In 2019, I was working as “pizzaiolo” in a restaurant in my hometown of Ancona. One night, a short circuit started a fire. The renovation work lasted a month and during that time I took the opportunity to travel a bit.

Tommaso Carmenati | Caretaker of the Self-Sufficiency Centre

It was October and, like every year, the motorhome show was taking place in Parma. I decided, together with my partner, to go there and stay a few nights in the area, in a farmhouse surrounded by greenery. We found one in Modena, but due to a management error, the booking was not successful. We therefore chose to look for another place on the way home.

That was how we discovered the Fattoria dell’Autosufficienza. That name did not arouse much interest in me at the time, even though I was in the midst of a journey of change. I knew exactly what I did not want, but I was not yet aware of what I did want. I was a bit like the protagonist in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, searching for clues.

On the way to the farm, we wanted to find interesting places we could learn about. We discovered, while poking around the blog of the site, that there was a connection between it, Remedia Erbe and Macrolibrarsi.

We stopped to visit these two places. Imagine the degree of surprise and exhilaration of someone who resonates with a certain kind of environment, but has not yet found anything concrete to represent it. There are times when you happen to be in a place, you don’t know exactly why, but you feel that place has come into your life for a specific reason. That was what I felt.

When everything tells you to come back

We finally arrived in Paganico, near Bagno di Romagna, where Centro Autosufficienza is located. Welcoming us was Francesco Rosso, the creator of the project, who was standing in for the girl at reception that day. If he had not been there that day, all that I am about to recount would never have happened. Coincidence?

He described in great detail the room we were staying in, room monte Comero (I am originally from Ancona and from the balcony of my house you can see monte Conero. Also a coincidence?). I could not believe my eyes: did such realities really exist in Italy? The following day, the then garden manager, Andrea, took us to visit the farm. It was one surprise after another. I felt like I was daydreaming.

When we checked out, I noticed a sign hanging on the wooden wall bordering the reception desk, indicating that Centro Autosufficienza belonged to WWOOF Italy, an association present all over the world that allows willing young people to learn more about the world of agriculture through a period of voluntary work on organic farms.

During that time I was constantly updating a wish list, in which I wrote down everything I wanted to do with my life. Doing WWOOFing at Autosufficienza fit right into that list.

The first experience as a WOOfer

The following year, having just returned from a three-month trip to Thailand and Bali, the ‘pandemic’ broke out. During that time Macrolibrarsi organised a webinar, Vivi Consapevole Live. Here was Autosufficienza coming back. They were three days of great enrichment and inspiration. I felt less alone in imagining a different world. More Human, more True. A few days later I found myself walking in the woods with the owner of the pizzeria where I worked. When we got to the cars mine wouldn’t start. I had to call the tow truck. On the way home, which I was forced to do on foot, I had the crazy idea of calling Autosufficienza to volunteer.

The conditions were right for getting back on the road. The affair with my ex-partner had just ended. The enthusiasm for Vivi Consapevole Live was still at its peak. During the webinar, however, many people had requested information about WWOOFing, so the chances of there being a place were slim. I called. I was answered by Marzia, the girl in charge of the secretariat. She told me that just the day before, two guys had decided to interrupt their stay there. If I had confirmed immediately, I would have secured my place. I could not ignore all these strange coincidences. My heart was leading me there. The clues did too. It was time to take that leap of faith. That call changed my life forever.

In June 2020, I found myself doing my first WWOOFing experience at Autosufficienza. I was to stay a month. It became three. In 2021 I went back there to do interviews for the blog-project I was following at the time, A Drop in the Ocean. I ended up staying that summer to help too. I spent the winter there with my camper van. Now I am here. I am writing in front of a panorama that I am lucky enough to be able to admire every day. The soft shapes, the birdsong, the shades of green. This is the place where I have decided to put down roots. This is the place where I have decided to channel my energy to build a better world.

Work and non-work

Since this year my form of collaboration has changed. I now work full-time for this project. I take care of guided tours, communication and event organisation. I also often help out with other tasks. What has happened, however, is much more. It is much more exciting.

Aware of the urgency in this society to change direction, I felt that this place had the right potential to do something really important. The people who live here, the values that drive them. For the first time, I can say that I am not working, even though these activities occupy a large part of my day. Even when I find myself washing dishes, with all the respect of the task, I know that I am contributing to something much bigger. Giving meaning to what we do allows us to totally change perspective and stop compartmentalising the day into ‘work’ and ‘non-work’.

This is the greatest lesson I have learnt in this early part of my life: get to know yourself thoroughly, free yourself from what is not part of your nature, discover why you came into this world and put the fire that lights you in the service of the community.

Changing the world: self-reliance, health, community

Why can self-reliance change the world? What does this term mean? I always introduce guided tours with a brief reflection. Self-sufficiency is not only about being independent with regard to the procurement of water, food or energy. So what does it mean? While simplifying, we can say that the phenomena we observe in society are the result of the sum of the actions we perform as individuals. The actions we perform derive from our ability to manage our minds, the relationship we have with our emotions, the balance between the spiritual and material dimensions. If we do not know our needs, our inner selves, our talents, our passions, how can we even think of striving for self-sufficiency? In a globalised world where main stream information manages to direct the thoughts of the masses, if I do not cultivate a conscience about various aspects of life, how can I expect to remain unscathed?

That is why self-sufficiency is not just about eating your own food or ‘knowing how to do’ manual labour.

So what is the difference between self-sufficiency and health? If by health we do not mean the absence of disease but the integrity of all living systems, these two concepts become convergent.

If I have a good balance with my emotions and am therefore aware of why I do what I do, I will automatically not engage in self-damaging behaviour such as smoking. So this will be an action that goes towards self-sufficiency and health at the same time.

If I have an awareness of my real needs, I will not eat five times a day but maybe two, or one. And this will trigger a series of chain reactions: less demand for food on the global market, less pollution, a decrease in my state of inflammation and therefore an improvement in my mood, my general state of health and therefore a better relationship with others, a higher energy level, less need for social health support. All this will have a reverberation in the community. The examples could go on and on. It is no coincidence that Mary Teresa of Calcutta herself said that it is the drop that makes up the ocean and without a drop the ocean would not be the same.

That is why self-sufficiency can change the world. That is why this is a road that must be taken, albeit incrementally, as soon as possible. Every day, in every moment, we can choose with our actions in which direction society should go. It is crucial never to belittle the individual gesture, the individual.

Community as mutual support

Community is not to be misunderstood with eco-village or all the forms of shared living that are increasingly in vogue in today’s world. Community means restoring a spirit of mutual support. Community means returning to human beings. Because the human species is not the strongest species or the one with the best internal thermoregulation systems. The human species has risen to the top of the food chain because of its innate sense of co-operation, of clan building. But the sense of community is what we can find in families and neighbourhoods fifty years ago. It is the one still present in all contexts that manage to resist the winds of globalisation. It means being there for each other. It means putting the talents of one at the service of many.

Understanding this is crucial to striving towards self-sufficiency and thus towards health. Think of a young couple who have just given birth to a child. Raising him or her without the support of a group can have serious repercussions. If a mother often finds herself alone because her father may be working, she will have to put aside all her passions to devote herself body and soul to her child. How many postnatal depressions are linked to this condition? And how much do these clinical pictures affect the integrity of the person concerned, the partner and the whole community?

Concrete Utopia

When Francesco founded Autosufficienza he already knew that self-sufficiency would be a utopia: it is not possible to have everything one needs to live in a single place.

Hence, in 2020, the community of Earth Keepers was founded. This is a group of virtuous realities that have come together to bring value to their territory. Remedia, Autosufficienza, Cambio di Marea, Biopificio, Matura Bio, Nel Nome del Pane, Disimparando s’imparara, Tecnologie Alternative: these realities are trying to become the change they would like to see in the world and have realised that alone the road would be much harder than group action. Starting from one territory to contaminate others. Like a snowball that when it falls generates an avalanche.

I had always wanted to travel, to discover the diversity that inhabits this world, the cultures, rituals, customs, traditions. Here I was able to experience another form of travelling. Here I realised that with example, consistency, heart it is still possible to change the world. Here are a handful of men and women. Simple. With virtues and flaws. Still plagued by the weaknesses and vices that characterise the human race, but on their way to an ever deeper awareness. What matters to me, though, is that this group cultivates in its heart the desire to see its children grow up in a world full of beauty. And when you feel this in your heart, the road may be uphill. But hardly anything will stop you.

This article appeared in the magazine – rivista Vivi Consapevole 71 (December/February 2023).