We must approach everything in farming with the conviction that in order for the whole thing to work, we need to understand the relationship between our physical bodies, the environment and nature” - Steiner 1924/1993
If we look back at history, we will certainly find civilizations that were preoccupied with the relationship between the soil, humans and the environment. The land has always been a symbol of various cultural, religious and social beliefs and in particular the use, reuse and abuse of the land, has manifested socio-economic change and/or decay. The rural region of Tuscany is considered as one of the most representative regions of Italy for the complex relationships among food, society and culture from different sociological, historical and economic perspectives.
Part of Tuscany’s artisanal development is based on a re-found relationship of the people with the land and in the transformation of traditional economies to sustainable long term economies of scale. Our Food Studies Academic Excursion examined the role of biodynamic farming as a model for sustainable agricolture and sustainable economy. We examined in depth how small artisanal producers can transform their farms into self-sustaining biological entities able to produce everything that the farm needs while promoting regional food culture and supporting their local communities and economies. Rural Tuscany is characterized by a rich land composition of tuff sedimentary sand, silt and clay and marine fossils in parts.
Climatically, it is possible to distinguish at least four different microclimatic areas characterized by the prevailing elements: fire, earth, water and air. These microclimatic areas enable small local farm producers to introduce new farming techniques and extend those as alternative sustainable tourism practices that promote biodiversity and biodynamic farming, new metaphilosophies of the relationship of people with the land and a new approach to consumerism based on the food pyramid, local produce and seasonal circle.
Compared to non-organic agriculture, BD farming practices have been found to be more resilient to environmental challenges, to foster a diverse biosphere, and to be more energy efficient. These factors are particularly important in the face of climate change, energy scarcity and population growth. These practices rely upon soil and compost preparations, planting calendars and seed production.
Starting our trip to rural Tuscany we visited Casanova La Spinetta, a Tuscan Farm Estate that lies close to the village of Terricciola, between Pisa and Volterra. Here the Rivettis make wines from three indigenous varieties: Sangiovese, Colorino and Vermentino. Their most prestigious wines are the single-vineyard Sezzana and Sassontino, crafted from 100% Sangiovese grapes coming from more than 50 year-old vines.
The entire farm is biodynamic and the method of producing wine follows the old traditions of the community. We learned about wine making from the very beginning; selection of grape variety, cultivation, fermentation, aging and the role of a good barriccaia, good quality wooden barrels. Tuscany is famous worldwide for its excellent production of wine thanks to its unique D.O.C., I.G.T. and D. O. C.G. wines, specific to the region’s soil, grape variety and method of production.
After our wine tasting, we visited a cheese farm at Casanova, where the owner produces biodynamic, organic cheese matured in wood ash or hay and organic flour using the old methods of grinding. There we discussed the history and cultural economics of the area and the types of Tuscan foods that were produced there that influenced the overall artisanal culture of rural Tuscany. Our trip continued on the path of “hands on” experience as we were involved in the making of fresh pasta, traditional Tuscan “cantuccini” biscuits all set in an old 13thC farmhouse. There we learned about the importance of quality ingredients; biodynamic flour, organic eggs, biodynamic vegetables, organic extra virgin olive oil, and cooking methods, like the specific techniques to roll the dough and the patience needed to allow the sauce to simmer properly in order to maintain the taste of each one of its ingredients. The farm where we took our cooking class, was also restored in an authentic traditional manner, where the exposed brick allowed us to dream about 13C life, a whiskey barrel became the new cupboards for the kitchen where every now and then their scent gave out their initial use and the animal feeders became our table where friendships developed over warm fresh food.
The new model that we examined of biodynamic social farming in rural Tuscany promotes regional food identities, sustainable tourism practices and social integration while it strengthens the relationship among individuals, communities and the land. Biodynamic agriculture involves the understanding and manipulation of these forces, often referred to as cosmic, ethereal, and astral forces, which shape animal and plant growth and development. Biodynamic management can be accomplished through various on-farm practices that concentrate, or build, these forces in soil and plants. Special herbal preparations, for example, are formulated by the farmer and administered to fields, plants, or compost piles in order to manage positive natural forces to promote growth and fruiting in crop plants, or the processes of digestion and decay in a compost pile.
Creating our own food can both enliven relationships and elevate us, making us spiritually better people.
We created and enjoyed an authentic Tuscan lunch with all of us around the table on a misty Sunday afternoon. This is the beauty of Italy; sharing a plate of pasta among participants of different cultural backgrounds, food habits and ages…or maybe even two…