Agricoop supplies us with citrus fruits (including the ever-popular blood oranges), tomatoes, peppers, kiwis, avocados, and recently, olive oil and juices. Supply tends to be between November and May, through the citrus season. You might recognise the I Frutti del Sole (‘fruit of the sun’) boxes that we have our fruit & veg in. This is Agricoop’s brand.
Agricoop was started in 1992 in Marsala, Sicily, by an organic fruit grower called Filippo, and became a co-operative in 1994, the first organic co-operative in Sicily. There are now 52 grower-members of the co-operative, all over Sicily, but with a majority near to Marsala on the west coast. The total area of land within the co-op is c.450 hectares (c.1,100 acres), with members’ farms ranging from 1-2 hectares to c.20 hectares (c.50 acres).
Organic citrus production is significantly different from conventional production, firstly with regard to chemical use and secondly the waxing of fruit. Chemicals are used in conventional production for fertility building, weeding, and pest control – Filippo estimated that the average grower would apply c.50 litres per hectare around 5 or 6 times a year. Organic production uses none. Conventional citrus fruits are then waxed in order to improve shelf-life and give a more uniform appearance. Organic citrus is unwaxed and normally recommended in the wide range of recipes that use citrus zest.
A co-operative ethos
Agricoop and Unicorn have a shared outlook, in terms of food production, co-operative trade and social aims. It’s a great trading relationship to have. One of the biggest differences about Agricoop is that, because it’s a grower co-operative, trade is more direct. We know that for every €1 we spend on oranges (for example) around 60 cents goes to the grower – bearing in mind around 35 cents goes to transport & packaging, this is a high proportion finding its way back to the growers.
Future Plans for Agricoop include looking at solar panels and a mini wind turbine to power their packhouse, and researching rainwater harvesting. Water, they predict, will become an increasingly important consideration to food production in Sicily. Agricoop have also launched what they are calling their ‘social project’. This is a collaboration between Agricoop and a Marsala charity called Communita Faro – who help rehabilitate ex-offenders (especially drug users) as an alternative to them going to prison – to start a new veg production site on 20 acres as a way to provide more veg for the co-operative and to help ex-offenders gain working skills. As Filippo at Agricoop said, it’s a way ‘to put something put back into society'.
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