Coming from India, my vision of farm life in Italy was much like it would be in a movie – fields of olive plantations, lines of grapevines, shaggy dogs, rolling hills, animals, and a cosy cottage in the middle of it all. As I sat in the train to Montevarchi, I stared out of the window, not knowing what to expect, looking at every micro scenery wondering if I would find myself in a similar location or situation the next day. Most importantly, I fervently hoped that I would be surrounded by friendly, warm people and I would be able to connect and communicate with them despite having a language barrier.
My first stop was at Azienda Agricola Radici – owned by Sandra Masi and Viviano Venturi. Farmers for over thirty years, they decided to go the organic way right from the very beginning and along the years have been cultivating all kinds of fruits and vegetables. As I was about to learn, these farmers filled their days with lots of hard work, bringing up four children while they were doing it all!
Sandra met me at the station, after leaving me waiting for a little while, and just as I started to wonder what my options were in the middle of unknown countryside, a van turned in with a bright eyed,cheerful Sandra dressed in cooking overalls.
She launched into Italian as soon as she met me, and I stammered in confusion, until I told her that it would probably take me a little while to slowly settle into the language, given that I had only spoken to a computer thus far! As we drove away from the station, Sandra told me that we would be making tomato sauce that day, and I imagined a little stove top with a bunch of tomatoes to cook.
I was a little tired from the journey and anticipation of the day and thought this may be a nice and easy way to settle into routine, but found myself fifteen minutes later, dressed in overalls in a large industrial kitchen, with pots of boiling tomatoes around me – I heard we were cooking 500 kilos of tomatoes in all!! An hour later, I was elbow deep in tomato puree, when I met Viviano for the first time – a kind eyed, seasoned farmer who was all smiles when he first said hello to me.
My days at Radici were long and filled with work, but tired as I was, I saw that Sandra and Viviano worked about twice as long as anybody else. From planting saplings, weeding and harvesting in the fields, to taking produce from the farm to markets all the way to Florence, they started their days at 4:00 in the morning, and would only be back home at 10:00 in the night every day. The kitchen would swing into action three times a week, processing organic produce into thousands of jars of syrups, jams or sauces, making sure seasonal produce is preserved for the whole year ahead.
Each day I found new respect and love for my hosts, the choices they made to grow beautiful food, at the expense of their own lives, health and personal time. Viviano spoke no English, and I had to rely on my limited Italian and the translator app I downloaded on my phone to make conversation, but he spoke with his eyes and patiently repeated himself as many times as I needed so I could understand what he said. I met their family, attended family dinners and had the pleasure of getting a tour of the area with their daughter Debbie. In no time, I had settled into life with my charming hosts and their pets in their wonderful home, and my heart ached a bit when it was time to leave and move on to the next leg of my adventure.