In Italy, the land where the slow food movement began, there is a growing number of organic and conventional farmers who are converting to a natural way of
farming. In June 2016, Shumei hosted a Natural Agriculture conference where farmers from throughout Italy shared their experiences in forgoing the use of all chemical and natural fertilizers and pesticides, in order to practice Shumei Natural Agriculture.
Natural Agriculture began to take root almost a decade ago when Marcello Dragoni was introduced to Shumei and the Natural Agriculture approach to
producing pure, wholesome food without the use of any additives and utilizing heirloom seeds. Marcello is the director general of Montalbano, a large olive farmers’ cooperative in Tuscany, which controls the production of extra virgin olive oil in the Montalbano region. Looking back, he says he was skeptical of the approach at first, because olive oil production is a major industry in the region. However, Marcello said, “I realized that even my ancestors were practicing agriculture that was very close to this approach, so this convinced me that this could be the way to go.”
From there, Marcello began to view Natural Agriculture as a way of life and looked to identify farmers who were already interested in ecological agriculture or those who were looking at farming as something beyond a commercial endeavor. For him, Natural Agriculture in Italy is more about promoting a way of living and quality food to encourage others to rethink their relationship with nature. Modern life is changing society’s relationship with agriculture, and yet, with Italian culture and so many traditions centered around food and family, it is no surprise that Natural Agriculture has begun to take center stage.
Little by little and farmer to farmer, the practice of Natural Agriculture has grown. As each farmer presented at the conference, it was clear that they faced challenges, but they overwhelmingly felt that the quality of the crops being produced outweighed difficulties and any initial reservations they had. In addition, Marcello and many of the farmers said that they see the need for a renewed relationship with nature and agriculture. The farming culture of Italy is losing the significance it once held, and there is a growing gap in the deep knowledge of the land with each succeeding generation. The need to safeguard these traditions and culture, and to address the challenges of climate change, food security, consumerism and sustainability for future generations, has created fertile ground for Shumei Natural Agriculture to take root.
Participants of the Natural Agriculture conference, included olive farmers, and those growing ancient grains to produce flour for pasta and bread, and grapes for wine and balsamic vinegar, all of which are proving to be of exceptional and award-winning quality. In a relatively short time, the practice of Natural Agriculture has spread to a number of dedicated family farmers and business owners who see the value of producing food in a way that will leave the earth in a better way than they found it. Natural Agriculture may have lessened their production, but as with the slow food movement, this is not seen as a negative as the quality is exceptional, it has minimal environmental impact and has proven to be more resistant to pests and disease It is a lifestyle choice and shift in mindset that appreciates the natural growing cycles and the laws of nature. The result is a balanced ecosystem, working in harmony with nature rather than trying to control it.
As Natural Agriculture in Italy continues to grow, we will be sharing the stories of farmers, their experiences, their plans for the future and their passion for, and connection to, nature.