  Over time, the farm was abandoned and became the haunt of rebellious teenagers and outcasts.  Bad things happened here, Lucia remarked darkly.

But eventually the mayor of Rome stepped in and injected new life, creating Il Centro di Cultura Ecologica (the Centre of Ecological Culture).  The mission?  To “achieve a high level cultural center dedicated to issues relevant to environment and ecological culture,” engaging the local community, educators, farmers, artists and environmentalists. The barn was transformed into a library filled with donated books.  Its restored, bright interior was full of students on this Saturday, dedicating their energy to the study of sustainability & ecology.

All these Italian students learning how to create a sustainable future. Cool.

It’s easy to get discouraged sometimes pondering the local attitude toward the environment in Rome.  That a place like this exists in Rome makes me happy and gives me hope; especially as I contemplate my little bounty of beeswax candles.

Lucia’s beeswax candles

The organic farmer’s market (il MercatoBIO di Aguzzano) runs every 3rd Saturday of the month. It’s probably a little out of your way, but bring your bike or picnic blanket and make a day of enjoy this gorgeous environment. Just follow this path between the pines! Or, bring your bike on the Metro B to the Rebibbia station and find Via Fermo Corni.

How to get to MercatoBIO di Aguzzano (the best way): turn left a the lotus pond, head up the hill and turn right at the umbrella pine.

Coming to a supermarket near you? Mafia-Free Pasta

15 May

As North American consumers, we have become increasingly aware of ethical considerations of the food and products we consume,  and the impact they have – not only on our bodies when we consume them, but the communities that produce them.

More and more labels document this trend and support our desire to chose products with a more positive environmental, health and social impact – organic food; locally sourced produce; fair trade coffee & chocolate; biodynamic wines; chemical-free cosmetics (gratuitous plug for LAVISH Rose Creme); to name just a few.

Shopping in Rome last week I saw something new…

…That’s right: Mafia-Free Pasta.  It  seemed comical…it reminded me of Alessandro’s story about his father’s friend who raised beef cattle.  When it came time to sell the cattle, the farmer would give the cattle salt licks, and afterwards would allow the cattle to drink as much water as they could consume – increasing the weight, and sale price drastically.

But further research showed Mafia-Free Pasta was no laughing matter. There is an interesting story in the UK Guardian here on the topic. According to the article, “over 80% of Sicilian businesses pay pizzo (protection money) to the mafia including hotels, restaurants and cafes.” A growing number of small Italian producers are taking a stand against the pressure imposed by the mafia in agricultural regions of Italy, and the wheat for this pasta was actually grown on land seized from a jailed mafia kingpin.  In past years the local mafia has waged a reign of terror against any local business who did not pay the pizzo, or caused interference in illegal activities – so this is a remarkable stand for a group of courageous business owners.

In North America, we tend to have a somewhat romanticized vision of the mafia from movies like The Godfather; the truth is that the mafia has had a devastating impact on southern Italian families and communities. if you are traveling to Sicily, look out for businesses that are members of “Addiopizzo” literally “goodbye protection money” or “Libero Futuro” to put your money where your values are.  The later organization is named after Libero Grassi, “a local pyjama maker who publicly refused to pay pizzo and was gunned down in 1991.” Hopefully some of these Mafia-Free products will start to reach our supermarkets in Canada & the US, and we can support this Italian-grown ethical food movement.

A New Quartiere

9 May

We made a luxurious start to the week with a Monday AM visit to Dr. Anthony, a network spinal care practitioner in Rome.  I’ve been receiving network spinal care in Toronto for 2 months but this experience took it to a whole new level.  I feel like I have a new, lighter body.  It’s also gratifying to see his successful practice up and running here, as it encourages me to be confident in establishing my own reiki practice here in Rome.  If  readers know of a source for lightweight portable massage/reiki tables in Rome please let me know!

After floating out of Dr. Anthony’s office, Alessandro brought me to a market where local Romans shop for bargains, located along Via Sannio next to the San Giovanni metro station, at the start of the Via Appia Nuova. It would not have been out-of-place in the back alleys of Bangkok or Taipei, except for the gorgeous Italian-made leather jackets and shoes for amazing prices amongst all the knock-off t-shirts and purses. And looming over the market is the Basilica di San Giovanni, originally built in 314 AD by Rome’s first Christian emperor Constantine.  Vendors were starting to pack their wares around 1 PM – for lunch or for the day, I’m not sure, so best to get the shopping out-of-the-way in the morning.  Definitely a “keep your eye on your wallet” kind of vibe here. After all the exertion of shopping for a new leather wallet, we stopped into Caffe Sannio for a caffe. The barista asked if we would like the caffe served al vetro; “on the glass,” which Alessandro explained was a typically Roman method of serving coffee (espresso) in what is essentially a shot glass, and that it allegedly tastes better.  To me, glass vs. porcelain seemed like a minute difference — but it was indeed incredibly smooth coffee!

On the way home (on the back of a scooter, Roman-style), Alessandro brought me to a neighborhood I had never heard of, but I would definitely recommend to anyone who wants to explore off Rome’s beaten track and experience something beyond the tourist guides!  The area, called Quartiere Coppedé, is located in the posh Roman district of Trieste.  It is full of an unusual mix of architectural styles and breath-taking villas in a shady, luxurious neighbourhood.  My pictures aren’t great because I was shooting from the back of a speeding scooter; but I will definitely return on a little walking tour in the near future. The district would be within walking distance from the Borghese Museum.  And judging from Google Maps,  there are a lot of places to stay in the area.  So many friends and family have been asking for accommodation recommendations, I am going to investigate accommodation options this area as it’s gorgeous, out of the regular tourist crush and within reasonable distance of the centro.