Turning a Town Pesticide Free

Learn of a small town in Italy, who grew tired of damaged crops and compromised health and decided to fight back.

| April 2018

  • mals-italy
    Mals (Malles Venosta) is a small town in the South Tirol that went on to ban pesticides.
    Photo by GettyImages/LianeM
  • organic-farming
    “A Precautionary Tale”, by Philip Ackerman-Leist, is an inspiring read for organic gardeners.
    Courtesy of Chelsea Green

  • mals-italy
  • organic-farming

Learn about preservation and follow-through in A Precautionary Tale (Chelsea Green, 2017), by Philip Ackerman-Leist. Mals, Italy made changes in their community and inspired a movement around the world. From pesticide ridden apples to organic crops all around, a turnaround created by a group of citizens. What started as a small fight, blossomed and created lasting changes for years to come.

For hundreds of years, the people of Mals — a tiny village in the South Tyrol province of northern Italy — had cherished their traditional foodways and kept their local agriculture organic. Yet the town is located high up in the Alps, and the conventional apple producers, heavily dependent on pesticides, were steadily overtaking the valley below. Aided by climate change, Big Apple crept further up the region’s increasingly warmer valleys and mountainsides, its toxic sprays drifting with the valley’s ever-present winds and falling on the farms and fields of Mals — endangering the town’s health, biodiversity, organic certifications, and thriving tourism economy. The advancing threats gradually motivated a diverse cast of characters to take action in a display of direct democracy that has inspired a movement now coursing its way through Europe, the United States, and beyond. 

In a town like Mals that straddles the borders of three countries, the influx of people and ideas is likely to create a people who are comfortable thinking outside of their cultural norms. And so it is with the Malsers, who have a reputation for being, relativ eigenartig, or “somewhat idiosyncratic.” Were they not this way, the Malsers never would have begun to question what most other South Tiroleans had accepted—the influx of apples and everything else that came with them: money, power, influence, and a constant nod to the status quo.

However, not only did the Malsers question what was happening, but they also took it one step further: They decided to do something about it, in unusually creative ways.

A group of citizens-turned-activists was born. They named themselves Hollawint, an exclamation of warning in Tirolean dialect. Composed predominantly but not exclusively of women, Hollawint nonetheless became the face of the women of Mals. For Beatrice Raas, owner of the local hair salon, women offered something different from the movement for a pesticide-free Mals: “I believe when one is a mother, then she simply has a completely different feel for what life is, and she is then really responsible for one’s own children. She simply wants to guarantee a great, healthy future for her kids and from that simply arises a motherly sensibility.”

June was a reminder that time was of the essence. With every passing summer, more apple orchards were creeping into Mals. The infrastructure for sprinkler systems was almost in place, with supporters promising that it would bring possibilities for farmers to plant crops that would earn them significantly more money than hay, grains, and vegetables.

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