Fruit of the chestnut tree

Promoting mountain economies

It is an old and symbiotic relationship that binds the past and future of the tannin industry to the socio economic history of many mountain provinces of Northern and Central of Italy. Valleys located in a vast geographic area of Piedmont and Tuscany encompasses a huge part of the country, where the life of communities has been related for centuries to the preservation and harvesting of the chestnut.

This presence is fundamental for the daily survival of entire populations which gain from these tree species, with the epithet of “fruit of the bread tree”. This is the main economic resource for these communities which have been passed on from generation to generation. The cropping techniques, traditions, harvesting and consumption practices are so much part of the culture in these regions that historians have labelled it as the “chestnut civilisation”.

The chestnut woods and its fruits have represented an important element for the survival of the mountainous communities. In fact, its fruits have been for centuries the main source of food, whereas the use of wood has given way to the development of the local economy based on its use as fuel, manufacturing furniture, frames, wood utensils and basketry. Since 1850, new uses were added such as the tannin extraction and the related work on the forests was linked to the supply of the factories appearing from these same valleys. Growing industries significantly contributed to the preservation and development of the supply chain, which has only been made possible as a result of efficient forest management.

This presence was even more important in the long decades after the Second World War when whole valleys in many regions were abandoned and a deep crisis occurred in the agro-forestry economies, which were also as old as the “chestnut culture”.

This is what happened in many mountain valleys of Piedmont and Tuscany, where the presence of industrial companies such as Silvateam have contributed to the preservation of activities based on sustainable forest management. By doing this, it later encouraged the re-evaluation of the mountain and its resources, which during the last quarter of the twentieth century was accompanied by a recovery of the chestnut culture.

At present time, although the cultivation has progressively decreased in importance, the chestnut wood is and continues to be an important forestry resource, for its broad territorial distribution as well as for its irreplaceable environmental and economic role. Together with the fruit production, the wood production encouraged by the tannin industry is essential for the sustainable growth of the territory and the preservation of the local ecosystems.