`In Lucca, Biodynamic and Organic Farming Make a Bit of Magic - Olive Oil Times

In Lucca, Biodynamic and Organic Farming Make a Bit of Magic

Apr. 21, 2011
Laura Rose

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The small, medieval towns that dot the rolling hills of Tuscany have long been the stuff of dreams. The cui­sine, the wine, the olive oil — with a ver­dant back­drop and archaic vil­lages, they define good Italian liv­ing. Here the pas­sion for food with integrity runs high, and it has made iras­ci­bly old-fash­ioned Lucca the hotbed of a pro­gres­sive type of farm­ing that eschews mod­ern meth­ods. There are more bio­dy­namic farms in Lucca than any­where else in Italy, and La Fabbrica di San Martino is at the fore­front of this ardent group, pro­duc­ing olive oil, wine, and honey with meth­ods that would surely sur­prise the unini­ti­ated.

Some peo­ple say we’re witches!” declares Giuseppe Ferrua, owner of San Martino. With his habit­ual grin, he explains the rather unusual meth­ods that might lead one to come to such a con­clu­sion. We are in front of a sin­gle olive tree that has been stand­ing on this prop­erty for over 500 years and alone pro­duces 20 liters of oil each year from the 3 vari­eties of olives that sprout on its dif­fer­ent branches. Around us, the ground is cov­ered in a layer of mixed cut­tings, 27 dif­fer­ent plants and seeds, each an ele­ment in a spe­cific recipe for nour­ish­ing the soil.

The farm bears the endorse­ment of Demeter, the inter­na­tional agency that defines the strin­gent stan­dards for bio­dy­namic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, all based on guide­lines orig­i­nally set out by Rudolph Steiner (also founder of the Waldorf schools) in 1924. Created as an alter­na­tive to newly devel­op­ing chem­i­cal meth­ods of crop con­trol, Steiner’s method eschews all pes­ti­cides and fer­til­iz­ers and instead treats the soil so that it main­tains a rich and bal­anced bio-diver­sity within the soil and on the farm around it. It is regarded as the first mod­ern sys­tem of agri­cul­ture that is truly sus­tain­able.

The holis­tic approach requires exten­sive com­post­ing and use of manures from life on the farm, with prepa­ra­tions that include ingre­di­ents like Horsetail, chamomile, net­tle, and even crushed quartz. Giuseppe fol­lows the pre­scrip­tions and buries them in an animal’s horn for months before they are dis­persed on the soil. Every step of his process, from seed­ing to har­vest­ing to replen­ish­ing the soil, is gov­erned by the cycle of the moon in its ellipse around the Earth, accord­ing to another of Steiner’s prin­ci­ples called Anthroposophy.

It is like the tides,” Giuseppe explains, show­ing how the olives that are hand-picked in January must be har­vested at just the right day of the lunar cycle to max­i­mize the amount of liq­uid they con­tain. Inside his 18th cen­tury manor, where he also runs an agri­t­ur­ismo, Giuseppe shows me the detailed cal­en­dar that guides him in the cycles of the sky and stip­u­lates when to pro­ceed with each step of the process.

He takes some slices of bread from the grill over the open fire in his kitchen, driz­zles them in a heavy dose of his lat­est batch of oil, and lets me taste the result. The clean, fruity taste of his blend of Frantoio, Leccino, and Moraiolo olives is delight­fully har­mo­nious, and I’m con­vinced there must be some­thing to this cos­mic har­vest­ing.

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