The Inventive Way Italian Farmers Are Storing Fruit Amid The Energy Crisis

Since Russia's most recent invasion of its neighbor Ukraine started back in February 2022 (via Reuters), you may have heard about some of the fallout the conflict has caused, from a lower quantity of Ukrainian grain exports to a shortage of space in which to store those grain crops to a lack of food and shelter for Ukrainians who have remained in the country. But have you heard about the war's energy crisis spurred across Europe and the U.K.?

According to the Associated Press, Europe is facing a severe energy crisis that's causing the energy bills of residents and business owners alike to skyrocket to unmanageable levels. The outlet explains that the crisis' leading cause is Russia's politically motivated shutoff of a major natural gas pipeline connecting to Germany and normally supplying the continent with a large amount of cheap natural gas. But since the pipeline's shutoff early this month, European countries — whose energy bills were already strained due to the unprecedented heatwave that has held the continent in its grip since July (via Human Rights Watch) — have been plunged into a nightmare, with energy costs primarily related to cooling jumping as high as 500% in some cases (via The Morning Advertiser).

With Europeans of all stripes looking for ways to save on their energy use, from taking shorter showers to driving their cars slower (via CNBC), a new strategy some Italian farmers adopted might just take the cake for its ingenuousness.

Italian apple farmers are storing fruit in cool underground caves

Facing an energy crisis that has set their utility bills soaring and affected normal kitchen activities, some Europeans are finding innovative ways to save on their energy usage, according to Insider. In the U.K., that might look like swapping gas-guzzling vintage stoves for newer, more energy-efficient models (via Bloomberg); in Germany, shutting off the lights in busy bakeries; and in Italy, cooking pasta in water that has come to a boil but then left to fully cook through with the lid on and the gas turned off. And that latter country has yet another energy-saving technique, one that's being used by apple farmers in the north of the country: storing the fruit in "natural refrigerators" consisting of caves carved underground.

Reuters reports that a group of apple farmers located in the Trentino region has taken the concept of a root cellar and gone big, utilizing 34 natural caves under the Dolomite hills in which to store their fruit after it's harvested and before it goes to market — instead of using commercial refrigeration that requires electricity.

The underground caves remain as cool as a fridge

Currently storing 30,000 tons of fruit, a figure which is expected to rise to about 40,000 tons, the underground caves being used by the northern Italian apple company Melinda save around 32% of average energy expenditures and are currently able to house about 13% of the orchards' production, according to Reuters.

Located about 300 meters below the surface, the caves are cooled with gas before being used as storage and, from then on, maintain a constant temperature of 34 degrees F. And while the idea didn't immediately make sense to all of the company's farmers, the results have most of them convinced. "We were hesitant at first," Loris Calliari told Reuters. "Then we realized that it works, because there is a good saving of energy, and it is very sustainable. We hope to be able to keep going with our project."