New mulberry plantations to reestablish Italian silk culture

Sericulture and silk weaving were for many centuries the engine of the economy of the north east Italy. The landscapes of lowland meadows were not as we see them now but they were characterized by groves of mulberry trees whose leaves provided nourishment to the silkworms of Italian silk culture.

Seizing the true meaning of the word crisis, whose Greek etymology means change, some people have returned to explore new/old ways looking for opportunities in local traditions. Following these dreams, from a couple of years ago were born cooperatives of rearers who recommenced breeding the “prodigious worms” that produce silk, the most durable, shiny and thin natural thread that exists in the world.

There are many different reasons why the silk industry was abandoned, and we can summarize the main causes of the decline in the stupidity and greed of man: the price wars of mass production and pollution due to pesticides. Silkworms, in fact, are very delicate animals and were very susceptible to an insecticide that for many years was used in agriculture. Despite being banned for more than a decade in the whole country except the province of Bolzano, its use continued illegally and only now use has been reduced enough to allow people to start silkworm rearing again with new farms (trees and silkworms).

Everything seems simple: I grow a tree, take the leaves, I have worms and expect these to produce their cocoons. But it is not so easy. Behind every activity there is a deep knowledge required and those who want to start a business must be guided by experts who can give the right advice.

There are many varieties of mulberry each of which is specific to certain climatic areas and there are different breeds of silkworms as a function of the type of mulberry leaf and the type of silk to be produced. There is the choice of silkworm eggs to start new farms each spring. It is essential to care for and check the health of the worms (in the nineteenth century almost all European farms silkworm were destroyed by a disease) and finally there are techniques for the choice and selection of cocoons.

Knowledge and “know how” (experience) are the assets of a person and a community and fortunately in Veneto this knowledge was preserved and enhanced in research institutes and is now available to those who want to recommence breeding silkworms and producing silk. There are two institutions that form an international reference point in Europe: the CRA-API of Padua and Veneto Agriculture.

The CRA-API of Padua is a center founded in 1871 precisely as a result of health problems in the European sericulture and it specializes in the study of the entire cycle. It keeps eggs of many varieties and in recent years has studied use of cocoons in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics applications and new “feeding” methods to raise the precious silkworms even during the winter months. It is the CRA-API which in recent years has supported all those who have reactivated the production of cocoons and in particular the social cooperative “Il Cantiere della Povvidenza SPA – società persona ambiente” of Belluno is now ready to train new farmers.

The second center is that of the Veneto Agriculture pilot farm in Villiago (70 hectares) in the municipality of Sedico, where 2600 mulberry trees have been planted to start a production firm and to create a center for training and information for all those who want to return to work in one of the phases of the cycle of silk production.

In the old village inside the company, in fact, a center is created where reproduction of silkworms could be resumed and simultaneously training to spread the culture of silk to new ‘entrepreneurs’. Support requests are arriving all the time, and not only from Italy. These people need a place to learn and experience all the opportunities offered by the cultivation of mulberry trees with the assistance of an experienced guide. The ultimate outputs range from silk to weaving, from cosmetics to food, from training to tourism.

Maybe we are again close to the times when the landscape of the Veneto region can once again be characterized by mulberry trees and the rustle of Italian silk return for ladies around the world to dream about.