The Odyssey of Matteo Mazzola – Rock Dust for Regenerative Agriculture in Italy
Matteo Mazzola, founder of Terra Organica and graduate in Agriculture, holds seminars on regenerative agriculture on a regular basis in Italy and abroad. He works as a consultant and instructor at various farms, including the ISIDE farm, which he co-founded, employing the principles of Nutraceuticals and Agroecology. He has learned from world-renowned teachers, thus consolidating the principles of soil regeneration.“During my childhood I had my first contact with the world of agriculture,” Mazzola says. “The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency by John Seymour always permeated the walls of my home as a sort of magic symbol. Many memories emerge… I envisage myself as a child, turning the pages enchanted and absorbed, contemplating its marvelous pictures with all its poetry.”
Matteo has always been in love with nature and agriculture, but over time he has become more and more distressed about the rapidly changing planet and climate. He began studying agriculture at the age of fourteen. As soon as he concluded his studies, he left everything behind and started an odyssey of research and training across four continents with world-renowned teachers, among whom there are David Holmgren, Darren Doherty, Luigi Manenti, Eugenio Grass, Aspen and David Edge, Annemarie and Graham Brookman, Joel Salatin, Jairo Restrepo Rivera, and others.
He had a non-conformist attitude toward school and institutions and felt the need to move closer to the natural world and to study it thoroughly. This is what encouraged him to travel, where he discovered that revitalizing or completely restoring soils which have been highly depleted by climate-related events, especially severe drought, is possible through rock powder and preparations.
As Mazzola relates it, “I began traveling slowly and extensively. I traveled a large portion of Europe by bicycle, observing and experiencing Mother Earth, her ever-changing nature, crises, and extraordinary beauty.”In 1986, Matteo traveled to Spain to take part in a research project, representing a major turning point for his career. The project was named ‘Sunseed Desert Technology,’ conducted by the British Sunseed Trust Ltd, which focused on environmental regeneration, appropriate technology, sustainable living, and alternative buildings. Matteo and his colleagues worked on technologies and methods to live sustainably in a semi-desert environment.
During this experience, an encounter with a volunteer brought with it an epiphany. Mazzola explains:
“I remember that a volunteer from Scotland, more precisely a remote island in the North Sea, mentioned that the soils of his property were highly impoverished. Nevertheless, he found a solution… He managed to revitalize the soils by applying local rock dusts directly on them, thus replenishing the nutrients in the soil. Suddenly, many thoughts and ideas about remineralization and soil, that were until then vague and fuzzy, finally began to take shape, manifesting themselves vividly and crystal-clear. Thus, I started applying all of this knowledge which had been passed down to me, therefore starting remineralizing soils, producing nutrient-dense foods, fermented products, compost tea, and so on.”
Methods to tackle desertification and drought
Sunseed Desert Technology’s project was carried out with a women’s cooperative based in Morocco, in collaboration with the University of Granada. The cooperative, based in the province of Agadir, had worked producing argan oil for a long time. Unfortunately, due to the rapidly changing climate and reduced rainfall, several complications related to the transplant of argan trees had occurred.
Matteo was in charge of the agricultural component. The project was carried out in Southern Spain precisely because it’s the only area in Europe to be characterized by a semi-desert climate and arid soils, simulating conditions in the province of Agadir in Morocco, which made it possible to conduct accurate research. Matteo and the other volunteers developed techniques of reproduction of local mycorrhizae to be used as an inoculate for horticultural crops. They also developed methods for planting argan trees successfully, in order to help the Moroccan cooperative.
Current organizations and projectsA few years ago Matteo leased ten acres of agricultural land on Lake Garda where he started working with colleagues on the production of crops, cereals, grapes, olives, fruit and some products of animal origin such as eggs. By using regenerative agriculture techniques, he is able to obtain nutrient-dense foods. Today he works at the ISIDE farm, situated on Lake Iseo, where he carries out projects and experiments in this field.
More recently, Matteo created the organization Terra Organica, whose aim is restoring the potential of renewable natural resources, maximizing the efficiency of non-renewable resources, reducing variable costs, and increasing crop yield. He works as a consultant and instructor at various farms and he regularly holds seminars on remineralization and other techniques of regenerative agriculture, as well as other subjects such as carbon sequestration.
Terra Organica has become a platform which teaches and spreads state-of-the-art principles and concepts related to agroecology, regenerative agriculture, agroforestry, polyculture, conservation agriculture, bioremediation, forest gardening, holistic management and more.
Preparations and experimentsMatteo regularly integrates the use of rock dust with a series of preparations containing prebiotics (substances absorbed by the organism and used by the intestinal flora) and probiotics (nonpathogenic living microorganisms, including some commensal bacterial flora) such as biofertilizers and Bokashi preparation (Bokashi is a Japanese word meaning “fermented organic matter”). Rock dust plays a very important role in the improvement, through deep remineralization, of the microbial activity and the metabolic reactions during the fermentation and the aging period of the preparations. Prebiotic and probiotic preparations rebalance the natural or intestinal environment, and their activity is useful to stimulate the reproduction of beneficial local microorganisms.
Biofertilizers are created by adding various elements, among which are microorganisms, sugars, proteins, liquid compounds, and rock dust. All the ingredients are then heated so that the microorganisms can start forming a fermentation broth with a high content of soluble minerals.
Over the years he has conducted various experiments with rock dust, carrying out soil chemical analyses verifying the effect of remineralization on crops. Moreover, he has also used rock dust as a pesticide, applying such preparations directly on plant leaves to deter aphids and prevent fungal diseases.
Microorganisms and rock dust
Microorganisms such as bacteria or mycorrhizal fungi, have the ability to make available nutrients that the plants alone wouldn’t be able to absorb because they are too complex on a chemical level. The microorganisms produce organic acids and enzymes, which break down the minerals and make them assimilable by the plant. At the ISIDE farm, after several years studying microorganisms, Matteo has come to understand how those microorganisms play an important role in the production of natural antibiotics and the protection of the plant from pathogens. He uses the microbial activity to speed up the process of solubilization of the nutrients trapped in the rock dust.
Refining the perception of tasteThe process of remineralization also has a strong impact on the nutritional value of the final product that will be consumed or sold. For the purposes of discovering if a product is rich in quality nutrients, it’s crucial to develop an acute sensory awareness, in which nowadays only sommeliers and tasters are educated. By systematically tasting the final product which has been exposed to remineralization, it’s possible to refine the perception of taste. Matteo states that our five senses reveal to us a trove of significant information about food. Unfortunately, we are inured to food containing poor-quality salt, poor-quality fats and poor-quality sugars, which we so often find in supermarket products. Those products numb our taste buds and prevent us from perceiving flavors. It’s crucial to start again buying at farmhouses or from small-scale producers, thus reawakening the senses through a diet made of food rich in nutrients and which could enable us to really taste and truly feel.
Marialaura Faitini is an Interpreter, Translator and a Business English and Spanish Teacher, with a BA in Interpreting and a MA in Simultaneous Interpreting and Specialized Translation (English & Spanish). She currently works as an Interpreter at the Prefecture of Milan, in the field of International Security, and she teaches Business English and Spanish at various Italian companies. She also works as a translator in the field of Agritech and Telecommunications for a few Italian companies. She is very concerned about environmental issues and climate.