Organic products between market and culture

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The Turin “Salone del Gusto” (Salon of Taste), a yearly fair devoted to food and its responsible consumption seeks to promote a new relationship between producers and consumers, where the latter play a more active role in the purchase of food products.
The 2006 edition of the fair has seen a substantial increase in the presence of producers and also in public interest, as demonstrated by large attendances at discussions and cultural events. The Turin food fair, like the similar events which have proliferated in recent years, bears witness to a lively interest in food as a cultural phenomenon and not just as a item of consumption.

At the end of the 1980s, when the slow food movement gathered strength, few thought that the public would be interested in ethical and political issues to do with food. Instead, consumption and consumer behaviour have come to focus increasingly closely on forms of protection, accountability and involvement in methods of food production. The success of events like the Turin Salon is indicative of a set of ramified interests ranging from biodiversity to enogastronomy, from the appreciation of traditional food to organic farming. This last has grown significantly in importance in recent years, and indeed Italy now stands top of the European table as the country with the largest number of organic farm businesses.

A recent survey conducted by Observa as part of the Risbio project financed by the Ministry of Agricultural and Forestry Policies involved sixty organic food growers in various areas of Italy, and it collected first-hand information on the current situation of organic farming in Italy and its promotion and development.
After a period of rapid increase in land cultivated on public grants, the number of farm businesses has diminished and now stands at 40,000. Although public funding has diminished, the majority of producers continue to operate in the sector for reasons to do with respect for the environment and the promotion of good health. Now that the first phase of large-scale growth has concluded, the sector has stabilized, and businesses realize that they must specialize further. Producers are now concentrating their efforts on the medium-to-long period, rather than seeking to obtain short-term returns.
However, the most interesting aspect of the sector’s development is its promotion and valorization of organic products. Organic farmers have now understood that in order to achieve significant results, they must not only supply good and healthy produce, they must also intensify and improve everything associated with organic foodstuffs: in other words, all the culture aspects that may give added value to this category of products. There is growing awareness that the current marketing strategies, communication and initiatives, which are often undertaken in haphazard manner by individual producers or associations, fail to meet the requirements of consumers. Organic farmers stress the need to guarantee, besides the quality of products, also adequate returns on their efforts, so that the stock of experience and knowledge is not dispersed but stimulates and supports new initiatives.
The market and food have always oscillated between a tendency to consume and a tendency to set cultural value on products. Once again there is a desire for responsible consumption, which the market ignores, although there have been recent signs that the situation is changing. The most significant schemes catering to increased cultural demand for organic foodstuffs have been those centred on the promotion of local practices, organic farmers markets, open days at farm businesses, and the linking of producers and citizens via purchasing groups.