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Italian Agriculture

By Rick Gush, Urban Farm Contributing Editor

Friday, January 21, 2011

Small-farm magazine

Photo by Rick Gush

This magazine, Vita in Campagna, is one of my favorite resources to Italy's small-scale agriculture.

Most people might think all those Roman ruins and medieval castles and paintings are the most notable historical artifacts in Italy. Personally, I think the thriving small-farmer culture that still dominates Italy is the most important gift from the past. 

Sure, there is a whole lot of commercial agribusiness in Italy, but Italy’s core farming interest is still in the hands of small cultivators. Almost every town features a local vegetable market, where small cultivators sell their products directly to consumers. Small farmers in Italy can boast of an official registry of thousands of handmade and homegrown agricultural products not available through the big-business markets. And every day, Italian TV shows extol the values of small-farm products.

My wife and my garden is rather small, and we produce just for our own use. But we have been repeatedly offered the opportunity to sell extra production. The little market a few hundred yards from our home is always asking if we have something we want to sell. Last year, I was in the market when a customer asked the owner if she had any fresh parsley and marjoram. The owner didn’t, but I went up into our garden and harvested a nice bunch of parsley and a handful of marjoram to give to the customer. She offered to pay me, but I was happy just to be able to gift something from our garden. If I wanted to, I could easily sell figs, grapes, wild asparagus, fave beans, wild plums, mushrooms, fresh herbs, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli and squash from our garden.

I personally know a dozen small farmers here in Rapallo who make their entire living cultivating their farms and gardens, several dozen people who sell something from their gardens, and two hundred people who sell some portion of their olive-oil production. I enjoy the fact that while olive oil in the supermarket is priced around 5 euros per liter, the price for homemade oil is about 10 euros per liter. People appreciate the quality of small lot oil production and are happy to pay twice the price when they can.  
My favorite magazine these days (aside from Urban Farm and Hobby Farms, obviously) is Vita in Campagna or Life in the Country.  All the small farmers in Italy read this magazine. It’s focused on articles of interest to people who are growing and producing food as a personal business— mostly hard-nosed discussions about topics related to financial success for small farmers. 

I think Italy is the most fervently organic food producer in the world, not because they don’t have the money to buy expensive fertilizers and pesticides, but because sustainable culture makes more economic sense than the agribusiness methods.

Read more of Digging Italy »

Give us your opinion on Italian Agriculture.
Submit Comment »
Sharing our bounty, what more joy is there?
Carl, Livermore, CA
Posted: 3/24/2012 10:41:29 AM
I couldn't agree more than I do with your last comment about sustainable (agri)culture making the most sense.

It causes me to wonder what we have really given up in this country by essentially losing our productive genes and abdicating our food production to a few mega-farms.

I can almost taste the quality of that small lot olive oil.
Bruce, Las Vegas, NV
Posted: 9/2/2011 9:32:25 AM
I wish that there were more small farmers here in Nebraska but this state is the heart of the big business farming. It breaks my heart to see where this state has gone with farming in just two generations. Here in the Urban area of the city that I live in, lawns are the biggest crop grown if you can really call it a crop. Chemical pestisides, fertilizers, and insecticides are a big market. Thriving lawn service companies are paid big bucks to chemically bathe the lawns only so the home owners can pay someone to mow the lawn once a week for it to look prestine in appearance. I'm weaning my yard off the chemicals and more toward the not so prestine but passable yard look.

Have a great Italian organic garden day.
David, Omaha, NE
Posted: 1/21/2011 2:24:31 PM

About the Blogger

Rick Gush

Rick Gush
Rick Gush has long been a staunch organic gardener. While a student at the University of California at Davis he worked at local tomato and sugar beet farms and continued in the agricultural and horticultural industries for many years. A career move in the 1990s led him to design computer games, but no matter how much of a techie he’s become, gardening and farming remain his principal passions.

In 2000, Rick moved to Italy, where he writes to you about his cliff garden and other experiences in Italian urban agriculture.

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