From the field to the fork: G.A.S. Tiburtino, an ethical and solidarity purchasing group in Rome
Author: Venere S. Sanna, Department of Methods and Model for Economics, Territory and Finance (MEMOTEF), Sapienza University of Rome
Case study type: Local initiative
Keywords: Solidarity/Ethical Purchasing Groups, food, Rome, Italy
‘Gruppi di Acquisto Solidale’ (G.A.S.) or Solidarity/Ethical Purchasing Groups, are collective purchasing organisations that form alternative food networks managed by a group of citizens (known as ‘gasisti’) who come together to buy food and other goods at wholesale prices and/or from small local producers, to be redistribution between members.
‘Gas Tiburtino’ was founded in 2001 by a small group of people that got in touch through the Internet, essentially beginning as strangers but uniting via a shared vision. In 2016 the size of this group was still relatively small, comprising 8 families and a total of 24 people. All members are Italians, and are mainly young couples with children.
The majority (90%) of the Tiburtino gasisti live or work in the eponymous neighbourhood of Tiburtina, and the nearby area of Colli Aniene. It is an informal, unregistered association, without offices, and usually the group meets at a member’s home.
G.A.S. generally do not use any specific technological tool, and in this case they do not use any internet platform. In the weekly routine of the GAS, members’ orders are made online and via telephone. The organisation collects money in cash at the delivery meeting, or via transfer into the GAS bank account, prior to placing a large collective order. The producer/s deliver/s the food/products to a member’s home, and all participants go to the address to collect their own part of the order. They save money, cutting the intermediary chain of supermarkets, and have the additional benefit of buying local/organic food. Sometimes a GAS collects money and pays for products in advance that will be “harvested” during the next season, thus contributing to the economic sustainability of the farmer’s production. Each gasista is in charge of collecting and placing orders for a specific product (vegetables, fruit, pasta, cheese, cleaning products etc.) and is therefore called the ‘referente del prodotto’ (‘product representative’).
Probably due to its small size, this GAS does not have a structured system of management. Activities are run according to the participants: anyone who wants to propose or organize something is free do so. Decisions are made by first consulting the other members, and are then taken if a majority approve. E.g. if members have to decide whether or not to start buying from one producer, somebody proposes them and they discuss. If enough people are interested then they will order from that producer.
This initiative was developed independently from any institutions, and emerged without the support of government actors. These kind of initiatives emerge, survive, and continue existing, thanks to the work and commitment of volunteers. The main stakeholders are usually private citizens and local producers/farmers. In Italy the lack of interference from regulatory bodies has probably contributed to their survival and flourishing.
The comparative assessment of European initiatives in Europe shows that in general, Solidarity/Ethical Purchasing Groups (GASs) do not have a high environmental impact, and tend not to score highly on innovation indexes, which are measurable in terms of GHG emissions.
However, they do perform reasonably well in economic terms, and in the Italian context they “play an increasingly important role in offering a survival opportunity to small farms, as they recruit them to reconstruct local food chains, while shielding (...) often family-run entrepreneurs from the worst effects of the financial crisis” (Grasseni 2014, pp. 188-189). They tend to be economically sustainable, because (i) they do not require a high initial investment, (ii) they require few running costs, (iii) they do not depend or rely on external financial sources and (iv) their management and organizational model is flexible. Moreover, most of them do not need to own or rent premises - their activity can be organized by mail or phone, and requires only periodic meetings that can be help in public spaces - and they rarely impose fees on their members.
Overall, GASs provide their members with financial savings, and prior research indicates that they “solve in a very effective way a growing problem of food security that the current financial and ecologic crisis has induced” (Grasseni 2014, p. 189). They also score well in terms of social capital and social inclusion.
In conclusion, due to the relative simplicity of their activity, GASs show a high potential in terms of reproducibility and transferability.
This research has been conducted between 2013 and 2016, in the framework of the EU funded project TESS (Towards European Societal Sustainability) (www.tess-transition.eu/)
For more details, see:
Celata F., Sanna V.S. (in publication 2019), A multi-dimensional assessment of community- based transition initiatives in Europe, Regional Environmental Change Special Issue “Sustainable transitions to low carbon societies: insights from European community-based initiatives”.
Celata F., Coletti R., Hendrickson Y. C., Sanna V.S. (2018) Community-based initiatives, active citenzenship and sustainability in Rome: a comparative analysis (in Italian) in Coppola A. e Punziano G. (a cura di), Roma in Transizione. Governo, strategie, metabolismi e quadri di vita di una metropoli, ISBN 978-88-99237-13-4, Vol. 2, pp. 363-374
Sanna V.S. (2018), Grassroots initiatives for sustainability transitions: community-wide impacts and economic functioning, Special Issue “Post-Growth Organization”, Management Revue, 29(4), pp. 349 – 380. ISSN: 0935-9915 DOI: doi.org/10.5771/0935-9915-2018-4-349
Celata F., Sanna V.S. (2014), Community activism and sustainability: a multi-dimensional assessment, Working Paper, Dip. Metodi e Modelli per l’Economia il Territorio e la Finanza, [online]