A creative processing initiative working with ingredients that the industrial system only sees as waste, while creating dignified work and development opportunities for the most vulnerable and marginalised in society.

Name of organisation
Year established
Lucca plain, Capannori (Tuscany), Italy
Type of organisation
Initiative transforming agricultural surplus into processed food
Key words 
Collaborative short food supply chain; Food waste; Food justice
Thematic focus
Innovative governance

Who is ConServe?

ConServe is a processing initiative which transforms surplus agricultural products into new resources, new processed products in jars and tins ready for use.

When agricultural production in the Piana di Lucca generates surpluses or products that cannot be sold as fresh products due to their imperfect size, shape, or due to oversupply, ConServe recovers them, transforming them into quality products and feeding a solidarity supply chain. ConServe works with vulnerable and disadvantaged people, investing in their talents, and investing in traditions and knowledge at risk of being forgotten, in a regenerated physical space. ConServe aims to recognise opportunities for the community where conventional agri-food systems usually would see only waste.

The products produced by ConServe are sold at a fair price for those who produce and for those who buy, because it remunerates the work of producers and of all those involved in the production chain, with a careful eye on the most vulnerable workers and consumers.

ConServe produces a wide range of products, such as tomato sauces and purees, pre-cooked legumes and soups, jams and preserves. Besides processing the products cultivated by its members, the laboratory is also active for third-party processing. Thanks to the collaboration of multiple actors, ConServe is developing a short food supply chain with high ethical, environmental and social content, innovating both in terms of production processes and social impact, trying to address problems related to work, production organisation and consumers’ behaviour.

Who do ConServe work with and how do they do it?

ConServe project collaborates with farmers, agricultural cooperatives, social cooperatives, fair trade shops, short-food supply chain shops, religious associations, other non-profit organisations, a research centre, public and religious institutions.

ConServe is legally an ATS (“Temporary Association of Scope”). The collaboration between the different partners is mainly regulated through verbal and informal agreements. ConServe allows farmers in the Lucca area to bring their products to the laboratory to be processed (e.g., production surplus, unfit products, etc.). In this way, they can convert a part of their harvest that cannot be sold fresh into valuable processed products with new marketing opportunities, and this simultaneously allows them to increase their revenues and reduce waste.

In the territory of Lucca there is a wide variety of territorial collaborative arrangements between different subjects including, for example:

  • Piana del Cibo (https://pianadelcibo.it/, Food Plain): a coordinated governance and a participatory management of food policies between the municipalities of the Lucca area, in Tuscany (Lucca, Capannori, Altopascio, Porcari and Villa Basilica), with the aim of building a sustainable local agri-food system.
  • Distretto di Economia Civile (Civil Economy District): collaborative network involving local institutions, third sector and non-profit associations and other local authorities, with the aim of promoting a local development model centred on co-responsibility, civicism and economic, environmental and social sustainability.
  • Lucca Biodinamica (http://www.luccabiodinamica.it/, Biodynamic Lucca): network formed by 13 agricultural firms in the Province of Lucca that aims at promoting, enhancing and marketing agricultural and processed products, obtained by applying the cultivation principles of organic and biodynamic agriculture, and safeguarding the biodiversity of the territory.
  • Food education initiatives in schools: a wide range of initiatives on this theme involving teachers, students and parents, the Slow Food Community, the municipalities (Capannori and Lucca), the canteen committee and catering companies.
  • Individual and/or collective initiatives, led by both consumers and/or farmers: the area has several farmers’ markets, SPGs (Solidarity Purchasing Groups, whose number is uncertain as they are rather informal initiatives), farmers’ shops and SFSC’s shops.
  • Food poverty and food waste recovery initiatives. These include a wide range of initiatives and projects, from soup kitchens and food parcels run by charities to a special Emporium for low-income families.

What are ConServe's main challenges?

Market Reach

The project has experienced difficulties in marketing its products outside the local area.

Moreover, ConServe has also struggled to collaborate with large-scale retail circuits, due to the limited quantities produced and relatively high price of the products it offers. This is partially due to the inability of the processing plant to achieve scale economies and to the employment of disadvantaged and disabled workers. These two factors lower the productivity of the project, raising costs and therefore prices of final products.

The difficulties in the relationships between partners and in aligning production and commercial needs between different partners have led to a reorientation of the governance structure of the initiative, concentrating it more on the action of some partners, acting as main operational and decision-makers or coordinators.

This has been made even more difficult to involve agricultural producers who are small and scattered over the territory. It is necessary to work on strengthening the sense of belonging to the territory among different actors, and on building a commonality of objectives among them.

Poor Policy Awareness

ConServe has also noted low awareness among public decision-makers of the importance of enhancing local agriculture in terms of environmental impacts and revitalisation of the local economy. As well as this, the agricultural policy (RDP, Rural Development Plans) often lacks a local level of functioning, close to the specificity and needs of involved territories. In general, there are few mechanisms to encourage small collective initiatives.

What are the priorities for ConServe?

ConServe would like to create better connections with the Piana del Cibo initiative, which offers great opportunities for trying to overcome the obstacles mentioned above. This might happen through the creation of a coordinated governance and a participatory management of food policies between the municipalities of the Lucca area, able to create synergies among different actors within the same territory, with the aim of building a sustainable local agri-food system.

Conserve would also like to improve communication and marketing activities to convey to consumers the peculiar quality and ethical characteristics of the products. Part of this might involve conducting market research on consumers’ willingness to pay for “ethical” products. Finally, ConServe seeks to increase economies of scale of the plant by involving more local producers.