Casa delle Erbe (House of Herbs) is a growing community that challenges the idea that we need a capitalistic socio-economic structure.
The movement was founded in the 90s, in Capracotta, a mountain village in Molise, Central Italy. In a town with no tourism, consistent emigration, and the school on the verge of closing, the inhabitants found themselves in an old and all too common story. Sustenance and growth required capital that the people did not have. Capracotta was turning into a ghost town.
Rather than resign themselves to defeat by an unforgiving future, the locals turned to the past and to the land.
Working together, they began to study the local plants and traditions of foraging, based on the ancient practice of earth honoring. One member of the group contacted a health product manufacturer in Milan, creating a market-demand for their harvest. Casa Delle Erbe functions as a kind of co-operative, which seeks sustainable growth as opposed to unlimited profit, creating a network of suppliers who sell to food chains, restaurants, cosmetic companies, etc. They even make their own wild plant products and sell them locally.
Maria Sonia Baldoni, a central figure in the community, points out “‘There is always more demand than can be supplied”.
From a foundation which connects people and land, an extensive and strong community is born.
Beyond the harvest, people learn to cook with wild foods, homeopathy, art therapy, permaculture, music, and dance. Accessibility and community are of the upmost importance. Each Casa Delle Erbe must remain open. When an owner goes away, another member of the network fills in and any member can arrange an event at any of the houses in the network. Anyone may join. Participation in Casa delle Erbe requires only a desire to learn and a willingness to work.
“To join this type of economy you don’t have to be a landowner. All you need is to recognize what plants to harvest, be connected to the network, and help process the plants. You can harvest in the wild, on roadsides, in gardens, anywhere. For local people who want to participate, we function by barter only. All the publicity in this region is designed by a young person for free because they want to participate and learn in the workshops. Another person does the printing, another person brings wood. No money has changed hands setting up Casa Delle Erbe and we have no sponsors. People come to us and offer the skills they have in order to join and learn. Those who learn become teachers and inspire more people to learn and teach. This is a movement which multiplies from its own energy.”
In parts of Europe where the economy is in decline and young people have no clear future, this represents a dynamic solution. The movement provides work, creativity, a culture of learning, and engages in research about early peoples’ traditions, how they understood the earth, a holistic life – a way of life that does not rely upon money.
“People always say to me: ‘Why don’t you write a book about what you are doing?’ I don’t want to. There are enough books already. We need to live what we learn. We learn when it is a part of our lives, not by reading about it.”
-From Adbusters #131