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A Sense of Place: Perugia’s Organic Market

An important ability for a journalist to have is writing well about place. Matthew Morgan, an Umbra Institute student, chose Perugia’s organic market as his focus for this assignment, written for Professor Bongiovani’s Comparative Journalism class. Read a shorter version of his piece below: 

The Piccinino Piazza is set beside the duomo in the main square ofPerugia, and on the first Sunday of every month vendors from the Umbria region and beyond set up stands in Piccinino for a single day to sell their produce and goods at the organic market.

Visitors are greeted by these many stands and a large white banner reading Mostra Mercato di Prodotti Biologici stretched from the walls of the two buildings forming the mouth of the small piazza. Piazza Piccinino, smaller and more compact than Piazza Italia which houses the sprawling Mercato Antiquarito, creates the perfect environment for the slow Sunday morning atmosphere of the organic market.

The contrast isn’t coincidental either. When the organic market began in 1992 the city of Perugia placed it opposite Piazza Italia and asked that it take place the first Sunday of every month in contrast to the Mercato Antiquarito which takes place the last Saturday of every month.

Ruthild Heiman, who has managed the organic market since 1995, says that “It [Piazza Piccinino] is small, but something of a protection for us because there is no traffic.” The small size of the piazza also creates a certain element of intimacy as well, which is complemented by the high walls of the surrounding buildings that form a kind of room around the market’s visitors. The size of the piazza also corresponds to the size of the market, which has no more than 25 producers according to Heiman.

Although the market has a small number of producers, the range of goods and products offered is quite varied and as Heiman emphasizes, the uniqueness of each product is guaranteed. As a consequence of this variety, a visitor is able to purchase fresh tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, homemade soap and handmade jewelry in his or her short walk around the piazza.

The piazza fills as the afternoon approaches and the malaise of a Sunday morning burns off with the early fog. However, the Sunday morning intimacy of the market, instead of fading, seems to grow with this buzzing of voices in the afternoon. The social element of the market and the interaction between the producers and the buyers is an essential part of the market experience.Hieman, in discussing the criteria for selecting producers for the market, emphasizes the personal connections between the producers and the buyers, saying “We in this market, we look for people who you can look in the face.”

This social element not only emphasizes the intimacy of the market and piazza described earlier, but also creates an appreciation for provincial and regional agriculture within visitors. Piazza Piccinino functions as the home of the market on Sundays; however, the Umbrian, Tuscan and Lazian regions are the permanent homes of the farms and shops of the market’s producers. In this sense the market offers a social meeting place and a most local connection between consumers and agricultural producers in the region. Visitors, however, can gain an appreciation for this culture without even speaking to the producers, but simply by viewing the various goods and the polaroids of sheep and olive fields displayed at many stands.

At one stand, visitors will encounter various hats, capes, and even purses shaped like mice all made from sheep wool and then dyed different colors.Little imagination is required to picture the sheep farm located outside of Assisi.However, when one considers the steps required to bring the products of this pastoral Umbrian sheep farm to the gray stone walls of Perugia, much like the thought exercise proposed by Rousseau in Emile, the uniqueness of the organic market becomes so apparent.

Sunday mornings are easy to sleep through, especially for the many students in Perugia. However, Perugians and visitors to Perugia alike should find the time to take advantage of this opportunity and come to the Piccinino Piazza the first Sunday of a month to see how sheep farms, olive fields, and local workshops find their way into the center of Perugia for a day.

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