The clue is in the name really. It’s long. It’s Italian. It’s consistently proven to be unpronounceable but it’s mine. I spent a long time finding it very, very annoying but by the time I had the opportunity to banish it forever I had grown into it like a pair of beautiful shoes inherited from your mother... or father in this case.
My surname connects me with some force to my Italian roots and has the added bonus of making me feel like a ‘real’ Italian whenever I am in Italy. Which sadly is none-too-frequently. It also connects me to my Nonna and Nonno; to their home towns of Fossa in the earthquake affected region near L’Aquila and Beltiglio in Campania.
Both my grandparents came from farming families and my father gave up any hope of being a farmer when he left the farm in Stanthorpe [link] at age 10. Although farming is a noble profession I don’t really think anyone in the family lives with regrets about leaving the land to follow ‘professional’ careers. That said my now suburban grandparents of course treated their urban plot as a farm with beds of herbs, beans, lettuce, endive, tomatoes, zucchini and cucumber. They have orange, peach and persimmon trees and my childhood was filled with various vegetables wrapped in newspaper and sent home for Mum to find a use for.
It wasn’t until I started attempting to grow a smattering of veg for myself that I realised this isn’t as easy as it looks. The ability to successfully grow fruits and vegetables in any quantity now seems like a mysterious and wondrous type of magic. It also wasn’t until a recent conversation with Nonna that I fully understood just how much fantastic agricultural knowledge lies dormant within her memory banks. She reminisced with me about harvesting cherries and peaches in Italy, surrounded by family. Of how you could tell when the fruits were ripe by the perfume wafting on the warm breeze from the orchards. She held up her now frail looking hands and described with such passion the exact colour of the blush the peaches had when they were ripe. One side white and one side pink and red. She says you don’t get peaches like that anymore. Tree ripened fruit is almost unheard of and almost such a luxury item as to be prohibitive to all but the most boutique of shops. Or is it?
There are so many aspects of my grandmother’s life that’s foreign to my own. Leaving school at age 11, English as a second language, steadfast faith in the Catholic Church but one thing I have been able to appreciate is the sheer joy and delight at holding and smelling and biting into a fantastic piece of fruit. My part-time self works for Food Connect, a fantastically admirable Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) here in Brisbane. Food Connect builds relationships with South East Queensland farmers (3-5 hours from our front door), encouraging them to grow chemical free produce of all shapes and sizes for the tables of us city folk. In exchange for this dedicated service we subscribers pay them a fair price (often 30 - 40 per cent more than they would be paid at the traditional market place) and everyone wins.
As I am in the privileged position of employee I get to see the shiny crisp apples, the new season mandarins that when you break the skin smell of childhood lunchboxes, the verdant bunches of lettuce and herbs and the bright sweet and stubby ladyfinger bananas as they come packed tightly in boxes from the farm. I see them lovingly divided up and packed into boxes and farewelled from our warehouse to head for the kitchen tables of Brisbanites.
I still have a lot to learn about the depth and breadth of a subject that evokes such passionate discussion but it feels fantastic to work somewhere that is not only part of a solution but constantly re-examines and participates in the debate. How easy it is to throw one’s hands and say, ‘Well what can I do? And do my actions even make any difference?’ But take heart. Get informed and get involved.
I like to think that if my family were still in farming we would supply Food Connect, and through them the great and the good of Brisbane.