Farms and farmers I've photographed while traveling in Italy with the Culinary Breeding Network.
48 imagesAzienda Agricola Pitton Farmer/Seed Saver/Plant Breeder Andrea Pitton of Azienda Agricola Pitton was a conventional farmer growing commodity wheat, soy and corn until about six years ago when he converted to organic vegetables. He has 18 hectares in the comune of Rivignano in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy, grows vegetables on 2.5 ha and sells through a subscription program (like a CSA). Andrea grows Verona, Castlefranco and Tardivo types of radicchio. He prefers saving his own seed to buying commercial seed which is less flavorful and not as well adapted to his specific farm. He makes his own radicchio selections when he finds unique individuals in his field, creating new landraces adapted to his farm with qualities he appreciates. His Verona selection is called “Radicchio della Stella”, named for the nearby river. He has been selecting for 5 generations in 10 years of growing. Andrea also crosses different radicchio types including Stella x White Chioggia, which he is holding with Oregon farmer Dan Sullivan for Black Locust Farm. In addition to radicchio he grows two beautiful and delicious heirloom Brassicas - Broccolo Fiolaro and Broccolo Padovano. The cultivation of these vegetables date back several centuries and the latter cannot be found as seed commercially.
108 imagesAzienda Agricola Rosato Nicola Rosato of Azienda Agricola Rosato in Piombino Dese in the Veneto region runs an impressive family farm business focusing on forcing radicchio which includes the gorgeous Rosa di Gorizia type and Treviso Tardivo IGP. This was a larger operation growing about 25-30 hectares of chicories (~60 acres) with a significant quantity of those to be forced. “Forcing” is the process of harvesting plants from the field with roots intact and storing them in an area without light for a period of time which results in a paler midrib, brilliant contrasting background colors, and more tender and mild leaves. By the end of the forcing stage plants look disgusting and are slimy on their surface. While the new inner leaves are growing, the outer leaves are rotting. The transformation that occurs when you strip the outer leaves away is nothing short of magical. In the end, the slimy, outer layers are discarded, and a stunning head of radicchio emerges! Nico grows Rosa (pink) types, Canarino (yellow), Castelfranco, an heirloom (100-year-old ) Castelfranco, Treviso Tardivo, Treviso Precoce and more. He also breeds own varieties and was currently working on a cross of the heirloom Castelfranco X Isontina. Nico has very high standards for his radicchio - looking for a specific “snap” or crunch in all the varieties he forces and dipping each head into cold water which results in the prefect leaf curl. The fruits of Nico’s labor and attention to detail are breathtaking.
132 imagesLevantia Seed Company Our guide was Samuele Pellegrini of Levantia Seed Company, who Lane and Josh had met in 2014 when he worked for T&T Seeds and were pleasantly surprised to see again. Samuele took us to visit a Variegata di Castelfranco radicchio field and packing house of Società Agricola Ortopadana Di Camozza in Conselve. The farmer showed us how they pull apart the leaves of Castelfranco heads, loosening them to create a beautiful flower appearance, before selling them which they do by hand (!!) at the packing house – see Cassie holding one and the final product in the green bin. Following the most decadent radicchio-focused lunch which ended with a traditional radicchio cake, we visited variety trial fields with Andrea Ghedina. Andrea was previously a breeder with T&T Seeds who gave Lane and Josh a tour in 2014 and now has his own breeding company, Smarties Bio, and he also works with Levantia. There we were able to see dozens of varieties, landraces and breeding lines growing side by side, including many Rosa (pink) types and ‘Costarosa’ a beautiful Verona type with a red-purple rib.
42 imagesAzienda Agricola L’Orto Felice Caterina Romanelli farms 8 hectares in the city of Udine. She took over her family farm two years ago from her father. Her grandfather had dairy cows and was part of a typical cooperative that shared milk for cheese making – each farmer taking all of the milk for one month and making cheese with the farmers switching off months. Her father transitioned the farm to organic vegetables in 1988. Her grandparents continued to be part of the farm until they died about 5 years ago at which point the farm had grown too big for just the family to work and they needed to become more of a business with employees than a family farm. Caterina came home after working in sustainable finance in Paris but wanting to do something with more direct impact. She is currently working on transitioning the farm from an older style family farm that doesn’t track personal labor or expenses to one focusing on finances in addition to ecological and social metrics to make the farm sustainable in the long term. Among many other things, Caterina grows Radicchio col poc - “poc” is dialect and means “root”, referring mostly to grumulo radicchio types harvested with the root on and trimmed to a point. She also forces radicchio (see the Azienda Agricola Rosato section for more on this process) in little stalls in an old barn filled with damp sand and manure mix. Plants are transplanted into the stalls from the field and covered with black plastic. They remain there one month before being harvested and transformed into beautiful delicate specimens.
46 imagesAzienda Agricola Tiare dal Gjal Fabio Bolzicco of Azienda Agricola Biologica Tiare dal Gjal in Corno di Rosazzo farms only a few miles from the Slovenia border. He has only been farming ten years, five of which organically. Fabio sells 99% of his produce at a farm stand on his farm. This is close to the area of Italy where the lovely Rosa di Gorizia grows, which has only been popular for about 10 years but described in books from Austrian era in 1800’s. Fabio likes to grow it because gets better price than Treviso Tardivo because it is not grown by larger scale farmers, thus there is less supply. To clarify any confusion, Rosa di Gorizia is a protected name which reflects it has been grown in Gorizia comune (municipality) in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy. Farmers that grow this same plant in another area name it for that particular place, thus Fabio’s is Rosa di Gjal. This concept is similar to Vidalia onions. What makes that onion a Vidalia is the place it is grown, not the particular variety.