I've got my roots!
So apparently my TEDx Talk is on Youtube, at this link, it is in Italian but I translated the full text in english, 'cause it may be interesting for some of my international friends to listen to it... enjoy!
I know that if I could check on your phones, I will certainly find those kind of pictures… pictures of food. We have courses that teach how to take photos of food. Kids want to become food bloggers (if we’re lucky). But what scares me the most is that, in 20 years, no one will know which lunar phase is the best to seed potatoes, how to cook traditional Italian food, or in worst cases, which are the roots that tie us to the earth.
Among all of the possible ways we have not to lose traditions, not to forget our roots, I have chosen to dedicate myself to agriculture. It may seem to be a trendy choice, but in my case it was a long and complex interior path, that brought me first away from home to get my bachelor and master and then took me back home, trying to make the best out of my academic achievements.
I don’t like the idea that “coming back home” after studying and/or working abroad is being seen as something bad. Coming back home is not cowardly, coming back home is an act of love. And coming back home, finding a way to give back value to the land who made us grow and become who we are is an act of love to be shared and communicated, in order to let people change their mind about this negative perception.
My very own comeback has been a trauma. After living for 5 years in northern Italy, with a new head on my shoulders and a Master of Science in a prestigious university, I couldn’t wait to be living again by the sea but I had no idea what was coming for me. I tried. I tried to like and feel good in the opportunities they offered me at that time, but at a certain point I decided to do it my way.
And in my own way, and with my own two arms I started cultivating.
At first, I thought it would have been a seasonal interest, a hobby to spend some time while waiting for something more logic and normal for one like me. But I did learn and I am still learning something new every day, not only practically speaking, but only from an ethical viewpoint: I understood how agriculture is good for the territory, for families, for kids. Finding a way to redevelop a land that is being abandoned from discouraged young people; giving new opportunities and outlooks to places that found their economy on an “old style” tourism, keeping alive the land that grew us without asking anything in exchange. These are all things that sound complicated, who demand for a lot of passion, dedication, sense of belonging. However, the deriving satisfaction can be enormous.
Doing a traditional profession DOES NOT MEAN going backwards. Having steady traditions, makes it possible to create an added value otherwise unthinkable. Just like plants: without steady roots and without soil (excepted for hydroponic cultivation), they could not grow or produce any fruits.
Being a farmer today, is no longer a job for people with little or no education. It is fundamental in this sector, that offers many opportunities in terms of personal and business development, to have true professionals. Every time someone asks me for an opinion about university, I always say that there are two important concepts:
1. Do not choose to continue your education at the university if you are not willing to study. Don’t choose a course of study that is said to be easy, just to be allowed to say that you went to college.
2. Don’t you ever stick with the idea that, once you start studying in a specific field, you will end up doing the job you had in your mind at the beginning. 99% of the times this won’t happen.
We are facing a profound change in all sectors, and agriculture is following the same trend. It is not thinkable to have a farm today without marketing, social media, or not even speaking a foreign language. A person with a degree in psychology can be the driver for a project in social farming, exactly how I took my MsC in Marketing Management and started a project to requalify the perception of the farmer and of my homeland’s traditions.
I didn’t know ANYTHING about germination, lunar phases, late blight, or biodiversity. But farming overwhelmed me. It made me possible to express and use a volcano of ideas and emotions that I didn’t know how to manage. Before I started learning how to actually farm (something I am still learning though), I used what I knew: I started writing on my blog and sharing my experience on social media. That’s how I found myself on the newspapers, on a teaching chair, on tv shows, holding institutional roles, giving this TEDx talk!
Let’s make it clear: I consider my education a necessary and fundamental part of my path. Without it I wouldn’t be on this stage, because if I didn’t leave home I wouldn’t have understood the real value of my land and I wouldn’t have been able to give an added value to this job if I didn’t make up my mind by studying for five years. Still, agriculture needs professionals and minds, apart from arms. Personally, every single job got me bored after a while. It hasn’t been the same with agriculture, my curiosity is stimulated daily, and when things seem to be getting quieter, my creativity helps me finding new projects to dive in.
I am not the only one who came back to her agricultural roots! At first, when my story was published on a national newspaper I thought I was special, but then I figured out I was not so rare. Hanging out in the national agricultural scene, I met hundreds of young farmers, with amazing projects. I finally had to calm down my farmer ego when a friend of mine told me his grandma collects articles about young farmers… I am not the only one for sure!
Italy has more than 55 thousand farm lead by entrepreneurs with less than 35 years old. We are leaders in the whole EU for this. The increase of young farms can be confirmed also by looking at the number of students who choose an educational path related to agriculture. More than 45 thousand students decided to continue their studies in agriculture last year.
In order to start their own farming business, young farmers can count on the help of EU funds. In 2016/2017 more than 30 thousand young people have participated to the public tender notice, 61% of them were from southern Italy.
It is a historic changing, something that hasn’t been happening since the industrial revolution. Farming is no longer seen as the last hope for people with no education and for those who are afraid to invest themselves, it is more and more a new way for young generations of professionals with a lot of willpower.
Agriculture in southern Italy is able to offer job opportunities both for those who have an innovative entrepreneurial idea and for those who are looking for a temporary job. Southern Italy’s upswing relies on the opportunity to finally take advantage of the cultural, landscape and environmental resources that offer opportunities to tourism, food and wine and quality agriculture. A new development model, based on the territory uniqueness, as many new young farming businesses have proven to be successful.
Women are multitasking. This is a fact. We claim it almost every time we’re having a conversation on the differences between men and women. When it comes to agriculture, we are able to coordinate the traditional activities (cultivation and breeding) with the so-called extra-agricultural activities. Not only holiday farms, but above all didactic farms and nutritional education projects. I don’t own a didactic farm yet, but I am often involved in educational projects with students of various ages.
I started with kids in the elementary school, who (especially in bigger cities) have less and less consciousness about the true source of what they are eating. It is crucial that they have some sort of nutritional education starting from the very bases. I have been asked questions like “what is the color of radishes?” or even “do carrots grow on trees?”
The next fundamental step is to teach them about seasonality of fruits and vegetables. Regardless of parents’ questionable taste, it is right for kids to know when it’s the right time to eat each product, because you never know, they may be the ones who change adults’ minds.
With older kids, we can and should talk about more important themes like nutritional values and in-depth seasonality. Concepts like “short distribution chain”, “organic”, “zero kilometers” shouldn’t be seen as too complicated for the families, otherwise we will always have the same things and the same flat flavor on our tables.
In my own experience, the contact with the clients is one of the best times in which the female sensitivity prevails and obtains good results. Thought the months I managed to convert subscribed families to a lifestyle that follows nature’s rhythms, with no stretch. Week by week, without even meeting each other, my clients share recipes and experiences through my stories. Also, people who (for various reasons) never tasted any of my products, become part of this sharing through my social media communication.
Clearly all of this is very noble and romantic, but farming opportunities (especially in terms of multifunctional agriculture) do offer good earning possibilities.
Luckily, many consumers are becoming more and more sensitive to the quality of the food they are eating. This creates room for high-quality agriculture businesses, preferring well-being to intensive cultivation. The increase in the number of vegetarians and vegans is just one example, but not the only one. Just think about the market of most exported Italian products, wine and cheeses. It is clear that high-quality agriculture, if paired with agronomic and commercial professionals, can really be the key for entrepreneurial success.
There is another important teaching that the land gives us, and it is the value of the time.
Think about this: not only we are used to say things like “can you email me that file?” or “send me that picture!”, we also expect this to happen in few seconds. We give for granted that huge files can travel across the earth within instants. When it comes to farming, “all now” is only happening when cabbage patches decide to attack a field. In that case I guarantee there won’t be anything more to harvest in a second. Last summer, one of my clients asked me some white beans. I told her “Fine, I can still seed them, but you will have to wait for a month and a half.”
This is what we have lost: time and the patience to wait.
I am not only talking about business opportunities, but also about being re-educated to work and life, in order not to get used to things that make us always nervous and never happy. Running back and forth with no good reason, always in a rush for something we can’t even remember sometimes.
It is important to give value to our own time, especially now that industrial job opportunities are lacking. We need to meditate on this, because for as beautiful and appealing those food pictures on our phones could be… we can’t eat smartphones!
In a country with the highest biodiversity in the world, like Italy, farming is not utopic but it’s the main challenge for young and future generations.
We just have to start, like San Francesco used to say: “Start with easy things, continue with necessary things and you will find yourself doing the impossible.”
And I add: do the impossible, with my dreams in my hearth and dirt under my nails.