Let’s begin with statistics, which are impressive: Italy alone celebrates between 34 and 35 thousand local festivals. Those involved number between two and three million. And the meals sold – this is the figure that says it all – range from 200 –300 million a year.
We are speaking of meeting places, celebrations dedicated to a wide variety of aspects of community living. Indeed, community is the key word, to which we always return. But we would prefer to speak of the gastronomic aspects, because each festival worth its weight in salt focuses on the sharing of a dish.
«It’s true that the gastronomic element is a must. But I’ll be honest: the gastronomic element is only a pretext. At the centre of the festival phenomenon, of its success and the possibility that it has success, there is a social phenomenon. This means the coming together and the involvement of an entire community.»
The man speaking is Adriano Facchini, agronomist, agricultural produce marketing expert, among the pioneers who have been working in this direction in Italy, on a territory as fascinating as ours in that is brimming with a variety of identities. And it is always Adriano Facchini, long-time director of Agricultural Consortiums of important provinces like Ferrara, Mantua and Brescia, who has made a decisive contribution to the composite world of these festivals, bringing his own organisational and strategic vision where volunteer work plays a fundamental role: «It all began in 1997, when there were 160 volunteer organisations involved, while today there are 500.»
It seems like a provocation, when you speak of the ‘marginality’ of the gastronomic aspect, given the success of food festicals in Italy that are mostly linked to fruits, vegetables, fish and meats, cheeses, and every type of food product.
«But it not like that. The festival is a pretext to stimulate creativity. I distinguish between those who eat at a festival and those who work there: for them the fundamental element is that of coming together that is indeed not so different from, for example, taking a census. I can create a festival dedicated to an unknown local cheese, but this will be successful only if there is a society standing behind it to express it. It’s called localism.»
Localism is a concept that you mention often. Could you help us to define it?
«The festival is a reason for coming together. And localism is the capacity to involve all the components of a small community to carry it off.»
Another irreplaceable ingredient of the festival phenomenon is volunteer work.
«Because the sense of a festival, for example the Sagra dell’Ortica (Nettles Festival) of Malalbergo (BO) (which we also presented at Expo) is to create culture through opportunity. A pretext where a community lives, that stays together thanks to a particular adhesive that is called solidarity. A festival like the one for Nettles collected 42 thousand euro that was then earmarked to benefit solidarity initiatives to help people suffering from the economic crisis or to maintain school buildings.»
In brief, what is a “sagra“?
«Above all it is a real community. The sagra is a group of people who take the form of a welfare community: the community that helps others. It is the idea of a living society, because it is fuelled by profound values like sharing, creation, and exchange.»
What will be the next appointments on the calendar?
«The sagra food festivals are always moving about. There are so many of them going on continually in Italy. But I would mentions the 23rd, 24th and 25th April 2016 in Ferrara, Il salone nazionale delle sagre, the only event in Italy that presents more than one hundred local wine and food festivals all together.»
Instead, what challenges must be faced by those working in this sector?
«A synergy between real and virtual. This means creating real communities that are amplified thanks to the drive of the internet.»