Food: A noun that means: material consisting essentially of protein, carbohydrate, and fat used in the body of an organism to sustain growth, repair, and vital processes and to furnish energy also: such food together with supplementary substances (such as minerals, vitamins, and condiments.) This is the definition that the Merriam-Webster dictionary gives. Pretty boring right?
When I think of food I first think about the land and how the food is grown, organic, and what the animals eat...which is what I will eat. For my entire life I have been raised with a huge garden, plus my family in Sicily all have large plots of land to grow vegetables and raise poultry. Unfortunately, when I was little my father bought into the pesticide craze, and I've seen the damage that pesticides have done to my family, by ingesting those chemicals. Not making the same mistake, my little backyard plot of fertile soil is grown organically. Sometimes the pests win, but most of the time I do by being vigilant. A praying mantis helps too! My family in Sicily has also gotten behind the organic farming techniques after experiencing their own health scares.
The blog I'm about to write is about five fantastic individuals who have taken to the land. The eldest is in her late 80's with the youngest in his 20's. There stories are a bit different, but the result is the same...good food from good volcanic soil. (The tomatoes grown in Sicily are the sweetest and most flavorful I have ever had in my meals.) There are many more who farm the land, I just haven't taken their photos....yet!
When I visit Sicily, one of the first things I do is to is to commandeer a ride to my favorite farm, (grazie Ciccio) up in the hills that has a view of Mt. Etna. My rentals are not equipped with the 4 wheel drive it takes to make the 30 plus minute trip up there. I call "Cuzza" my little slice of heaven when I'm up there with Maria. I've been visiting that area for the last three decades, and now only Maria and her son remain, and at 88 years old, she's not sure how long her body will last. Maria dresses the same as I've always seen her, which reminds me that this must have been how the farmers of the day used to dress back in the early part of this century. I hardly recognized her one day when she was dressed in her street clothes. Maria gets up, and every morning either her son or nephews takes her to the farm. She doesn't miss a day. It is an absolute joy seeing her everyday as she strolls past the home I stay at. (Which is why I have hundreds of photos of her!) The words of wisdom she shares with me are so precious and heartwarming.
Two other people: Carmelo and Concetta are wonderful, and I go to their piece of Terra Firma quite often. The lead photo in this blog is of their newest additions to the farm. They are raising turkeys and chickens for their meat and eggs. (I must admit that being at eye level with the turkeys as they race back in to the pen was a bit nerve racking, but it made for a nice photo!) They have been together for many years, and lately Concetta has experienced some health issues, but she still has that warm smile I have known to love.
My first cousin Agatino is tending to his parents plot. The neatly cared for rows of vegetables and fruit trees are just as I remembered them from when I was much younger.The old "shack" that housed a wood burning oven has been replaced with a modern structure complete with a kitchen and a bathroom. His photo is almost in the same spot as I photographed his father over three decades ago.
There are two people who are different as night and day farming that I have photographed lately. At 86 Maria began cultivating her families plot after her husband retired and they moved back to the village. She went through some trials on getting all of her ancestors land back, but she has been farming it, all by herself, for over 20 years. Maria puts me to shame with her bounty of delicious vegetables that she tends to daily. She leaves early in the morning and walks the 15 minutes it takes to get to her farm. As she walks she says the rosary and touches the wall of the church where her father died. I knew her mother and her aunt was my godmother, so I do have a personal connection to them. She has an infectious smile and boundless energy that I can only hope to have at her age!!!!!
The last person I will highlight is the son of my first cousin, Andrei. At 22 years old he may be the youngest, but he is no less enamored by the earth. His grandmothers plot of land has laid barren for several years, since she became sick and unable to tend to it. As a tribute to his grandmother, Andrei works two jobs and then drives to the garden. He is in the process of fencing in the plot to keep critters out and has even made earthen steps so his grandmother can see his progress. (I ate a lot of zucchini from there!)
My ancestors used to farm, and we still have land way up in the hills. Not an easy ride to get there, so that will remain barren. I can only imagine what it must have been like centuries ago, when all the terraces were cultivated and the town had over 2000 people instead of the dwindling 600 that are left. I love it there, because of the calmness, tranquility and peacefulness of being up in the hills. I've never been a city dweller, and would not ever want to live by the sea, where cars choked the streets and people crowd the beaches. My slice of heaven is 9 kilometers away from all that.
The last photo is of Mario. This is a tribute to all of his farming years. In failing health, he has been one of my photo subjects for years at Cuzza. It saddened my heart to see him at home and not in the terraced hills of Sicily. He was one of the people who first welcomed me to the farm, and explained all about the soil and its importance to the community.
Detroit People & Commercial Photographer