A myriad of sprouting greens and rows of olive trees mark the landscape of Azienda Agricola CA.SA. Yet, a closer look makes evident the detrimental impact of human intervention and urban processes on the quality and depletion of the soil—dusty, dry, and littered with debris. Silvia Paolini deals daily with these challenges as she seeks to regenerate the land.

On September 24, during a visit to this local azienda in the outskirts of Rome, AUR Food Studies Master students gained hands-on experience studying and interacting with sustainable agricultural methods on this organic farm. The founder and manager of the Center for Agroecology and Social Agriculture (CA.SA.), Silvia spent the morning providing students with a mini-lecture, tour, tasting, and technical session to demonstrate her innovative farming methods centered on soil regeneration and respect for natural, organic processes. The azienda focuses both on community education through engagement with social initiatives and innovation for testing new ways to revitalize the land.

The AUR Food Studies Master students recently visited Azienda Agricola CA.SA. on a late September morning to gain hands-on experience with a local, sustainable farm within Rome’s borders. The farm manager, Silvia Paolini, graciously spent the morning with the students, explaining her innovative farming methods and personal dedication to sustainability during a mini-lecture, tour, tasting, and hands-on technical session where all had an opportunity to engage with the work.



Silvia completed her Master’s thesis in Social Farming and Agriculture, inspired by her ambition to utilize farming to address social needs and as a form of education or call to action. She conceived of the idea for CA.SA. in 2016, which came to fruition the following year, in part via funding from the European Union. These grants allowed her to purchase machinery and equipment, such as her tractor and irrigation system. Today, CA.SA. is both a wellness and education center, as well as a community agriculture initiative. Housed on the same grounds as a local mental health treatment center, the farm provides alternative methods of therapy by engaging patients in horticulture, composting, and other farm activities to connect them with nature and the Earth.

Beyond the social aspect of her azienda, Silvia uses CA.SA. as a place for innovation to test various sustainable or regenerative agriculture practices. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, she also initiated a small-scale CSA directed toward members of the CA.SA. community to sell some of their produce.

During their visit, students spent the late morning meandering through both the community and production/innovation gardens to understand Silvia’s processes by touching the soil, picking and sampling fresh tomatoes, and learning about the process of harvesting produce—including olives—for production. The visit concluded with a tasting of her local olive oil and tomatoes, followed by a technical activity in which Silvia engaged the students in composting. The desertification of the soil was evident as students sifted through plastics and pollutants to separate the compost, which exemplified the challenges she faces in revitalizing the land for production.  

Silvia’s care for exploring various methods around soil regeneration shone through in her work. Given the volcanic nature of Roman soil, the micronutrient benefits are high. However, the current conditions pose significant problems for the farm. Silvia pointed out the impact of excessive rocks and stones, as well as of human waste, such as plastics or discarded items, that emerge through the manual cultivation of the land. She aims to test various techniques for improving the soil quality; and she emphasized forms of composting as a potent way of regenerating the soil—such as a mix called bokashi, which includes manure, organic matter, yeast, and hay.



Her sustainable practices extend beyond soil fertility and regeneration, however. During a walk-through of the land, Silvia also pointed out a natural hedgerow created by pruned olive tree branches to protect the field from theft, while further serving to promote biodiversity and preventing pest invasions. She also hosts bees for other community farmers, which are having positive impacts on her crops through pollination benefits as well. Given that her land resides within a natural park, she closely adheres to the restrictions placed by governing authorities around the depths of land cultivation. She uses no to low tillage and on her farm, trying to respect natural processes as much as possible.

During conversations with the students, Silvia’s passion for the work shone through, despite the many challenges that she faces. She mentioned in passing the guilt she feels about the long car ride she takes every day to arrive to work; a reflection that brought her to calculate her own carbon emissions and to plant enough trees to offset the cost. This little story best exemplifies the circular economy she seeks to achieve on her farm and speaks to her dedication to sustainability and respect for the planet—not only professionally, but also personally.

Report by Michaela Colangelo, Graduate Student Assistant.