Italy: Wednesday, June 12 - Today was our last day of field trips before heading back to Florence. It feels like the last week has flown by so quickly but I am ready to get on to the next stage of this trip and meet Brian for our vacation. It was hard to stay focused today but luckily it was a low-key day.
In the morning we checked out of our hotel and visited a company that imports coffee beans and then sells the raw beans to various Italian coffee roasters. It was an odd experience and clearly a front for something else (hint: Mafia). I work in a warehouse so I know the warehouse we saw was no warehouse. We walked into a huge airplane hanger type of room that was perfectly clean and empty except for about 15 piles of coffee bags laid neatly on pallets. There were no people, no boxes, no trash cans, no tape, no scissors, no boxes, no forklifts, no nothing. That sure ain’t no working warehouse.
The company rep had a hard time answering most of our questions. Someone asked if they imported any Fair Trade coffees or worked with any cooperatives on the growing side. She explained that most coffee growers were families with just a few trees so they were too small to deal with. Instead the company bought from larger companies in Africa, Costa Rica, etc. who had bought from the coffee farmers. When pressed on the Fair Trade issue, she said that those companies usually provided fertilizer to the coffee growers to improve their yield and “gave them an opportunity to sell” so they were “like Fair Trade.” Right.
In the afternoon we had a guided tour of Regional Farm Imposta (a Heritage fruit farm and Educational Organization). The farm promotes biodiversity by growing numerous varieties of fruit trees and giving grafts to any farmer who wants to grow a heritage variety. We learned about their education center and walked through the fruit fields picking and eating plums, apricots and cherries. Delicious.
They also raise water buffalo and produce delicious buffalo mozzarella and ricotta. We got to taste both at the delicious lunch they served – my last official meal of the trip.
On the looooong bus back to Florence a spontaneous dance party/karaoke/rap session broke out. Sure made the time fly.
Tomorrow morning I train to Naples to meet Brian for the next chapter in my Italy travels. The past 3 weeks has been a unique and interesting experience. I saw aspects of Italian cuisine and culture I could never have experienced on my own. I met farmers, businessmen, a mayor, nutritionists, fisherman, doctors, historians, food writers and scholars, olive oil producers, sheep ranchers, chefs, vineyard owners, fig producers and a guitar player. This experience will stay with me as I continue to digest what I have seen and learned. A tremendous thanks to our Italian hosts and my fellow students who enhanced my experience tenfold. Thank you.