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Libellula's 'Gold of Rome': Slow Food Intern Launches Olive Oil Startup

Mar. 20, 2017

Libellula's 'Gold of Rome': Slow Food Intern Launches Olive Oil Startup

This guest post is from Libellula, a new venture by Slow Food staffer Julia Franchi Scarselli.

The Roman emperors knew how to live. And when they wanted olive oil, they went to Sabina, a local region of rolling hills dotted with olive groves that produced oil so fragrant it came to be known as "The Gold of Rome." Now, thanks to a student entrepreneur at Smith College in Northampton, MA (and Slow Food USA intern), you can adopt one or more of the Sabina trees for yourself and have artisan extra virgin olive oil delivered to your doorstep in personalized bottles.

The startup focuses just as much on supporting growers and their traditional production practices as on convenient access to a specialty product. The idea blossomed one summer when Julia Franchi Scarselli -- who is half-Italian and half-American -- was visiting her father, Camillo, who is from Bologna and now lives in a medieval town outside Rome in the heart of Sabina. They were struck by the wonderful taste of the local olive oil and got to know some of the farmers, whose families had passed down the groves and the traditional cold-press technique that preserves the special flavor of the olive oil. But with industrially blended olive oils flooding the market, the Sabina families had lost hope of selling their oil in stores and had limited their production primarily for personal use. As Julia and Camillo spoke with these families, the idea began to flourish. By pooling the trees in a cooperative and introducing the olive oil to a larger market of consumers via the Internet, they could build scale, revitalize the olive groves with regular care, and help the Sabina families become viable producers again.

It was a win-win all around -- not least for lovers of quality olive oil living far from Sabina. Julia and Camillo picked the name Libellula, which means dragonfly in Italian, because it's a symbol of prosperity, community, and purity. In April 2016, Julia pitched Libellula and won a prize at the at the Draper Competition for Collegiate Women Entrepreneurs, and received the Entrepreneurial Spirit Award from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. With encouragement from René Heavlow, the Program Director of the Conway Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center at Smith College, Julia returned to Italy to turn Libellula into a reality. On Libellula's website, olive trees can be selected for adoption. The $140 adoption fee includes 9 liters of pure, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil shipped directly in personalized bottles. The adoption kit also includes a hand-painted ceramic flask from the artisan ceramicists in Deruta, and periodic updates on the growing conditions and cycle of the olive tree.

By adopting an olive tree through Libellula, members join a community that values authentic, family farming traditions. Members have an open invitation to come and visit their olive trees, get to know the family producers, and enjoy the beautiful landscape and other agrarian products of Sabina. For Julia, who was born in Milano and grew up between Italy and the U.S., Libellula unites her Italian-American heritage, bringing together the best of both worlds.

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