Hemp and Change – Can cannabis farming help clean up the land contaminated by Europe’s biggest steel plant?
Farmers in the Puglia region are growing hemp to help decontaminate the area surrounding Italy’s largest power plant.
The road into Taranto is dotted with 100-year-old olive trees and low stone houses. The town, in the region of Puglia, is in the heel of the boot-shaped Italian peninsula. “The city between the two seas” straddles the southern Mediterranean, known as the Mar Grande, and a small inlet known as the Mar Piccolo. The air has a heavy metallic scent.
At the edge of town is a farm that has been known, since the 1800s, for its traditional cheeses. People came from all over to buy dairy products handmade in ancient, wood-fired terracotta furnaces. Those days are long gone, owner Vincenzo Fornaro explains, as he stands in a field surrounded by chest-high cannabis plants.
In 2008, local officials forced Fornaro to cull his animals, which were no longer safe for human consumption. They were contaminated with a dangerous cocktail of nickel, lead, and other toxic substances. That was the end of the cheese. The culprit, just over a mile away, is the biggest steel plant in Europe. The cannabis plants have replaced the dairy farm in an attempt to undo the environmental damage.
Fornaro was aware the plant was spewing toxic chemicals into the air and soil, he said, in Italian. “I can see the effects of this horrible factory on me.” When he was 20, he had a kidney removed. He told Italian newspaper La Stampa that his own mother had died after being diagnosed with a tumor.
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