Turin, Rome, Ventotene, Orvieto: these are the four key points on the map for Margherita Cristiani and Federico Scanni, nowadays farmers at Casa Vespina in Umbria, until 15 years ago professionals in the publishing industry in Rome.
The story is similar to many others who, fed up of city life, have left it behind to find themselves in nature. Before getting there, however, they passed through a small island, one of the smallest in Italy: Ventotene.
Margherita recalls, “Federico wanted to live in the countryside, but I wasn’t ready yet, so I told him, ‘Let’s go and stay on an island’. He took me at my word, and in 2005 we moved to Ventotene. It was an important period, a kind of internship with the land: we started to cultivate it there, and learned to manage our limited time and resources.”
Monocoltures? No thanks.
Ten years later, in 2015, the decision came to return to the mainland. “On the island the land was in short supply, and our children were growing up.” They made their next step forward in Orvieto, Umbria. around 100km north of Rome. “We started with beans, the same ones we’d been growing on Ventotene. The seeds of the beans, chickpeas and peas were seeds we’d brought from the island, and they adapted well to their new home.” This is largely due to the fact that the terrain around Orvieto is particularly rich and fertile. “The area where we live is a highland formed by the ash of an ancient volcanic explosion that created Lake Bolsena.”
One step at a time, the couple realized their dream: to start a multifunctional organic farm. Today, as well as beans, they produce ancient grains (the Verna, Khorasan and Senatore Cappelli varieties of wheat), Emmer wheat, saffron, vegetables and fruit. “With apples, pears, plums and chestnuts we’ve widened the existing orchard the already had cherries and susina plums. In general we’ve tried to “mix” crops because our idea of agriculture is one with maximized biodiversity.”
The reasons for this choice? “There are two, an ecological and an economic one. Regarding the environment, the more varied it is, the richer it is. Monocultures create vulnerability and agricultural poverty. Diversification of production, creating small amounts of many different crops, protects us economically: last year, for example, we had problems with lentils that were attacked by weevils and we couldn’t harvest them, but luckily the other beans grew well. “
Slow Food, sweet memories
Recently Federico and Margherita started sowing strawberries too. “A rustic plant that grows well around here. With little effort, treating the plants, with a simple solution of water and propolis, we gathered a fantastic yield. Honestly, as a city girl I didn’t know strawberries could be this exquisite!”
Then there’s the saffron, the Sandinista wheat bear made in collaboration with a local microbrewery. Why the name? “It’s in homage to the revolutionary movement in Nicaragua in the 1920s, and their leader, Augusto César Sandino, who we’ve been fascinated by since we worked in publishing. It’s also a reference to the album by The Clash, of course.”
Turin and Terra Madre Salone del Gusto have an importance place in their history, too. “It was in Turin at Salone del Libro that I met Federico, many many years ago. And Salone del Gusto was the first holiday that we organized together as a family. We hope to be able to return in person soon, to renew our long-standing links: I’ve been a member of Slow Food since we lived on Ventotene, where we producers of the Slow Food Community; we organized an Earth market and supported the Slow Islands project, a network of small islands in the Mediterranean.”
by Marco Gritti, firstname.lastname@example.org