Sunday, January 2, 2011
I am a frustrated farmer and left Italy some years ago very reluctantly. When, in 2000, we moved back to my wife's family home, I tried to revive an abandoned farm on the surrounding acreage. But hampered by my inexperience and tethered by family responsibilities I didn't do such a good job of it. But it was something I took very seriously and still feel was one of the few times of my life I was doing something really important. The fields had been cultivated heavily for centuries and the last 50 years had been hard. The loss of the farm animals and subsequent heavy instrument/tractor farming by itinerant farmers had really depleted the land and weakened the soil.
I tilled the soil, double dug vegetable beds, imported tons of manure and compost and started trying to fix things. I pruned the olives and old fruit trees back into production. I started tending the small vineyard and made oil and juice and wine with the fruit. Planted many heirloom old fruit tree varieties, french strawberries, American pumpkins and sweet corn. We ate well but never made any money and we traveled too much to ever really make it work. New farms like most new businesses do not tolerate absentee owners and much of what I planted died. We moved back to the USA in 2008 and I left fruit hanging on the vine--no wine to be made that year.
It's always hard to go back. I remember much of what I planted, where things went and what they should look like now after another year away--but it's always a shock to see how much things have changed; I walk the fields and see so many errors of judgement and promises broken.
Empty fields--planted to clover and vetch, borage and rye now sprouting instead with dock and thistles--plants that will slowly take over and later be hard to be rid of.
But it was the grapes this year that were the saddest.
Someone, wisely, had covered them with netting to keep the birds out--it's a small vineyard and they'll slowly eat them all as they ripen left to their own.
But the grapes never got picked and the netting never got taken down.
These are the mummies.
Moldy clusters of once yellow and gold; black and purple fruits.
They never got to the table or the press and only their names remain things of beauty.
These are Malvasia and Trebbiano, San Giovese and Canaiolo.
Or they were. It would have been better to have left them to the sparrows and blackbirds.
If I had the energy, I'd take down the nets; cut off and burn the moldy fruits, prune back the vines in anticipation of next year.....
But I'm already gone.