Since the first wave of emigration in the 1860s, the deep Italian countryside has been hit by depopulation. Families, especially young people, have fled to cities in search of a better future and employment, leaving elders behind. The winters were harsh and life as a farmer and shepherd was no longer bearable.
Today, 40% of rural and mountain villages have less than 5,000 inhabitants, while more than 20,000 towns have lost more than 80% of their inhabitants.
But an opposite trend is underway, reinforced by the pandemic outbreak.
There is a new generation of young, unconventional farmers, cheese makers, ranchers and food artisans who are giving up potential careers and returning to their staggered and depopulated home villages to start farms and rural businesses.
Francesco Arena, 23, recently graduated in service management at the prestigious La Cattolica University in Milan and after working as a design and luxury project manager, he decided to return to the mountains of his grandfathers in the Abruzzo-Molise-Lazio National Park. He opened an organic farm where he now makes honey, extra virgin olive oil, jams, grain beers and liqueurs with mountain aromas.
The next step is to open a rustic B&B and raise an ancient species of high-end indigenous black pigs in the wild, for which he is considering new tenders for innovative agricultural projects funded by the Italian Recovery and Rehabilitation Plan. resilience, as part of the European Union’s Next Generation EU direct pandemic. aid package.
“After traveling a lot for work, I realized that Milan was not for me, it was a constraint, a hectic life, always running towards goals, workaholic, time killer. It was no use nothing to wait to retire to realize my dreams.” Arena said.
“I have always felt the pull of my family’s roots. I used to visit my grandparents’ village when I was a child, but only for holidays. The city was never able to to give the freedom and the simple lifestyle that I was looking for, surrounded by nature, which I found in this plot of land that produces top quality products,” he says.
Instead of abandoning the desolate and sleepy countryside, many well-bred millennials like Arena have made the opposite choice and returned to work on the estate of their ancestors.
Young high-tech farmers
According to a recent report by Italian farmer group Coldiretti during the pandemic, there has been an 8% increase in new high-tech farms run by farmers under the age of 35. And others should open soon.
Italy is the biggest beneficiary among peer countries of the European Union’s pandemic aid recovery fund, with a total of 200 billion euros. Rome has already received its first tranche of EU money (€21 billion) from Brussels, while a second tranche of €24 billion will arrive this summer.
Around €1 billion will fund the revitalization of sleepy rural areas and small villages (dubbed “progetto borghi”), while more than €5 billion will fund green and innovative agricultural projects and agricultural activities of young entrepreneurs.
In an attempt to tackle a declining population in recent years, local authorities have come up with all sorts of enticing schemes to entice young people to move to off-beat hilly areas, ranging from paying so-called “residence income of up to €700 a month in tax credits, baby bonuses, cheap rentals and homes – but with little success. It is mainly retirees and teleworkers who apply.
Ajmone Bartolomucci, 32, is another millennial who refused to follow in the footsteps of his parents, who were both doctors, and instead left chaotic Naples to take up cheesemaking and ranching. yogurt in the Comino Valley in the Ciociaria region, where Ajmone’s family is from.
A former land of outlaws and bandits, the region suffered from massive emigration after the Second World War but is currently experiencing a revival.
“We had a large rural estate in the valley, which was recently turned over to agriculture. My brother is a veterinarian, my sister an agronomist, so we joined forces, we always wanted to live here and value what this land has to offer. offer in terms of agro-food excellence,” says Bartolomucci, a graduate in animal technology.
Every morning, Bartolomucci delivers his fresh cheese to supermarkets and local shops and in the evening, he takes care of his cows, which he considers his “buddies”. He says he is addicted to the slow-paced, bucolic lifestyle surrounded by forests and green pastures, peace and quiet, and would never be a city boy again.
Other rural millennials also manage to live in two worlds at once.
Homemade ice cream
Rachele Brancatisano, journalist and ice cream maker, has reopened the historic ice cream shop of her ancestors in the small remote village of Picinisco, north of Naples,
During the week she works in a radio show in Rome and on weekends, holidays and summer she prepares “la Crema di Berenice”, a unique flavored ice cream made with just fresh cream straight from the stables. and vanilla, according to a secret recipe passed down between the women of his family.
“My ancestors emigrated to the UK in the 1800s where they were among the first to make artisanal Italian ice cream. In 1983 our village shop closed, a few years ago so I decided to reopening it to honor my grandmother. My aunt taught how to make our special ice cream, which is cooked on a wood stove like in the old days and mixed using a rudimentary machine,” says Brancatisano, 32.
Bringing back old-fashioned ice cream from the grave fills Brancatisano with pride and gives him a chance to escape.
“Journalism is just short news that comes and goes, delicious ice cream makes everyone happy. It’s a tangible result. I love it when I feel my arms and legs tired from stirring the cream , it’s a stress reliever. I’m never hysterical,” she says.