October 15th is International Rural Women's Day : I discovered its meaning together with Francesca and Marta, entrepreneurs of the Le Nocciole di Greta farm
When I saw the products of Le Nocciole di Greta (https://www.lenoccioledigreta.it/ ), I knew there was a special story I wanted to know. I went to meet Francesca and Marta in Bascapé, in the province of Pavia and walking through their hazelnut grove of one hectare and 400 trees, I experienced a magical sensation of discovery.
Agriculture: an unknown world from other times
In Italy, 75% of citizens live in cities, so the nerve center of food for most people is the supermarket. We know (perhaps) the finished products, we know something about industrial processes, but little is known about agricultural production.
The hazelnut grove of Le Nocciole di Greta was planted in 2014: 400 seeds that took 4 years to start producing the first hazelnuts. In 2022, after 8 years, 12 quintals of hazelnuts are produced and the hazelnut grove is preparing to reach its maximum yield after 10-12 years of treatment, therefore in 2026.
And he doesn't arrive at 12 quintals simply by looking at the plants: each plant has its own "doctor", the agronomist, who the farm meets at least once a season. Every plant must be nourished and quenched, especially if a summer like the one of 2022 arrives which has brought everyone and everything to its knees. And the nourishment is carefully chosen and often even prepared directly from the field, starting from the falling leaves or shells from the previous harvest (because nothing is thrown away, everything is in the name of sustainability). Each plant needs a makeover every year, hence the pruning. Every plant must be protected from bedbugs.
" The only moment when you can perhaps look at the plants is December - says Francesca - for the rest there is always something to do! "
How many projects in large companies after 6 months from departure are considered finished and/or failed if they have not yet produced fruit?
In agriculture there is a different way of looking at the future and at the time: plants may not produce for years, but every day it is still necessary to take care of them.
Agriculture and women
In Italy there are over 200,000 farms led by an entrepreneur: almost 1 out of 3 farms is led by a woman, while in industry we are 1 out of 10 ( read more here).
While Francesca and Marta were talking to me about their business, I wrote down these sentences: " we favor the most sustainable choices ", " we network with other women in different sectors for packaging, communication, etc", "we believe in moments of sharing with schools and families".
Both, before 2014 when the 400 hazelnut seeds were planted, had another typical city job that they decided to leave.
All this to say that the feeling I had is that for Francesca and Marta working in the hazelnut grove is not just a question of business, but much more: I felt a strong presence of the family idea, an ability to create and invest in surrounding community, the ability to create a network among women, the desire to produce something good, genuine, the interest in communicating the love for the earth and for hazelnuts to children and families.
The flavors of the field
And after the work in the field, the crafts begin. Once the hazelnuts have been harvested, they are stored in jute bags until the moment of shelling, done with the aid of a homemade machine, the peeler. Francesca and Marta then manage a laboratory where, with the support of a Maître Chocolatier, they produce and package some of the products for sale.
I was able to witness the production of the hazelnuts covered in white chocolate with raspberry powder (wonderful, the raspberry with its acidity refreshes the chocolate in a perfect balance) and I was able to taste the freshly made hazelnut chocolate bars. Flavors that remain on the palate and in the heart.
But above all I tasted the hazelnut, in purity, the Tonda Gentile Trilobata harvested two weeks ago: crunchy crunchiness, sweetness, butter, a small bitter note. It felt like I tasted hazelnut for the first time in my life.
Francesca explained to me that the hazelnuts we buy are from the harvest about a year earlier. For this reason some flavors or characteristics are weakened in the industrial product.
The flavors of the field are other flavors.
This was my first visit to a hazelnut grove and I'm glad I started from Greta's.
And it is probably Greta herself who makes this place so magical.
I think that Greta, Francesca's little girl, looks down on the hazelnut grove and is at work putting a poem inside each of those little balls.
Mom and aunt know it and can't wait to bring those poems to all of us.