Le Macchie: Case Study n.2

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Le Macchie: Case Study n.2 

Made by Dario Ruggiero (Founder and Coordinator of the web-site www.lteconomy.it/en), with the collaboration of Primiana Leonardini (owner of Le Macchie's farm) and Alberto Fatticcioni, (beekeeper and collaborator) - February 2015

People (like me) who live in a urban context, who eat products found on supermarkets’ shelves or bought from small retailers, know very little about agricultural practices and the techniques used to realize these products. Industrial farming (with its high productivity) is almost totally dependent on the use of external industrial sources (from machinery to chemicals like fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and antifungals). It is true, this model has brought an increase in the productivity of crops (especially in terms of the ratio output / Human Resources); but, on the other hand, an overuse of industrial farming’s techniques is bringing soil degradation and a decrease in the quality of the products we eat.

That said, I wonder: does a real eco-sustainable agricultural model exist? A model that is less dependent on the use of external inputs? In other words, a self-sustaining model?  This is what Primiana Leonardini, with the help of Alberto Fatticcioni, is trying to do in her natural farm ‘Le Macchie,’ a farm located in Tuscany (Italy), immersed in the heart of the so called ‘Macchia Mediterranea.’  In doing that, Primiana Leonardini has been largely inspired by the principles of natural farming and Permaculture. She is trying to create an agricultural system which respect the local ecosystem; a model that can both feed the owners and the guests of the farm and provide local markets with high-quality products through surpluses in production.  

Now, it’s very likely that, neither industrial farming, nor Permaculture in themselves will be able to meet the combined needs of feeding a growing (ever more urbanized) population and ensuring the survivor, biodiversity and fertility of the ecosystems in the long run. However, a strong change in the current conventional industrial models (which by now has been proved to be unsustainable in the long term) is required.  On this matter see the recent Report by the United Nations (Trade and Environment Review 2013: Wake Up Before It’s Too Late), which heavily calls for a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high–external-input-dependent industrial production towards mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers.  

Tu be sure, Primiana Leonardini’s project is still at an experimental phase; however the initial results are  excellent and the project (which includes natural gardens, organic olive grows, natural beekeeping and other interesting activities) is attracting the attention of many observers. The natural farm ‘Le Macchie’ is succeeding in reducing its ecological footprint to ‘zero;’ many of the activities that take place in the farm can be considered as a reference point for bigger market-oriented companies that want to improve their environmental sustainability as well as minimize their cost of production. Le Macchie is a project which can give a great contribute in realizing a really sustainable agricultural model: it gives importance to the improvement of the natural and cultural capital in a long term perspective. This is why I consider Le Macchie as a ‘pro-Long Term Economy farm.’                    

                             Dario Ruggiero,
(Founder and Responsible for the web-site www.lteconomy.it/en


Le Macchie, August 15, 2014: on the left Primiana Leonardini (owner of the farm ‘Le Macchie’); in the middle Dario Ruggiero (Founder of the website www.lteconomy.it); on the right Alberto Fatticcioni (beekeeper and co-owner of the farm Le Macchie - http://agricolalemacchie.weebly.com/)


IThanks are due to Primiana Leonardini (owner of the farm ‘Le Macchie’) and to Alberto Fatticcioni (beekeeper and co-owner of the farm Le Macchie)

Tha Natural Farm ‘Le Macchie:’ a Snapshot
The Story
The Products
‘Permaculture’ and ‘Permaculture’s Courses’
The Experimental Biodiverse Vineyard and Other Ongoing Projects
Le Macchie’s Network and the SCEC
Le Macchie’s Future Plans


The Natural Farm ‘Le Macchie:’ a Snapshot


The natural farm ‘Le Macchie’ is based in Tuscany near Castellina Marittima (in the province of Pisa), 5 km away from the urban center. It is no the conventional for-profit farm; it’s an experimental project with the following non-incompatible goals: 1) preserving the ecological and wild characteristics of the territory; 2) maintaining the soil microbial diversity; 3) feeding the owners and the guests with the best food, experiences and culture. Accordingly, the agricultural model in Le Macchie is based on the principles of natural farming and Permaculture. The owner of the farm is Primiana Leonardini who conduct most of the activities together with Alberto Fatticcioni.

The Territorial Geography and the Agricultural Model

The territory of the farm consists of hilly forest: the land (100 hectares) is covered for 80% by the ‘Macchia Mediterranea;’ about 6-7 hectares are made up by an olive grove divided into three lots, two adult groves (age of the trees between thirteen and eighteen) and one much younger. Finally, ten hectares are dedicated to grazing and spontaneous re-afforestation. Around the house we can find 70 fruit trees planted in a scattered way which make up the so called ‘Scattered Orchard' (see the appropriate section). In 2013 started the activity of ‘viticulture:’ 400 vine plants, including ten different varieties, all 'ancient' and 'native', have been planted so far. There are two main orchards. The agricultural model in Le Macchie is inspired by the principles of 'Permaculture' and those of 'natural farming (M. Fukuoka) and synergic agriculture (E. Hazelip).' Accordingly, the cultivation here makes no use of machinery, fertilizers and pesticides.

Only a small amount of products are marketed; the economic sustainability of the farm is largely based on the economy of gift and barter, as well as on multi-functionality: a system of many small diversified sources of income and many small savings opportunities, which all together make possible the existence of everything.

Free-ranged chickens and ducks complete the system, contributing to both the production of organic material and the control of insects populations, as well as to the production of eggs and meat. Grazing is ‘natural:’ chickens eat natural food and raise their offspring in a natural way, without the use of incubators; chicks are not separated from the mother, and the mother is not separated from the rest of the group. In this way, the animals of the farm grow healthy; they develop adaptive behaviors and efficient immune systems, in harmony with the environment where they live.


Le Macchie’s land: distribution by use
Source: Le Macchie


The House and  Energy Sources

Le Macchie’s house has two floors and covers a total area of 170 square meters; in the top floor there are the main rooms; on the ground w find a laboratory and two rooms used for agritourism services.

The demand of energy and sources in the farm is very low. It concerns the needs of heating, cooking, lighting and water.

  • Lighting and cooking: the need of heating in winter is totally satisfied by the woods of the surrounding forests. Woods is also used for cooking in winter, while gas is used for cooking in summer.
  • Lighting: the farm is equipped with solar panels; the energy coming from the grid is very low.
  • Water: a spring provide the farm with 3 cubic meters of water per day; rainwater collecting points have also been built in order to cover water needs for agricultural and grazing activities.
  • Source saving: the farm, in its daily activities, minimizes the demand of energy and primary sources: from the cultivation of plants to the minimization of non-human energy; from the use of woods for cooking in winter, to the reuse of water, and so on.

Not  Just Farming…

Le Macchie is not only a farm; it is a ‘guest house.’ From April to November, it hosts travellers and volunteers (ranging from ‘0’ to ‘6’ people). Why should volunteers be attracted by Le Macchie? 1) Because they consider Le Macchie a place worthy to be explored; 2) Because they can learn some activities through hands-on experiences (Permaculture, beekeeping, breeding and so on). Sometimes the number of no overnight guests reached 20; however, Le Macchie can host not more than 8 overnight guests.

The Story

The Project

Le Macchie is an ancient farm; it was bought by Primiana Leonardini in 2005. At that time farming activities were mainly limited to the harvesting of olives. Since the outset, Primiana’s project has been the creation of an agro-ecological system, that minimizes the use of external inputs. Accordingly, she has followed an educational path based on the study and practice of organic and biodynamic agriculture, as well as ‘Permaculture’ and ‘Synergic farming.’ In fact, ‘Permaculture’ or ‘permanent agriculture’ is a model for designing and managing anthropic landscape in a way that they can satisfy the needs of the population (food and energy) and, at the same time, are resilient, rich and stable like natural ecosystems.  Permaculture was developed in the 70s by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren drawing from various areas such as architecture, biology, forestry, agriculture and animal husbandry (see the appropriate section). Synergic farming is a method developed by the Spanish farmer Emilia Hazelip, based on the insights of Masanobu Fukuoka and microbiological studies of Alan Smith according to which, while land make plants grow, on the other hand, plants fertilize land through its 'root exudates,' (e.g., their organic debris and their chemical activity, along with microorganisms, bacteria, fungi and earthworms). By using this farming method, you can give back to land more than you take in energetic terms, supporting the mechanisms of self-fertility of the land.
The Current State of the Project

By now, Le Macchie’s farm is still in an early-learning stage: orchards, vineyards and vegetable gardens still need a few years to give their full results. However, the farm has good prospects and with its products is already able to meet  internal needs and those of the guests, as well as to meet, for a small portion, the demand coming from local markets.
The products

Organic, Synergic Farming and Permaculture

Farms that want to approach a more sustainable agricultural model can choose among different opportunities, ranging from organic farming, to synergic farming, to Permaculture designing.

Le Macchie’s Farming Model

Le Macchie’s farm is based on the principles of synergic and natural farming, according to which the soil is considered a ‘living element,’ as well as those of Permaculture. The main characteristic of synergic farming is the absence of any kinds of tillage (which instead are allowed in organic and biodynamic farming). In Le Macchie soil tillage activity is not used (in both the olive groves and the gardens) because it causes the impoverishment of soil microbial diversity and requires a huge commitment of energy. Even sulfur and copper, which are allowed in organic and biodynamic farming, are not used in Le Macchie. The fertilization of soils is made through the decomposition of surface (mulching and spontaneous release of feces by horses). In Le Macchie the use of external input is reduced to ‘zero.’ Therefore the plants grown in Le Macchie have phyto-therapeutic properties similar to those we find in wild plants

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

In Le Macchie there is an olive grove of 6-7 hectares with a production capacity of about 4 hundred kilos of oil per year (depending on the weather conditions of each year), of which 1-2 hundred kilos are intended for sale. Olive oil produced in Le Macchie has the organic certification and is the main product of the farm. The cultivation and harvesting of olives follow the principles of synergic farming: the use of machines to clean and fertilize the soil is minimized; this function is almost completely performed by horse grazing; machines are used every four years to clean out the most resistant weeds.  The olives are harvested by hand.

All the activities, from the fertilization of the soil to the olive harvesting, are made of natural and artisanal techniques; compared with conventional practices, oil production is lower; however, the ecological footprint is almost zero and the ending result is an oil without any polluting chemicals. The Frantoio Il Casone Antico is responsible for the final stage of Oil production which uses exclusively ‘methods of cold pressed olive oil extraction.’ 

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and other products of Le Macchie’s farm
Source: Le Macchie

Honey is another important and distiguishing products in Le Macchie. Alberto Fatticcioni (member and vice-president of ARPAT Apicoltura, Associazione dei Produttori Apistici Toscani) is responsible for the wellbeing of bees and the production of honey in Le Macchie. Bees here is a well-respected living being; it’s not a simple means of production like in conventional beekiping. Beekeping in Le Macchie is the kind of sedentary; that is, the bees live, feed and breed permanently and exclusively in the facility of Le Macchie; 80% of the nectar that feed the bees come from wild flowers and plants: blackberry, chicory, thistle, myrtle, heather, viburnum, ivy, clovers. The remaining nectar comes from the 100% natural crops of Le Macchie. Even the swarming and the choice of the queens happen in a natural way, without any use of force. In Le Macchie bees eat their own honey and no external sources of food (syrups, candies, etc.) are used.

In Le Macchie the fight against ‘Varroa,’ a mite, now the main enemy of bees, is done without the use of any acaricides or antibiotics; this free-chemicals approach is called  ‘bio-mechanic fight.’ It includes three techniques: natural swarming, removal of brood and block of brood. In particular, the ‘block of brood’ consists in caging the bees-queen in the hive for a period of time that ranges from 21 to 24 days; in this way Varroa has no larvae where to reproduce. The block of brood is done in Summer (July-August). Its implementation needs high skills, time and a big investment of human-energy; this is why many beekeepers use chemicals to fight ‘Varroa.’

Another interesting characteristic of Le Macchie’s honey is related to the phase of honey harvesting: only honey that exceeds the normal nutritional requirements of the swarm is extracted; conversely, in conventional beekeeping all the honey is extracted from the hive and bees are fed with industrial syrups and supplements; such products are not able to ensure the same nutritional quality bees get by eating their own honey. In this way there is a reduction in the quantity of honey produced, but, at the same time, beekeepers save money (as they don’t buy industrial products to feed bees) and bees and their honey are much healthier.

The following types of honey are produced in Le Macchie: ‘Millefiori’ and ‘Erica honey.’ There is also the potential to produce Arbutus honey. By now, in Le Macchie there are 28 hives that in 2014 (a year characterized by a collapse in beekeepers activities: in Italy there was an average decrease of 70% in the production of honey)[1] produced about 70 kg of honey;[2]by the end of the year, with the autumnal extraction, it is estimated production to have reached 150-200 kg.

[1] The temperature changes have caused a drying up of the nectars of flowers; in each flower less nectar was available for bees. Only the areas close to waterways have avoided the damages; water availability has mitigated the phenomenon.

[2] To take into account that 2014 was the first year of production; bees were established in 2013 in Le Macchie.


Erica Honey  of Le Macchie
Source: Le Macchie

The cultivation of vegetables in Le Macchie is still at an early stage: there are two vegetable gardens, whose production is primarily intended to feed the owners and the guest of the farm; only a fraction (about 50-100 kg per year) is intended for sale in local markets. Cultivation is based exclusively on natural and synergic farming techniques. That means the complete exclusion of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and tillage.  

Le Macchie’s gardens are ‘permanent’ and ‘alive,’ that is, they are ever colonized by arboreal species, insects, plants, microbial species, mulches, and so on. Le Macchie produces the following vegetables: black cabbage of Tuscany, lettuces and rocket, chards, chicory, tomatoes (cherry, plum, yellow, beef heart, pisanelli, etc…), celery, squash, green beans, beans 'eye of the wolf' or 'devil beans,' onions and spring onions, garlic (both purple and white garlic), leeks, Savoy cabbage, Roman cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli. Near the gardens the growth of wild plants (plantain, barberry, sorrel, wild chicory, dandelion, etc ...) is allowed.


In Le Macchie’s farm there are two rooms used as 'farmhouse.' The tourist service in Le Macchie is quite peculiar: the farm is a sort of 'refuge' (slightly far from the city center), suitable for tourists who want to spend some days in wild nature and by exploring the surrounding forest. Spending time in Le Macchie means ‘run away from urban activities for a while.’ Staying a night in Le Macchie can cost from 15 to 50 euro per person depending on the time and to the number of guests. In Le Macchie courses of ‘eco-teaching’ take place; they consist of laboratory activities focused on the teaching of Permaculture, home economics, and the activities that are carried out on the farm.

 Timilìa: spiga e grano (Agosto 2014)
 Fonte: Terre Frumentarie

‘Permaculture’ and ‘Permaculture’s Courses’  

What’s Permaculture?

Permaculture is a branch of ecological design, ecological engineering, environmental design, construction and integrated water resources management that develops sustainable architecture, regenerative and self-maintained habitat and agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems. The term permaculture (as a systematic method) was first coined by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in 1978.[1] In the ‘80s Permculture spread over the world and several books on the theme were published. Twelve Permaculture design principles have been articulated by David Holmgren in his Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability.[2] In order to increase energy efficiency the environment is organized in ‘zones,’ on the basis of the frequency of human use and plant or animal needs

[1] According to Bill Mollison: "a culture cannot survive long without a sustainable agricultural base & land use ethic"
[2] Holmgren, David, Essenza della Permacultura http://holmgren.com.au/essence-of-permaculture-free/
Permaculture Courses in Le Macchie

Le Macchie’s farm is a very suitable place where specific courses on Permaculture can take place. In particular, in Le Macchie, each year two kinds of courses take place: introductory courses to Permaculture (lasting two or three days and organized more times over the year); the National Course in Permaculture Design that follows the international protocol established by tha Accademia Italiana di Permacultura, the so-called PDC which last 72 hours. The courses last two weeks and generally take place in the months of May or June; It is organized in collaboration with the teachers of the Accademia Italiana di Permacultura.

The ‘National Course in Permaculture Design’ is intended for all the people who want to know better and deeply Permaculture’s principles and meet the Italian experts on the subject. It is also  suitable for all those farmers who want to try and experience new ways of sustainable and resilient agriculture. It is an accredited course and gives the opportunity to become (and be internationally recognized as) a ‘Permaculture Designer.' In fact, the membership at the Academies of Permaculture in Europe is possible only after the full participation (successfully) to one of these internationally coordinated and accredited courses.

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