While there may seem to be a very wide choice of woods suitable for their activity, the first real difficulty Boschi Vivi was faced with was finding woods that would meet some minimum criteria, like being easily accessible and covering an area of at least ten hectares, to ensure that the project would be economically sustainable. “The Apennines area, unfortunately, is characterised by extreme land fragmentation, which is the legacy of Roman law and of changes in the legislation that have layered over the centuries – explains Anselma – We found the Martina d’Orba woods, which suited our case because they are large enough and served by trails, on a real estate website – adds Giacomo Marchiori – The initial investment was covered for by the prize awarded by Fondazione Edoardo Garrone, while the first activities in the woods were financed by crowdfunding. Later on, we also received the regional funds of the Rural Development Programme (RDP), which, for the type of activities carried out by Boschi Vivi, covers up to 100% of costs. The first extraordinary maintenance works could thus start in March 2018”.
According to Germanic law, ownership of inherited agricultural land is indivisible – a model that in Italy is only applied in Alto Adige, where it is known as Maso chiuso. Elsewhere, in mountain areas, land inheritances layered over time, resulting in a collage of fragmented properties, woods and pastures that cannot provide adequate income for a business or a family. “We have set ourselves the objective of developing regulations and creating a fund for woods similar to what FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano, the National Trust for Italy) did – says Camilla – We have also begun to study the ‘land associations’, which jointly manage activities in agricultural lands, wood, and pastures, and, in Piedmont, are recognized by a regional law.. In 2019, Boschi Vivi received 26 requests for collaboration from as many as 9 Italian regions: Umbria, Lombardy, Apulia, Sicily, Veneto, Piedmont, Liguria, Abruzzo and Emilia- Romagna.
A critical aspect is the type of contract that grants Boschi Vivi ownership of the woods: it cannot be a loan, which may be cancelled, or a 15-year agricultural lease, because a longer time span is needed. The contract, clearly, cannot be shorter than the one we offer our clients. . At the moment, it is therefore difficult to conceive extending our activity to state-owned land.
So far, three people have been buried in the woods, and 8 contracts have been signed. About 500 places have been identified overall, selecting 50 trees per hectare that can be recognized among others by a coloured ribbon. The first ceremony was held in June 2018, and one year later the relatives of the deceased came back to remember their loved one. “We have prepared two questionnaires: one is on our website, the other is submitted to those clients who have already tried our service. We would like to collect data in order to understand whether choosing a tree, a tree of one’s own, can ease the pain of mourning, and whether getting ready for “the passage” is truly soothing” concludes Giacomo. If one listens to Stelvio and Marina, the answer is definitely yes: “We like the idea of choosing a place where whoever wants to can join us, choosing a day when the sky is clear, and sit next to us at the foot of a tree”.
The first ceremony
“Whenever ceremonies are held, we simply make ourselves available. It’s the deceased’s dear ones who decide whether to hold a private, intimate ceremony or to organise a concert or a reading. Together, we set the date. One of the cooperative members is always present, he/she discretely keeps out of the way, and then takes care of closing the hole. At the end of the ceremony – says Anselma – Boschi Vivi draws up an act, a report to be sent to Urbe Municipality. Anyone present at that time is automatically a public officer”.
All types of religious and secular ceremonies can be held in the woods. Priests, religious, speakers, musicians and other figures can be present, at the deceased’s relatives’ discretion, and always respecting the wishes of the deceased. At the entrance to the woods, the cooperative has set up a dedicated ceremonial area, but the ceremony can also be held directly by the tree. At the end of the ceremony, a commemorative plaque is affixed, bearing the deceased’s name and the dates of birth and death. A picture and an inscription can also be added.