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City of Organic Saffron

The Ecotopia 2121 project details the futures of 100 cities and towns across the globe as though they've somehow overcome all the grave environmental challenges our own age and grown to become super-Green and super-sustainable. Today, we highlight the future of San Gimignano, Italy.

San Gimignano in Italy is a unique place. The town’s ten thousand citizens are clustered onto a Tuscan hilltop setting that has changed little in six centuries. Among the old stonewall houses and cobblestone streets are a dozen medieval towers, all built during the town’s heyday in the thirteenth century. After about 1400 AD, the nearby city of Florence exploded onto the European trading scene as a major financial center. Because of this, San Gimignano was very abruptly overlooked and subsequently ignored as wealthier townsfolk and tradespeople moved to Florence.

The fact that San Gimignano was suddenly “left alone” like this means that, to modern-day visitors, a trip to the city is like a trip back to the Middle Ages. Despite missing out on modernization, San Gimignano has a thriving economy revolving around old-time crafts and traditional agriculture. Most notable among these are saffron cultivation, wool craft, and Vernaccia wine making. The production secrets for these goods are rather ferociously guarded to ensure they cannot be copied.

As you might imagine, San Gimignano is not the sort of place where innovation is as much respected as tradition. One innovation that the residents are particularly hostile toward is GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

By the end of this century, just about every habitable place in the world has been infiltrated and invaded by one GMO or another that has gone feral. GMO animals have escaped from labs into cities, GMO plants have escaped from nurseries into the wilderness, and GMO crops have escaped from farms to drift far across the countryside.


In 2121, only a few places in Europe remain certified GMO-free, and San Gimignano is one of them. Gene-tech companies don’t like to use the word mutant, but biologically that is what GMOs are. Here in San Gimignano 2121, strict biosecurity measures are in place so the mutants can hope to see the town’s pretty architecture only from another Tuscan hilltop, many miles away.


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