Food beyond growth. European territories of agri-food production between patrimonialisation and sustainability


  • Matteo Basso University Iuav of Venice
  • Marta De Marchi University Iuav of Venice
  • Giulia Lucertini University Iuav of Venice


food and wine production, monoculture, patrimonialisation, local development, sustainability




Post-growth has almost always been approached from the perspective of cities, too often forgetting rural areas. Referring to urban areas, research and reflection on this topic have mainly considered issues such as housing, infrastructure, real estate and industrial development. However, also in the light of contemporary global challenges – climate change, energy crisis, access to limited natural resources, demographic and economic transformations –, it is becoming urgent to also look at differently inhabited territories from a post-growth perspective: constellations of conurbations, small towns and villages, rural areas and their agricultural productions.

In Europe, some territories are characterised today by highly specialised and intensive agricultural productions, providing high value-added products that are in high demand and attractive, especially in international markets. These territories – often referred to as agro-industrial (Brenner and Katsikis, 2020) – represent, to all intents and purposes, areas of production of an industrial nature, whose economies call for strong drives towards innovation, optimisation, and almost always outright exploitation in the use of resources.

In the most economically successful cases, the specific productions of these territories have favoured a cascading local development. Not only have some agricultural productions become increasingly profitable over the years, yet also tourism has also exploded in the form of thematic museums and events, landscape itineraries, farm and company visits, overnight stays in villages, etc. In short, local food and wine productions have become the leverage of local development policies: such a “patrimonialisation” process results from the interaction of a plurality of actors operating locally and globally, who carefully select the discursive elements through which a territory and its “typical” products are communicated (Tomé, 2021). Pro-growth local agendas, however, often clash with the impacts that such processes generate. Market-led intensive agricultural productions, for instance, pay very little attention to the socio-ecological impacts of monocultures (i.e. land-use and landscape modifications, environmental degradation, and public health issues connected to the massive use of chemicals) (Franco et al., 2022); in addition, the host economy may suffer from negative externalities as touristification, and the uncontrolled increase in the value of real estate properties and agricultural land.

The paper aims to bring these three aspects into tension – post-growth, intensive agricultural production, territorial patrimonialisation – by trying to put forward some hypotheses that could rebalance the weights and relationships between economic, social and environmental issues in the rural world, highlighting the risks of the conventional agricultural production model, but also identifying the existing potential. The aim is to try to build future-proof innovative territorial visions and strategies, with a view to circularity and sustainability. This is also highlighted and desired by the EU (2021) in the “Long-term Vision for the EU's Rural Areas - Towards stronger, connected, resilient and prosperous rural areas by 2040”.

Empirical evidence derives from the observation of two territories in the Veneto Region (North-Eastern Italy), where some “typical” and economically competitive agri-food products originate: Lusia, where salad and a specific variety of garlic are produced, and Vittorio Veneto in the heart of the globally known Prosecco wine production zone. These products are today particularly important on both the national and international markets and their territories are protected by specific designations of origin. However, after a great and not infrequently deregulated expansion of agricultural productions (Basso, 2019), both contexts suffer today from significant environmental problems, and a generalised socio-economic contraction. The two contexts help us understand that agriculture undoubtedly plays a fundamental role in both food production and territorial development, however, the limits of the current development models also call for a reflection on the need for a new model of growth also in the rural world.

Author Biographies

  • Matteo Basso, University Iuav of Venice

    Assistant professor, University Iuav of Venice

  • Marta De Marchi, University Iuav of Venice

    Assistant professor, Department of Architecture and Arts

  • Giulia Lucertini, University Iuav of Venice

    Assistant professor, Department of Architecture and Arts


Basso, M. (2019). “Land-use changes triggered by the expansion of wine-growing areas: a study on the Municipalities in the Prosecco’s production zone (Italy)”. Land Use Policy, 83, 390-402.

Brenner, N. and Katsikis, N. (2020). “Operational Landscapes: Hinterlands of the Capitalocene”. Architectural Design, 22-31.

European Commission (2021). “Long-term vision for rural areas: for stronger, connected, resilient, prosperous EU rural areas”, press release, available at (retrieved on 26/01/2024).

Franco, S., Pancino, B., Martella, A. and De Gregorio, T. (2022). “Assessing the Presence of a Monoculture: From Definition to Quantification”. Agriculture 12(9), 1506.

Tomé, P. (2021). “Unexpected Effects on Some Spanish Cultural Landscapes of the Mediterranean Diet”. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Special Issue Mediterranean Diet: Health, Environment, Culture. Sustainability 18(7), 3829.