Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Organic Mountain Farming in Val Germansca

Bella Baita View-
looking into Val Germansca
Recently we spent the day over the river and up the road in Val Germanasca, which is the mountain range that we gaze at every day from our balcony. Spring is such an incredible time of the year to explore in the mountains, as the greens are so varied as the forest leafs out. The wildflowers begin to make their way into the meadows in earnest and the hills are truly alive.
Since I started this post, the greens have moved on to luscious solid green and the wildflowers are plentiful and everywhere. We got busy here at the baita and I really haven't had time to catch my breath or gather my thoughts to share all of the interesting and fun things we have been up to, but I will back track a bit. Val Germansca has been hiding from us lately so it nice to share some of the mountains' charm with you from our visit to Franco Peyronel's organic mountain farming operation.

Farming is never easy, given the fact that farmers are held hostage to mother nature's mercurial temperament, but when you add some altitude, then you are upping the mercurial factor quite a few more notches. Franco's family have lived up around 1,000m (3,600ft) in the Gemanasca valley family for several generations, doing whatever it is you need to do to make a living and feed your family. There's never a shortage of things to do, projects in progress, animals to feed, milk, clean up after, or even butcher, crops to plant, harvest and put up for what can be some long, cold hard winters. Never a shortage of things to do.
Peyronel family farm in the Germansca valley
His parents still live up in the mountains in a neighborhood where most everyone is related to him and certainly everyone knows him. His family has long kept some animals for supplying the family with fresh milk, cheese, eggs and meat when needed and selling off the surplus when there was some over the years. Franco is married and lives in town, but has always helped his family with their various farming endeavors. Three years ago Franco decided he wanted to farm organic fruits and vegetables on his family's land.   
Some new strawberry plants
With that in mind, he with his family's help, mostly his Mom, put in over 1,000 strawberry plants and blueberry bushes too. Potatoes, who are native to the Andes mountains and a perennial favorite for most mountain dwellers, round out his crop selection, as it is usually a reliable crop. Our mountains are no exception and produce some wonderfully delicious potatoes and so, he's growing those along with other crops who can thrive in a cooler climate with a short growing season. With all the rain we have been having I hope that reliability holds true this year.  We bought some of his lettuce a couple of years ago at one of our town festivals ans I was so impressed with how beautiful and tasty it was. We have been trying to get on his ever expanding list of recipients. Organic produce is increasingly in demand here in Italy too and Franco's produce is worth seeking out. I really admire his hard work because being in the mountains means that flat land is at a premium and terracing plots is the only way to go to maximize his land to produce organic fruit and vegetables.  
Franco Peyronel and Fabrizio
I imagine many of these plots were terraced many years ago, as if you look closely everywhere in our mountains there are hand built rock walls holding up what would have been some family plots and now all that remains are the stone walls after the families have died out or moved on.  It's nice to see these terraces being extended, maintained, and brought back to their former usefulness. It is a joyful sight to behold.
some of the families terraced plots
We wish him continued success and I am looking forward to being the recipient of some of the fruits of his labor. Waiting for the mountain produce means you have to be a little more patient as it's behind the crops of the valley and plains, but that makes the eating all the more delightful and I am looking forward to that. 
When we were looking for his place we stopped to ask someone where exactly his place was. Turns out it was his grandmother and so as we headed out for our other appointment, we stopped and Fabrizio asked if we could take her picture. She obliged and and so here is his 92 year old Nonna. I hope to be able to share one of her favorite recipes one of these days, but until then I am enjoying her photo and wondering about all the stories she could tell about her mountains and her life.
Nonna at 92
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