BARI, Italy—Three years ago Italian farmer Emanuele Feltri bought 12 acres (5 hectares) of farmland in the Mafia-ridden Valle del Simeto in Sicily. He wanted to develop organic crops, livestock, and an educational farm.
From the very the beginning Feltri has fought against injustice. He has denounced landfills full of tires and asbestos and has blocked access to the road the Mafia uses to reach the landfills.
Soon after, the Mafia threatened him. He was told, “If you don’t open the road, we will burn your grove down.” Feltri refused to do so and his grove was burned down.
“I feel a huge responsibility,” Feltri said, explaining that his battle is not only for himself, but also for all the people on his land.
In Valle del Simeto it is common practice for farmers to pay the Mafia in order to obtain ‘protection’ against damages done by the Mafia itself. But Feltri refuses to follow that line.
After the many threats Feltri has received, 600 people demonstrated sympathizing with him, but on a daily basis only a few have shown concrete support. According to Feltri, many of them are afraid.
“People don’t have the bravery to raise their heads,” he said. A gutted sheep left near his door was the Mafia’s response to the demonstration.
“I fell in love with this land,” Feltri recounted, describing the beauty of his valley, its “incredible biodiversity” and fertility.
“It’s a land that I love and want to defend,” he said, even at the cost of fires, theft, and killed sheep.
After every threat or abuse, Feltri is willing to raise the stakes. “I’m willing to go deep in this,” he said. He wants to free his land from the Mafia’s control, and restore Via del Grano, a mile-long road from Roman times. So he started a fundraising campaign with other young farmers in the valley.
“This is our land, the land of our fathers and our mothers, of our ancestors, honest and tireless people. From here we start again and we will not be the ones to retreat,” the website of the project reads, describing the fundraising campaign to restore Via del Grano.