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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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MONTAGNE: Today, we begin a new series, a season of Hidden Kitchens. It explores little known kitchen rituals and traditions. Each Tuesday for the next couple of months, we'll travel the world to see how communities come together through food.

INSKEEP: Hidden Kitchens comes to us from our friends the Kitchen Sisters, Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson. And today, they take us to Sicily where the fight against Mafia crime syndicates has rippled into the world of food.

MONTAGNE: Lands seized from the Mafia are now being farmed by small agricultural cooperatives. They work under the name Libera Terra and aim to provide Mafia-free employment for Sicilians and organic products for a global market. The Kitchen Sisters call the story "The Pizza Connection."

WALTER BONANO: My name is Walter Bonano. I'll be the guide during this tour. Follow me.

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BONANO: This is Museum of the Anti-Mafia in Sicily and my job starts from the sentence by a famous judge killed by Mafia in 1992, Paolo Borsellino. He used to say: Talk about Mafia no matter how; if I talk about Mafia, I don't forget Mafia.

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BONANO: Come closer, over there on the left, the last of the godfathers, Bernardo Provenzano. If you go to his former house, now that house is a shop in which they sell tomatoes from his confiscated fields. It's a symbolic thing. We are taking back what they stole.

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GABRIELLE MASTRILLI: This sign here: (Foreign language spoken) that means Property Confiscated from the Mafia. My name is Gabrielle Mastrilli. I work for Libera Terra in Sicily. Libera Terra produce good organic food in the lands that was of the Mafia. A lot of people fighting for agriculture reform was killed by the Mafia, and one of these was my grandfather.

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DON LUIGI CIOTTI: (Through Translator) My name is Don Luigi Ciotti. I am a priest. After the terrorism in Italy, with the death of judges Falcone and Borsellino, we started Libera Terra. Libera is getting this land and give them to young farmers that work in cooperative way. What we grow from this land can now be found in Italian supermarkets - pasta, olive oil, and mozzarella is organic produce is a slap in the face of Mafia bosses. It's the victory over crime.

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FRANCESCO GALANTE: We are getting up to the vineyards. This is all part of the confiscated property. I'm Francesco Galante, Libera Terra project. There are 40 people in the winery and in the vineyards. We are organic certified. To be organic was form of respect, to start anew, the idea of being kind to the soil itself; to take poisons - symbolic and the real from the soils.

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ANGELO SCIOTINO: (Through Translator) In our wine, you can smell the sea and the mountains. My name is Angelo Sciortino and I am responsible of this field where there are grapes. We don't use a lot of machine in our production. We try to use as many people as possible. We still use the hands. Our goal is to give work.

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SCIOTINO: (Through Translator) Ten years ago, when the Placido Rizotto Cooperative is started in this territory, nobody wants to come here to work. They were scared. The Mafia, they burned the field here just before the harvesting of the grain. Three years ago, when we collect olives for the first time, we had police around us all the time - yeah, with guns. The last year, Mafia burned the olive trees. They went there and they burned each one.

(Through Translator) It's a sign. It means that the Mafia are still there. And if they can burn a tree, maybe they can also kill you if they want. We don't want to go to the fields with police. It's a wrong message. We have to show to the people that to work with Libera, it's a good thing.

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MASTRILLI: Mafia is like a snake. It's very difficult to catch. Mafia here in this area near Cinisi was really powerful and they decide to build the airport here to control the drug traffic between Palermo and the United States. It was called the Pizza Connection, because they used to transport the drug, the heroin inside the tomato can to the United States for the pizzeria.

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TOM BROKAW: The Pizza Connection. Recently, the CIA rounded up a number of people and charged him with being part of an elaborate heroin distribution network in America. Small-town pizza parlors were their cover.

PETER SCHNEIDER: In the early '70s, narcotic distribution was taken over by the Mafiosi, so what had been the French Connection out of Marseilles became the Pizza Connection out of Palermo. I'm Peter Schneider, Sociology and Anthropology professor at Fordham University.

Heroin traveled from Palermo in all sorts of containers - in oranges, in cans of tuna, in diplomatic pouches, under the gowns of nuns who were coming to collect money for their orphanages in Sicily. And, yes, some came in the cans of San Marzano tomatoes that were being sent to make pizzas.

GALANTE: From an economic point of view, we are a very poor land because of Mafia. And youth unemployment 50 percent. Everybody goes to other countries. No factory, no industries willing to invest their money in a land full of Mafia because you have to pay an extra tax, the one called pizzo. They pay protection.

In Palermo, currently 70 to 80 percent of shopkeepers pay a form of extortion, they pay the pizzo. And the idea of Addiopizzo is to say no to the pizzo. Farewell pizzo.

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UNIDENTIFIED MEN: (Rapping in foreign language)

SCHNEIDER: A half-dozen students, very active in the anti-Mafia movement who are planning to open a cafe in Palermo. And one of them said, suppose they come and what the pizzo? Why should anyone have to pay the pizzo. And they began printing of the little stickers that they put on light posts and store windows all over the city. All of a sudden these stickers appeared and no one knew where they came from.

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VALERIA DONTANIO: (Through Translator) My name is Valeria Dontanio(ph). I am a lawyer. I am a member of the Addiopizzzo Committee. Tonight of the 28th of August, 2004, we've covered the city with these stickers. It seemed as though we came out of nothing. But in 1992, many of us were in school and there were these massacres of Falcone and Borsellino. They became part of us. We smelled the terror and death of those years.

SCHNEIDER: The Libera Cooperatives who are producing good wine, good grains, good olives were making a point of saying this food is pizzo free.

GABRIELLE MASTRILLI, LIBERA TERRA COOPERATIVES: It's very, very difficult to buy something to eat and be sure that there is nothing to do with the Mafia. When you eat food with the Libera Terra label, you are sure that product and the worker, they don't have nothing to do with the Mafia.

BONANO: Libera Terra, they have a wine called Centopassi. They have another wine called Placido Rizotto. When you drink the wine, it's a way to remember the work of these young heroes killed by Mafia. So it's a very symbolic thing. Maybe from an economic point of view it's not a big business, but I like the symbolism of it.

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MONTAGNE: The Pizza Connection was produced by the Kitchen Sisters and Marie Doezema. It was mixed by Jim McKee. You can learn more about Libera Terra at npr.org.

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MONTAGNE: From NPR News.

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