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Starting a new permaculture farm in Italy, dream or reality  RSS feed

 
Lorenzo Costa
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Location: Italy, Siena, Gaiole in Chianti zone 9
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Starting a new permaculture farm in Italy

I have the land but no more money. Well I can’t explain all the details of the project but will outline some aspects.

I have 5.6 hectares in Italy, Tuscany, Chianti. Someone could think wow Chianti famous for wine, it’s true but we actually live here and it’s not all wine producers and rich country houses. I work in university as a laboratory technician, even though I studied history, oh my paycheck is of 1.200 euros per month but I have to pay the rent of my house, my partner earns just a bit more than me. At 37 I decided to change and buy this piece of land. I got a loan for 30.000 euros for covering the purchase and could not handle another one. So how do I start? Well I have been thinking about it and have to discuss two points first.

In Italy to become a farmer you have to the majority of your income from the land but now I can’t leave my job, and couldn’t cause I have two children. I could go in part-time and will when I will be able to start working on the land. The point is that if I bring down to the bone, we say this in Italy, my project I would need another 30.000 euros to start. For start I mean buying a tractor, fencing part of the land, digging a well and planting some fruit trees and seeds. I don’t have water on the land but I would like to harvest rain water but again I would have to have the money to pay for earthworks or buy a little excavator. The idea is to have annual veggies, and perennials too, use the woodland I have which is mostly oaks even using the acorns, and plant nut trees and fruit trees, have chickens and pigs, and then donkey’s for working. There are a 150 olive trees that are producing good olive oil but this year the weather has been horrible and there aren’t many olives. The olive oil I could sell well, if I produce enough but won’t make up much of the money I need. The tractor is just for the first years, to speed up some work on the land. At the end I would like to build my house on the land, but that will come eventually one day, for now I live at 5 minutes from my piece of land.

Italy is in a quite severe crisis bank and private loans are prohibitive as for the interests they ask. The other thing I found out, but actually I wasn’t to surprised, is that banks don’t care if you want to plant and grow food they want to know when you will have an income that can pay back what they gave you! When I went to my bank to speak of the project they were enthusiastic, I had two my age workers really happy of my project and interested in permaculture, they loved the fact I wanted to change my life, ecc., but at the end told me well maybe if you start then, we can come and help you out afterwards for specific needs with loans but you have to give us some guarantees, and you would not earn anything at the beggining. The thing then is that actually I don’t want to be indebted with banks.

Ok I won’t despair and decided to think about crowdfunding. But if I can’t open the farm as a farmer officially how do I ask someone to help me financing my project? And how can I ask people around the world, expecting to have people around the world interested in my project help me? What can I give back to them, vegetables? No too far. I vision my project as a local market farm I don’t want my tomatoes, or tomato salsa to have a carbon footprint that’s like a giants footprint

The last option I am thinking about is to ask friends and neighbors close by, form a community market, don’t how you call them in English, to help me. Giving, let’s say, a 100 euros, they will have in change some vegetables and olive oil for the next two/three years. I have to do some maths to see how much vegetables and oil I would have to give back to my funders. Let’s say though 100 euros per 200 people it’s 20.000 euros. If I think that maybe someone will give more and someone less I can sum up that total. Can it work? My partner says that in this moment of crisis how can you think that someone gives you a 100 euros for something that will be given back in two years. She’s very practical and doesn’t believe too much in crowdfunding.

I don’t know how things work in the States, and how you manage to start a farm that gives a decent living without savings. I see many projects that start with crowdfunding in the States and guess that you have a more stable culture towards these methods of credit. I guess I am quite mad to want to do all of this without savings but you will never change your life if you wait to have all in place will you?

Sorry I know I don’t use any appropriate financial terms. I’m posting the thread hoping that Elisabeth and Eric can give me some help. I don’t worry about winning the tickets I could never afford the journey to the States anyway, but would like some help and advice.

Does anyone have ideas or other options?
 
William James
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Location: Northern Italy
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Lorenzo Costa wrote:
In Italy to become a farmer you have to the majority of your income from the land but now I can’t leave my job, and couldn’t cause I have two children.


I don't think that's true. What you become when you earn the majority of your income from the land is a 'coltivatore diretto' which gives you rights that other people like 'imprenditori agricoli (IA)' and 'imprenditori agricoli professionali (IAP)' don't have, mainly concerning construction rights, since you can logically claim that you need your home next to your land.

You can become a farmer with 50 euros, the opening of a partita iva, and by following the regulations pertinent to that type of farmer, which are essentially two: maintain a list of suppliers and clients and maintain a list of your sales, both of which you produce at the end of the year. If you have land you probably enter that in your 730 and pay a small property tax (daminali). As this type of farmer (IA) you have a limit of 7,000 euros of direct income per year, income that is taxed but is compensated equally to the tax. Once you go out of the 'regime di esonero,' of 7,000 euros, you must register as a agricultural business with the chamber of commerce and pay a small fee per year. There might be a few more burdens when doing that, but nothing extraordinary or excluding to a small farmer. The bar is really set low in italy for becoming a farmer, so lack of success in this arena is nearly zero to do with bureaucracy.

If you haven't already, you should really pay a visit or two to the Confagricoltura (CIA) or Coldiretti in your area, who are extremely helpful in orienting small farmers in pursuing their goals. We were amazed by their knowledge of the sector and their ability to give us the information we needed to start. Everything I wrote here came from our meetings with them.

I think your biggest problem is that you've overextended yourself on the purchase of agricultural land and now you don't have access to that form of energy to build and maintain the land. One tactic would be to change the form of energy to build and maintain the land, which could mean getting people onto the land and building and maintaining it with you (rete of italian permaculture). There are people who want to work land who don't have access to land. You could be that access that they are looking for. Another would be to find another form of financing (I'm suspicious of crowdfunding as well, but who knows, it might work). One thing to think about with crowdfunding -- do you personally know a few people who can build up the base of funds needed to get other people interested in finishing the funding project?

Personally, and I realize this is after the fact, but I would have rented land and used the 30,000 loan to buy all the things I needed to work the land (machines, trees, plants, seeds, gasoline). Here in Lombardia it's rare that the people working the land actually own it, since the cost per square meter is so high. I am actually swimming in land gifted to me by landowners in the hopes that i would just 'do something' with it. And I'm putting trees and other perennials on that land. The idea that you need to own land to farm is a myth. It would be great if I could own the land, but that's just not happening. Plus I'll be dead some day so, in the end, who cares.

The other suggestion I could offer is to build the equity through you and your partner's job that, little by little, year by year, gives you the things you need to farm professionally. In the meantime you can build and enhance all the skills you need to begin farming. Personally I'm working on grafting this winter. How is your skill set and what skills are you missing that you could build while you're waiting for money to accumulate?

The suggestions that were given to me :
A) Start small and build. Small and long-term action builds up over time.
B) Find the people who need you and collaborate with them. (hasn't worked out for me so far)
C) Start with what you have and maximize your ability to do that before moving on to more difficult things (Olives and Acorns and potentially other things, in your case)

My experience with the surrounding community has lead me to believe that finding the key to open that relationship (for a million reasons) is very difficult. Eggs work well, people love eggs (and meat). People don't like vegetables very much, and most people in rural areas already have access to vegetables via their nonno or their zio who has a garden. Vegetables have not worked out well for us at all in terms of establishing a connection with the surrounding community.

Another thing: is there anything non-mechanical like sheep, chickens, donkeys, pigs that can help you work your land and also give you money. Invest in those. Seriously, chickens are 3 euros a head and do an amazing job at pooping and disturbing land.

Another thing: If your goal is to farm conventionally with very little start-up money, you will be fighting an uphill battle. There are so many creative solutions to the problem of 'gathering money' that 99.9% of conventional farmers wouldn't even consider, which means you can have whole markets to yourself.

We should discuss this more directly, dato che siamo tutte e due in una barca molto simile.
PM me if you're interested in skype or something. We can talk in italian.

Ciao,
William
 
William James
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ps: I don't have an excavator, but I have a friend that has an excavator. That makes a huge difference, since my land gets earth-works for free vegetables and eggs once in a while. Getting a friend who owns an excavator was hugely effective, much more so than trying to own one.
William
 
Lorenzo Costa
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to become a farmer is quite easy thats true I never said it's impossible.the problem is what comes with that once you decide to become one or another. we have two types of farmers in Italy: one is the "coltivatore diretto" that unitl he stays under 7000 euros per year can have very little taxes to pay on what he sells. but the CD has to pay 2800 euros per year of taxes for being a CD. the Imprenditore agricolo professionale has different taxes on his sells, and pays 2400 euros for being a IAP. so in anyway if you start you have to be sure to have at least that money to pay for your position every year. if you become a IAP you have to have even what in Italy we call the hours of work on your land. this means you have a list of hours per hectar for everything you can produce that is different. your total hours for being a IAP are 1600 hours, but if you live in a disadvantaged county they are half, only 800 hours. i have the hours so i could become a IAP or even just be a CD, thats not the problem. i have a work and i would not leave it before i am sure that i can make a living out of my land. so wanting to keep both if i were to become a IAP i would have to earn anyway more then half of my income from the land, of course i can become for a start a CD and that will be the idea.

ok lets get past that and focus on the rest. of the 5.6 hectares 3 are of woodland and that means already that froma next year i will not pay for my heating wood, thats 600 euros that i earn not buying my wood. this fall I will have a friend with a tractor come on the land and help plant a mixture of weeds we use to do sovescio in Italy that is beneficial plants for the land that get cut and let to decay in place used like mulch, before cutting next april I will seed again and then cut so it will be continously building up soil. I will plant some chickpeas and lentils and all that i can grow without irrigation. and of course at least the oil for me will be for sure.
In september/october I'm going to start building a small cabin 2.40x3.60m where i can keep some stuff to not keep on moving it back and forth.

the comunity i live in, in many of its components has small pieces of land where they grow some vegetables, but many of the people i have spoken to are waiting to know when i will be capable of selling something, they don't have everything and many are old in age and their youngsters don't see land as a great work even if only as a family based project. they are very interested in permaculture, from my neighbors up to the mayor of the town i live in. thats why it sort of gets to me that i can't start showing them that we could actually create a local economy not only for me but for other projects. i have been looking around and all our vegetables and fruit come from more than 70 km from where we live, thats crazy and speaking about this has made many people interested in locally growing food. we have a big difference through the year in presence of people that live here. in summer we have a lot of people that rent houses and that would be a good market too.
then there are two restaurants that are directed by firends and they are waiting too. i have been analysing many aspects that is difficult to explain briefly here.
maybe i just sometimes don't keep in mind that a lifes project is something you build in a lifes time and can't want to achieve in one or two years.

rent or buy. well it's all true that one day we will all die and so who cares, but i have two children and would like to leave them something that can give them a living and that can teach them to live in a different and more inclusive way. my elderst son loved woking with me in my garden in the old house and is really looking forward to seeing this project start. the fact i brought the land made him even think about studying in a professionale school that is focused on agriculture. i looked for land to rent but in this territory or you find big hectares and they cost a lot because thay look all at wine producing or oil producing or you find very small pieces of land that maybe once were used as a family vegetable garden. i don't want to produce wine i drink it but let be done by who knows how to do it, and the investment is a lot. i have olives and will produce oil but when you look for land to rent if there are olives planted here that boosts the price even if then oil really makes you earn very little, i have my idea on how to earn a good price from my oil and will follow that road. we will see.


the point is: ok we take our pdc's, design our projects, but how do we manage making a living out of it not wanting to teach permaculture but wanting to live with permaculture in the true world as Mark Shepard puts it.

the question i was asking anyway was is crowdfunding or thinking about microcredit a good idea? or maybe do we have other options that i have missed out?
Can we stay out of bank debts?
 
Eric Toensmeier
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Hi Lorenzo, I recommend Elizabeth's article on crowdfunding for permaculture: http://permaculturenews.org/2014/08/15/crowdfunding-permaculture-project-type-best-fit/. I was a member of a farmer-to-farmer peer lending group for three years, which helped me launch my seed company. The loans were very small. I also helped a number of the farmers I worked with obtain loans through various microlending groups. Generally these loans were fairly small but could help you take on a mid-sized project. In general I want to encourage people to not be so afraid of debt - sometimes that's what you have to do to get big. Eric
 
Lorenzo Costa
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thanks Eric, I'll read the article. I've been thinking so much in these two day's about things others have written in other posts and what William James wrote to me as well set me thinking. I brought some land in a beautiful place and that will always mean something to me and for my family, I'll start small and build up knowing I have the possibility there is so much space on my land. Ben Falk writes in his book that designing is a sort of obsession, and i think he's write in someway, but obsession doesn't have to get you off the higher goal that is to actually be capable of reaching your goal.
if i want to be able to set up a permaculture farm i will achieve that goal. one step at a time and really showing other people how one can live with nature.
it's difficult sometimes to remember that we have to throw off our shoulders for first the idea that we have to speed in everything and thati if we want something we just have to have the money. that's not what permaculture is all about. great work you have been doing in these years continue thanks for finding the time to type back.
 
David Vidal
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Location: Catalonia (Europe), Zone 9
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I can understand your points, the situation both bureaucratic and the doubts to be a farmer are quite similar here in Catalonia and in Spain. I guess it's a sort of a Southern European particular dilemma.

First of all, I think it's true what you said that by cultivating and selling vegetables, even with the organic certification, it's very difficult that you can barely make a living. The few people that are having some success over here with this approach are the ones who prepare and sell weekly baskets of fresh veggies to certain interested people. The key is obviously to find that handful and loyal group of local people willing to pay in a regular basis, so this kind of initiatives use to come not from scratch but from previously well-established initiatives. I think in the US the weekly basket and similar assured buying approach is called CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).

About the crowdfunding stuff; I've been actually a crowdfunder of a local olive oil producing cooperative. They basically have 0 money and lots of Hectares of olives, so they do the crowdfunding to get the money before the harvest, and after getting the oil they give it to the crowdfounders and sold the rest at local CSAs. To implicate the people to attend and get in touch, they invited them to help them catch the olives, so it has also this kind of community-building spirit, which is attractive for many of us. So, according to my experience, crowdfunding may be a viable way for some punctual and particular projects like the olive oil harvest (we Mediterraneans have a special crush with it, isn't it?) or other similar seasonal jobs, but less so with entire (permie or not) projects, which would require a much more personal involvement other than paying money and receiving an item in exchange, that is what we are most used to.

I have no land of mine but I've been thinking along similar lines than yours, and I've reached the conclusion that until economic and resource circumstances change for the good, food-prepared stuff is the best way to get a bit of a profit from land products. For example, instead of selling tomatoes in the market, which thousands of "industrial" producers sell it in a much more reliable regularity and low price than you can do, you could learn to prepare and sell "home-made local organic tomato jelly" in a CSA scheme or even in a more open local market. Another example that comes to mind would be instead of selling the chickpeas directly (well, you're probably going to get a lot, so you can do a 50-50% approach to try which is the most profitable way) sell already prepared "home-made local organic Hummus".

Anyway, don't get yourself too stressed, and as you said, try to go one step at a time. (yes, easier said than done, specially with that loan in mind, but having another couple of jobs to rely one for a stable income is quite encouraging). If I had a piece of land of mine to practice permaculture, I'd follow something like a three-year plan, in which I'd spend the first year experimenting, trying to grow as many varied food as possible to see how much can I lower my family reliance on external (i.e., money) food supplies. Once done, I would go the second year into learning all kind of permaculture tricks, like ways to process food (jelly making, recipes, etc), arts and crafts, etc, and sharing this to my local people so they start knowing how good I am in getting that jelly done, while I would also be lowering my food and stuff dependence even more deeply. And finally, in the third year, I'd be confident enough to start telling the government that I want to be a farmer (you know what I mean), so I could begin selling my produce and create or co-join with other similar people a local CSA scheme. Well, I'm a slow-learner and this timing could be definitely reduced depending on one's preexisting skills, and necessities, but it was just an example so I could give you my two-cents on the issue.

So really hope you can have much luck with your project, and just tell us about how's going.
 
Kate Muller
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Buying a tractor is expensive even if you get one used. Can you rent earth moving equipment or hire someone with a tractor to do the tractor work for you when you need it. We have just started converting our 1 hector property to a permaculture homestead. We looked at buying a tractor and found we could rent or pay someone else for those needs for a lot less than the cost of a used tractor. Not only do we not have the cost and expense of the tractor but we don't need an additional building to store it in.

Do you have anything like Craigslist in Italy? It is a great website to find used goods and local services. We have saved quite a bit of money buying good quality stuff used.

Do you have friends and family that garden? I have been helping friends thin out perennial plants and transplanting them into my garden.
Starting trees and shrubs from seeds, propagating plants from cuttings, grafting, and saving seeds are ways expand your plants with little cost.







 
William James
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@David
First of all, nice post.
You're right that the best way to profit with vegetables is to not sell vegetables, but sell products made with vegetables. I've come to the same conclusion. The only catch is that to offer bottled and packaged things, they have to come from a certified food-preparation lab. Either you have one already, you buy one for 20-30.000 euros, you work with already established producers who process your small quantities and put your label on it (less profit for you), or you have a friend who has a lab.

That's why vegetables are seen as kind of an entry-level crop. Anyone can grow it, anyone can sell it, and the regulations around vegetables are low to non-existent. As is the profit, unless you're able to do it in volume, get organic certification, and have a wide enough market to sell in.

We tried and failed at the basket of veggies. It was a huge energy sink for us and the return was incredibly low. So we're looking toward other ideas for income generation. I'm not doing it, but I think meat supplying would be an interesting avenue for Lorenzo. The infrastructure costs are low, the prices are high, and if you can find someone who can offer a good price for certified slaughtering and butchering, you could probably do much better than vegetables, pound-for-pound. Everybody loves meat for some reason, much more than vegetables I suppose. Plus they build your site's ecology at a low price.

There's also Genuino Clandestino, which is an org that tries to help small farmers sell their products outside of the national market and you can offer home-made products there. Big in Bologna, where they have a weekly market.

All the best,
William

 
Lorenzo Costa
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@David and @all
yes William is right great post. thanks I see we actually are quite a few around southern europe that are in similar situations. well after having thought about what William wrote to me the first time I've been taking it more zen style. I know what I want achieve as an end goal, that's all there and it will stay as a milestone.
I think the ebst way for a crowdfunding in small situations is the one you recalled about the cooperative that seeks the money for olive harvesting. I am oriented in seeking money for specific little purchases, little I mean in the value of 5.000 euros maximum, but I'm on a 2500/3000 euro idea.
the other thing is starting to have a little yield for my family and sell the surplus ot neighbors. start to build up the yields year per year, looking at products that grow well and with little water until I resolve the water issue.
I'll be on a pdc course, next week, just for one day invited to the session on water harvesting, this is awesome I mean there are great people around that just want to share their knowlegde. so this guy Massimiliano Petrini, a great teacher of permaculture and Emilia Hazelip sinergic gardening told me you have to come and that will be a start.
I'll just plant fava beans that here in Tuscany we eat a lot, and the other things i wrote before.
Genuino clandestino is a great idea I have been looking in to there manifesto and there are people here that actually work in that direction as a Gruppo di acquisto solidale, GAS, in the states it's called another way i can't recall now. the problem with a laboratory William explained well, yeah it cost a lot, well for our pockets, but with genuino clandestino you can actually do a lot of stuff in your house kitchen and that could be an idea. the thing will be to put together all the info we can find on the outcome of a farms work and see what can suite us.
meat is a good idea I would like to produce my meat for a starting, having chickens and two pigs, the problem of course is that you have to have water and clean fresh water. so that's there in the list. but who knows maybe once that is solved I'll think about more animals.
I don't want to focus though only on meat I still think people eat a lot of vegetables and in anyway have to get back to eating them. the big thing is to creat a comunity of interest around your work. probably I don't see that for now as an issue because I live hear from 17 years and have a big set of relations on the territory. and most of all it is a small territory where we all know each other and relationships are more easy.
I mean William is up in the north near Milan not really the same situation and I can undertsand that it's different, very different.
 
raoul dalmasso
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@Lorenzo, @William, @Farmers in Italy

About the fiscal situation of crop production in Italy:

If you have a yearly production of crops whose value is less than 7000 Euro you don't need to be registered as a farmer (and pay taxes). It is the right of the owner (or tenant) to dispose of the fruits of the land up to this quote, that is what Lorenzo is legally doing with his olive oil. Italian law gives you also the right to sell vegetables and fruits on your land, door to door and at the roadside.
Anyway this informal position has some problems as well: 1) You don't have access to farmer's markets, 2) You don't have access to subsidies for farmers, 3) You should anyway take note of the amount you sell and declare it: if you are under 7000 Euros and you have no other income these money won't be taxed, otherwise they will be added to your income and taxed, 4) For meat, fish, eggs and specially for transformed products it is a totally different story, because you have to deal with the all lot of hygiene laws and regulations and it is impossible to do it from an informal position.

@William
Regime di esonero doesn't exist any more, it has been abolished in April 2014.
 
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