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La Tabacca: our house is open to everyone

This article is published in the number 24-25 of Vanity Fair on newsstands until June 20, 2023

This is an ecological transition story, but it is above all the story of three women and a large country house on the hills of Genoit goes. Traces of one of these women are lost in the ancestral memory that places sometimes preserve. They called her Geinin, was the matriarch of the place more than a hundred years ago and perhaps she was also a smuggler of tobacco, circulated along these paths that reach as far as Piedmont. The other two are called Giorgia Bocca and Francesca Bottero47 and 50, are two women of the present day and received the Geinin house as a gift from its latest owner, an idealistic psychiatrist from Turin named Angelo Grillowho gave it to them so that they could build their dream inside it, a feminist agro-ecology community. When they took it there was no road, there was no water, there was nothing left, it was one of the many abandoned ruins in the fragile internal areas of Italy. Francesca and Giorgia have rebuilt it bringing everything by hand, following the rules of green building, wood and straw, with the help of friends, supporters and neighbors. «One day we transported 480 bales of straw by hand, together with many local people, we invented the “balla day”, it was above all a party». When they inaugurated it, they decided to call it The Tobaccoin honor of Geinin, to whom they have also dedicated one of the syrups they produce.

Giorgia Bocca and Francesca Bottero, founders of Tabacca.

Francesca is an agricultural and forestry operator. Giorgia deals with social planning, she worked for Greenpeace and now for the binding Earth! «We come from a life of activism, and for us this house is the definitive act of activism, the attempt to have an impact on reality, to demonstrate that things can really, concretely and profoundly change», explains Georgia. It is for this reason that their story is not only beautiful and romantic, but also important to tell, «La Tabacca is a political entity that brings about a demonstrable and replicable change», Giorgia reiterates, with the passionate voice of someone who for these things – ecology, rights, inclusiveness, feminism – she has been fighting for decades and has finally found a place for them, a home, fertile soil. We still have in our eyes the images of pain in Emilia-Romagna, the photograph of a fragile, dangerous, broken country, an Italy at the heart of the climate crisis, as scientists have been telling us for a decade, the designated victim of global warming. The 21 flooded rivers in Emilia bring the echo of disasters that the Genoese hills where La Tabacca is located know well, and contain a big, challenging question: what to do to prevent the storms to come? How can this country be changed in an ecological sense? What is sustainability really?

The ecological transition in Italy has become a chimera, necessary but endlessly postponed, a diet that always starts next Monday. One of the reasons is that we always expect it to come from above, from the Pnrr, from the Green Deal, from major international agreements such as the one in Paris. But there is an equally decisive transitional piece that is built from the ground up, in places like La Tabacca, with «demonstrable and scalable» projects such as that of Francesca and Giorgia, activism that becomes practice, soil and walls. In this house on the Voltri hill they practice theagro-ecologya technique which, as the climatologist Luca Mercalli defines it in his book My vegetable garden in
sky and earth (Aboca), «it is a more scientific and systemic version of organic agriculture»cultivates the soil and manages to pass it on, without stripping it of all its resources. Almost a quarter of the emissions causing the climate crisis come from food systems, from our lunches and dinners, from how we produce what we eat. La Tabacca, in addition to mint and rose-based syrups, produces vegetables, more in summer than in winter, and then jams for cheeses. Food that does not destroy the soil. And then there is the question of energy: here too there is a replicable model of self-production, 3 kW of solar panels for electricity and heat. There is a trace for all of us: the energy drawn from fossil fuels was necessarily centralized and massive, large wells, large pipes, large power stations. The clean energy of the solar world can be spread, transmitted from the roof to the light bulb, zero kilometer electricity, such as jams and syrups. In Italy there is a silent movement from below, which started two years ago, made up of energy communities and self-consumption groups, villages, neighborhoods, companies that carry out this kind of energy photosynthesis on a small scale, they zero out emissions on their own. The eleven photovoltaic panels of the Tabacca are a sign of a future in which sustainability is not alone greenwashingthat splash of green that does not remove, rather protects the black of the fossil.

Francesca bringing her wood-fired oven up to temperature to cook pizza. Francesca has a passion for cooking, she studies, experiments and attends courses for chefs. Her dream is to combine her love for the countryside with cooking and to transform the Tabacca into a quality restaurant as well.

La Tabacca is a place where one goes to be changed, for a day or for a longer period, a sort of permanent seminar on the future. For example, Francesca and Giorgia organize the Earth schools, training courses for aspiring farmers. “We train farmers who have an activist approach, many have degrees in humanities, communication, political science, cooperation, and are looking for a different skill to stay in the world”. Even a single dosage may suffice: the 29 July La Tabacca organizes a big party open to anyone who wants to participate. «We arrive on foot, from the Genoa station, we mix the local community with curious people who come from outside, we eat pancakes with flowers together, we talk about gender agriculture (that is, attentive to the issues of equality and inequality, ed), there are workshops, markets, we spend time together, we converse, we contaminate each other». Does it seem a bit hippie, naive to you? Perhaps. Or maybe not. It’s just future planning.

Giorgia and Francesca met in Genoa in 2001, when the last great effort of political imagination in Italy was shattered in the way we remember, with the violence during the G8 meeting in July. That movement shouted: “Another world is possible.” Today, twenty years later, there is a new movement saying, as it did Vanessa Nakate in an interview with Vanity Fair a few weeks ago: «Another world is no longer only possible, it is also necessary». And if you wonder why, just talk to anyone who has spent the last few weeks in Romagna. Giorgia insists on this point, she often repeats it: «We don’t want this place to be a niche, an eco-village where we can feel good among ourselves with our values ​​and our things and forget about the world. La Tabacca for me is like the actions I did when I was at Greenpeaceor like the ones they do today Extinction Rebellion or Last generation». There is a way of doing ecology which is a secession from reality, detaching oneself from the context and living until the end of one’s days on a separate raft. It’s not ethically wrong, that way, but it’s not political, it’s a low-impact form of selfishness. And then there is that of Giorgia and Francesca, make a small ark instead of a large raft, open up to the world, its problems, the compromises it asks for, inventing recipes, making one’s creativity a common good and saying: imagine an Italy where there are ten thousand places like this. If so, who would be naïve?

The photos on these pages are part of a larger project wanted by the cooperative and ours in collaboration with the magazine Perimeter: five reporters tell five stories of energy democracy (in Voltri, Gubbio, Brindisi, Ussaramanna and Villanovaforru in Sardinia and in the Susa and Lanzo valleys). The aim: to reduce the gap between the European Green Deal and its transposition on the Italian territory.

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A dinner with friends;

An old treehouse for birdwatchers.

Two of the four dogs adopted by the two women

Monica, a collaborator

Giorgia works smartworking from the kitchen.

Source: Vanity Fair

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