Where did you last do your grocery shopping?
Chances are, you probably went to a supermarket–I know I did, and so did many Italians. In 2016, there were some 30,000 supermarkets in Italy, and that number has only grown since.
Traditionally, Italians did their shopping at mercati rionali, open neighborhood markets usually held in the main square or church plazas. But as modern grocery stores entered the scene, Italians (like so many others around the globe) began leaving behind handwritten price signs for digitally printed posters.
To counter this trend, Campagna Amica is an Italian foundation that reconnects consumers with local farmers by bringing farmers into cities to sell directly to the urban population. The foundation was founded by Coldiretti (Italy’s farmers union) in 2008, and in 2009 they established the first urban farmer’s market: Rome’s Circo Massimo market.
Inside Circo Massimo market’s modern, well-lit space, there are dozens of stands selling fruits, vegetables, oils, and other delicacies. Campagna Amica stands by their “KM0” philosophy, meaning that their products are sold within 250km of where it is made. (For smaller regions like Lazio, that distance is only about 150km.) And the best part? The foods are sold directly by the people who produced, planted, or baked them. That means the woman cutting your cheese knows what kind of milk was used, and the man slicing your porchetta can tell you just how it was roasted. Open only on weekends, the market regularly attracts locals and tourists alike to buy Lazio’s regional specialties.
I first heard about Campagna Amica on a tour of the Circo Massimo market, and immediately loved their philosophy of promoting local products and fostering relationships between farmers and consumers. Today, Campagna Amica’s network includes over 1200 markets, 170 stores, and 1500 agriturismi (agrotourisms such as farmhouses which rent out rooms to tourists). These numbers speak for how successful Campagna Amica is, and to learn more about their story, I reached out to one of the cofounders of the Circo Massimo market: Pietro Hausmann.
Read on for our interview, where Pietro shares what makes Campagna Amica so special, and how it’s changing lives for customers, farmers, and tourists alike!
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
You founded the Circo Massimo market in 2009 with 2 other cofounders. What do you remember from that time?
One of the first things that shocked me was when Roman locals came in and asked for typical Italian products that are not produced in this region. They asked for Parmiggiano Reggianno or typical Italian coffee, but that’s not produced in Lazio. They’re used to finding everything at supermarkets, but you can’t find everything at our markets.
Some people might compare Campagna Amica markets to Italy’s mercati rionali, traditional neighborhood markets with individual stands selling produce and goods. What’s the difference between the two?
In the “popular” markets (what we call mercati rionali), you can find products that you get at supermarkets. Like Nestle, Kellogg–you’ll find them at popular markets just because people ask for them. The difference between Campagna Amica farmer’s markets and supermarkets is the quality of products, and the fact that in our markets, the farmer is behind the stand, not a seller. [Mercati rionali stands are usually run by third-party buyers who purchase in bulk from farms, then bring the produce into cities to sell.]
With the farmer’s markets, we cut out the middle sellers and bring the farmers directly to the market. That’s why we do the markets on Saturdays and Sundays, so the farmers have time to work during the week.
How does bringing farmers directly to the market, without the intermediate step, affect the quality of products?
We’re able to sell at what we call the “right” price, because it is a little bit expensive compared to the supermarket, but the quality is incomparable. Most of the people who come to the markets tell me, “It’s fantastic. When I buy products and put it in the fridge after 3 or 4 days, it’s still perfect. When I buy from the supermarket, after 3 days, they’re spoiled. So I have to spend time and re-buy products. Here, I buy once a week.”
For consumers, it’s more convenient. So people come on the weekends and leave with lots of bags.
What’s it like for farmers to join Campagna Amica?
Before 2008, they were in crisis. Without any money, they were selling to big chains. Now, they have an address book of customers and with one post on Whatsapp, they can invite all their customers to the markets and buy their products.
Most importantly, the farmers can interact with their customers. The farmers can explain their activities, suggest products, recipes, and combinations. Putting them in front of each other is fantastic.
Campagna Amica turns 11 this year. What’s next?
Our challenge is to create more indoor markets, because normally Italian markets are done in plazas rented from the government. We want to have a building so consumers and farmers have services like water, electricity, and toilets. We want consumers to not just shop from their list, but rather spend time inside. Buildings are more attractive, healthy, and easy to find. And we can use the kitchen to show how to make typical dishes.
Our goal is to have an indoor market in every city of Italy.
Besides local residents, do Campagna Amica markets also attract visitors?
Yes, even tourists are starting to know what Italian food really is. When an American first comes to Italy, he only knows: pasta, pizza, Parmesan, and… what else?
(Laughs) Yes, gelato. When you go to the Campagna Amica farmers’ market, you don’t even see pasta and pizza. You see cheeses, meats, and many types of fruits and vegetables. The funny thing is when I explain the difference between products that look the same—they [the tourists] are mind-blown! We have like 1000 types of apples, of cheeses, aged cheeses, from light ones to gorgonzola.
A cheese produced in Latina, with the same ingredients, is different from a cheese produced in Frosinone. Because the method is different. The mozzarella in Benevento is one type, another type in Avellino, another in Casseto. There’s not just one type of pecorino either… This biodiversity is what fascinates tourists. You can taste the difference!
Ready to discover Italy’s regional, authentic foods and support farmers? Find the Campagna Amica market nearest you!