Italy | Letter from an Agroecological Farm – what worked in our 1st growing season?

By Chiara Garini

Summer is gone now and we’re heading into autumn and winter.  After the first real high season as a farmer some things really stood out, in terms of what worked and what didn’t work – and the true pace of developing local markets.

Most of the aromatic herbs thrived in the permanent bed we built in the developing forest garden field.

This variety of African Basil grew well this first season

We did manage to sell some of the produce, even though it was not easy to be certain about the expected yields, due to the large varieties we planted on small surfaces. So it was difficult to make arrangements with potential customers.

Bees also like our edible flowers

In the end, we had developed one good client: a highly regarded local restaurant called Hosteria Toblino, in Sarche, Madruzzo. The head chef is Sebastian Sartorelli (pictured below). We now deliver fresh herbs to this restaurant weekly.

La cucina di Seba regularly do “meet the producer” events. Here we are with head chef Sebastian Sartorelli at one such event.

Micro climatic conditions were optimal also for the vegetables we planted, therefore we are now planning to expand the production of herbs and vegetables for next season and the selling to local organic shops and restaurants as well.

As well as the herbs and edible flowers, vegetables also thrived in our microclimate the lower elevation (200 masl)

Mycorrized hazelnuts are growing well and have not required too much work so far, apart from regular mowing and occasional irrigation. In the picture below, you can see the hazelnuts are the small trees inside the green plastic shelters (they are small as they were planted less than one year ago). The vegetation around the hazelnuts is alfa-alfa. In this picture we mowed the alfa-alfa only on the rows (around the small trees) and still had to mow the alfa-alfa growing in the interrows.

We are going to plant more plants this autumn.

Mycorrized hazelnuts growing well in the 600 masl fields. Alfa-alfa grows around the trees and needs regular mowing.

We’ve  also had some positive results with the log-grown shiitakes. Logs we inoculated the first year showed us some spontaneous fruiting and, after soaking them for 24 hours, we yielded good amounts of shiitake, cheering up our souls and our palate as well! The yield was close to what we were hoping for, which makes us more confident about our mushroom forest farming choice.

Shiitakes fruited spontaneously on some logs we had in the woodland (and they overgrew).

We are ready to launch the mushroom production next spring, so it is time to finalise the set-up of our forest farming system. At least, it was until I encountered an author who made me question forest farming with mushrooms….

shiitakes fruiting abundantly after soaking the logs for 24 hours

The Blue Economy

And then, in between work, play and sleep, I started reading Gunter Pauli’s book Blue Economy. The Blue Economy “began as a project to find 100 of the best nature-inspired technologies that could affect the economies of the world, while sustainably providing basic human needs – potable water, food, jobs, and habitable shelter” according to the book’s own description.

I was becoming quite enthusiastic about the innovative entrepreneurial model Pauli advocates: competitive and sustainable businesses inspired by ecosystems to make the world a better place.

That’s until I got to the chapter about mushrooms. Pauli firmly states that log-grown shiitakes producers are rapidly destroying forests. At that point I felt personally involved! Was my own supposedly sustainable farming actually not-so-sustainable after all?

and the yield is ready for cooking – but does it fit with Blue Economy Principles?

More from Letter for an Italian Agroecological farm

Italy | Letter from a Budding Agroecological Farm

Letter From the Farm | Work for the soil and the soul

Chiara Garini
About Chiara Garini 4 Articles
Chiara Garini recently started her own farm enterprise with her partner in the Province of Trento (Italy). She has previously working in care farming on the Conca d’ Oro farm, where she managed production of organic fruit and vegetables preserves. She has Double Masters Degree in Organic Agriculture – Agroecology. Wageningen University and Research (the Netherlands) and ISARA-Lyon (France). Chiara received a Bachelor’s Degree in Gastronomic Sciences Università degli Studi di Parma (Italy).