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Farmer Portrait #2: Francesca from Italy

Interview conducted and translated by Isabella de Judicibus.

This is our second post in a weekly series called “Farmers Portraits.” We decided to take a look at the different ways in which the Coronavirus has affected farmers in different places around the world. To find this out several people from the ASEED Office have conducted qualitative interviews with several farmers. This series is meant to shed light on the fact that, although the Coronavirus affects people all over the world, it doesn’t affect them all in the same way. On top of that farmer’s are probably a group of people that have the most practical experience in dealing with zoonotic diseases, we therefore believe that their insights are very valuable within the current discourse on this topic.

The respondent was the farmer Francesca, who has 1 hectare of natural organic production in Tuscany, Italy. She is also a writer and has a Facebook page in which she shares her daily experiences. You can find the Facebook page at this link.

Where and what do you farm?

I have an open field vegetable in Tuscany. I do not have a greenhouse. I have been farming these two terrains for 10 years, but who tells me that tomorrow the owner will need the field? I do reproduce seeds for cherry tomatoes, rocket, spinach, radishes, chard and for others I buy seedlings. In fact, I would need a greenhouse for other vegetables. A hectare is not much, I am trying to find more, but lands are difficult to find for rent. Either you buy them, but it is really expensive and you have to have the money for it or you inherit agricultural land. It is difficult to find land, despite the fact that there is a lot of uncultivated land. This is because people are afraid of usucaption (that you will have the gain the property of land after a certain period of time) regulated by the Italian law.

In what ways do you experience the Coronavirus measures affecting your work and life as a farmer?

I do not have any problems in keeping the distance, because I work alone. When I sell, I have to wear gloves and a mask.

In the past weeks of corona regulations, I have to do more home deliveries, we are in full season of semi transplants, plus deliveries are a mess also because I can’t move to customers in other municipalities.

Lettuce and mask in times of corona

What would you need the most as a farmer in these times?

Two more hands could help or financial help for paying two more hands. The main problem is really arranging the deliveries. Absurdly, I do not have the requirements to receive economic help from the government, because I have the 80 euros per month pension of my husband.

Zucchini, chard and peas from the most recent harvest.

Do you feel that the general public attitude towards your work has changed since the Coronavirus crisis? 

No. Only if there will be a very long crisis, one that affects so deeply people that they will be forced to reevaluate their belief system, maybe a change is possible. But if this crisis resolves itself quickly, people will return to their hectic lives and there is no possibility for people to return to local good products. People do not have the time to dedicate to it. If the socio-economic structure remains the same, buying directly from the farmers is a sacrifice for many. Everything will remain like this, the farmers will have their niches of customers, maybe they a couple of more, but that is all.

The coronavirus has also been created because people were eating wildlife. How do you see a future of safer and healthier food practices?

This crisis is coming out because we live in a system where nature comes last. Even if we overcome the corona crisis, something else will come. Those who work with the land realize it, because we do not longer see the toads, the fish in the rivers, we are seeing hailstorms that we have never seen before …

Beet the system!

Then, what is your hope about the future and an important lesson from this crisis?

I sincerely hope that there will always be greater awareness, altough we will face other major catastrophes. If you stand against nature, nature comes against you. I don’t know if people will be willing to change, but we will have to return to a simpler understanding of wealth, not to always want more and more … We would need to go back to walking, to slow down. And only consequently the industries would slow down and another type of way of breathing and rest would begin, but if in two months everything reopens again, this breath, this air will simply be taken away from us.

Love from a potato

What are your worries then for the future of farming practices?

My worry is really that I will not to be able to produce more food, that I will no longer know how to sow… it is becoming increasingly difficult, because of insects and new diseases. We could import from other areas, but it is a vicious circle: also in other regions, there is the same problem.

And what about more sustainable practices, like agroecology?

Of course, I also apply some of these methods, also here I sow flowers, medicinal and aromatic herbs…

But I think it is not enough just to look at our small vegetable garden! Because if in a whole world there is only me, it is not enough! We all have to get used to a new life. It takes a huge crisis to completely change your internal system and your habits and it is not such a simple and so obvious passage. So I don’t think the corona crisis will be enough to bring about a profound transformation.

I believe everthing starts from personal crisis, it is the individual who have to go into crisis, and the inner crisis will leads you to change. Instead, this pandemic crisis is experienced externally and not internally. It seems to me that man is not entering a personal crisis. I hope the external crisis pushes people to an internal crisis. If we are just waiting for the government to tell us “ok, now you can go out”, nothing changes. People have to go back to the Earth, the ground, the land and that’s it. Of course, we can’t all be farmers, but at least individual can reroot in a concept of changing of seasons, so ultimately in a concept of respect to nature.

I also have difficulty in broadening the arguments. It is clear to me that we are on the ropes.. I am repeating it in a hundred thousand ways but I do not know if it will be enough…

I am out all day, last week my throat and eyes were burning…there are moments in which the air is unbreathable, when there are all the trails of the airplanes, and it does not rain because of the pollution, it is no longer a normal thing…

I have no words left.

Thank you so much for these valuable insights and for your time!