In 1996, in Serra de’ Conti in the Marche region, a group of friends with a passion for farming and the traditions of their land founded La Bona Usanza (“The Good Use”) cooperative. Their goal is to save products at risk of extinction, like the cicerchia.
To recover the history and the culture that they represent and return to the “good use” of times past.
The history of this adventure is told by Marco Simonetti: “When we started this project, La Bona Usanza was a simple association. A simple group of friends with a passion for farming practiced with respect for the environment and the traditions of our land. All this – not just the cicerchia – risked being lost.”
Betting on cicerchia
Marco continues: “We’ve always thought that the food here was an integral part of our identity. The food tells the history of so many generations, the way they supported themselves over the centuries. We’ve always shared the Slow Food values and with the same noble aims we started to work to recover what we call “the flavors of memory”. The cicerchia was the first bet we placed, so to speak. A legume with ancient origins that risked disappearing.”
Called the bread of the poor, the Serra de’ Conti cicerchia is a food that’s been at the base of the food pyramid for lots of farmers during hard times. Rich in calcium, phosphorous, protein, starches and lots of vitamins, it’s healthy, nutritious and complete. Its story goes back centuries, but by the 1950s it had almost been lost. That was until La Bona Usanza started growing it again.
Since 1997, at the end of November every year, the cooperative organizes a feast for the cicerchia. A way to celebrate, to raise awareness of this food and show the different ways it can be cooked and eaten. Today this product, thanks to careful research and effort to promote it, is a Slow Food Presidium know much further afield.
Fig lonzino, grape honey, verjuice: recovery beyond the cicerchia
But La Bona Usanza isn’t limited to just cicerchia; continuing with the theme of recovering traditions through promoting local delicalies like grape honey (or sapa), verjuice, quarantino cornflour and fig lonzino, another Slow Food Presidium.
Marco tells us of a typical Marche dessert: “Fig lonzino is known as the anti-waste dessert around here. The recipe comes from farmers of the past who didn’t want to waste the enormous quantities of ripe figs around. There were always too many after the harvest in September, so the farmers invented a dessert to conserve these delicious fruits: a paste of figs, nuts, almonds and star anise. For decades it was a protagonist on our tables, but today it’s rather rare to find it. Restoring value to the story of this “good use” of the Marche and keeping this tradition alive is an important commitment for our business.
Communicating the product
Sharing the stories of these traditions through oft-neglected products and bring them to other regions is not easy. We ask Marco how La Bona Usanza chooses to communicate and share its value: “Over the years, but from the beginning, we’ve taken every opportunity. Markets, Salone del Gusto, any initiative where there was the opportunity to let people taste our products. To explain them and tell their stories is an “added value” beyond what we do in the field.”
Doing this in person, meeting clients face-to-face and sharing our values: it’s the simplest and most beautiful way to communicate our food. But today this isn’t enough. “To reach even further and even more people, we need to use technology, telling our story through images and words on social media and our website, giving our products to influencers with an attentive following.”
Marco concludes: “This sad and painful period that we’ve been going through with Covid-19 has taught us the necessity of finding new ways to stay connected; to employ new strategies so we can feel close even when there’s distance, and continue our working life. During the first lockdown we created our Instagram page. We took advantage of this terrible time to find new energy, to reinvent ourselves.”
La Bona Usanza shows us it’s possible to keep traditions of the past and the identity of a place alive all while facing the challenges of our age.
by Carolina Meli, firstname.lastname@example.org