Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Glimpse into the Italian Countryside

Upon our second day of arrival in the beautiful Castiglion Fiorentino, our student group had the opportunity to enjoy a walk through the town and see a typical Italian countryside. I can safely say that this hike put my drive from Dallas to College Station to shame! We were guided by our horticulture and Italian professors, who shared the significance of every plant that we saw on our walk. We were headed to Giovanna and Romano's home, a couple kind enough to teach us to make bread and pizza and let explore their breathtaking property. During the walk, I was surprised to find that so many of vegetables I’d seen in only in our local HEB were growing in the backyards of the local residents and merely on the side of the road. Beautiful flowers that I’d seen in wedding bouquets were found in the same places! Although I may have missed a few, I recollected that we saw peach trees, cherry trees, artichoke, garlic, asparagus, beans, potatoes, fennel, grapes, peonies, wheat, barley, onions, figs, sunflowers, sage, and many more I’m sure. Peonies have always been my favorite flower, and it was interesting to see them growing in someone’s garden and to hear a little bit more about them. Our horticulture professor told us that the flowers take about three years to fully bloom and, soon after, just fall to the ground because of the flower’s heavy weight! Furthermore, we walked past several trees that appeared, to me at least, to be an ordinary, every day tree (forgive me, I am quite new to horticulture). I soon found out that what I was seeing was olive trees! Our professors explained that the reason that these trees were not so obviously olive trees is because the olives are just beginning to bloom and do not ripen until the fall. Our Italian professor also told us that the olive oil industry in Italy was devastated for the past year, mainly due to bad weather and a type of pest that kills the trees. She explained that the pest is originally from Costa Rica, traveled through Holland, and then somehow was introduced to Italy. The idea of the devastation didn’t really sink in until we visited the home of Giovana and Romano, whose livelihood, nutritional diet, and income truly depends on the production of their gardens. Almost everything that we ate and drank during our visit to their home was fresh from their land, including the olive oil used in the bread and pizza (We were also able to use fresh peppers, zucchini, and tomato sauce made from their grown tomatoes.). When we left their home, we had the option to buy some of the homemade wine from their vineyard. Everyone excitedly requested that we buy some of their delicious olive oil as well, but sadly they were unable to offer that to us. Our Italian professor explained that they were not in a good position to sell any of their limited supply of olive oil due to the past year's difficulty. Here, I was able to see first hand how this devastation affected the people of Italy. I truly hope that Italy is able to comeback from this poor olive season and continue producing large amounts of its delicious olive oil!


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