Italy Student Blogger Study Abroad

From Summer to Fall and Past to Present

Image shows a student harvesting olives from a tree.

Each term, one participant from each HECUA program takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Gigi George is HECUA’s student blogger for Italy Fall 2021. Gigi is a student at Denison University, majoring in environmental studies. Read on to learn about Gigi’s reflections from field visits and their internship site.

The hills surrounding Greve are painted with the red, orange, and yellow hues of distant vineyards. The tables and chairs at our favorite restaurant are stacked in the far corner of the outdoor patio. The vegetable stand has an abundance of new, seasonal produce like squash, zucchini, and cabbage. The local Italians are bundled up in puffer coats and wool scarves. The gelateria is officially closed. Fall is finally here.

With the new weather comes new responsibilities at my internship. The grape harvest has been replaced by the olive harvest— a process which involves putting giant nets under the trees and using an electric rake to shake down the olives. Once the tree is barren, we move the net to the next one and continue the same procedure. After a few trees, we pull the olives to the middle of the net and pour them into a bin. Although it can be draining at times, the Italians I work with always find ways to make each other laugh and make the labor enjoyable.

Image shows the Italian countryside.
Photo credit: Gigi George

What I love so much about working at Terreno is being able to see the two different processes (wine harvest and olive harvest) become two different products. Since wine and olive oil are so closely tied to Italian culture, helping produce them feels like a rite of passage. This immersion brings me closer to the people I routinely work with as well as other Italians I’ve met since being here.

In addition to the internship, I am learning many new topics in my classes. Last week, we had a joint lesson with Filippo and Riccardo to learn about the history of sharecropping in Italy. More specifically, we discussed what sharecropping meant through economic, environmental, and social lenses. Standing in Filippo’s home, which used to be a sharecropping community, we discussed the history of Greve’s rolling hills and stone infrastructures. In the houses we see now, there were once big groups of people (20-30) living together and working in the fields. In return for labor, landlords gave them a place to stay and food to eat.

While this form of agriculture meant that production and distribution was much more localized, workers underwent harsh conditions that raised many questions about social equity. It was no surprise to learn that many fields were abandoned in the mid-to-late 1900s as people moved to the cities for industrialized jobs. I find it fascinating how recent in history this sharecropping system was dismantled—it shows not only how quickly things can change but also how close Italians are to this traditional form of labor.

With each new farm we visit, I better understand the past system that has led to the present model. One of my favorite places we’ve been is Camporbiano in San Gimignano. This farm is the perfect example of ‘multifunctionality,’ which combines not only various commodity goods but also other non-commodity goods. Camporbiano produces a multitude of locally sourced products like cheeses, jams, vegetables, pastries, and pastas and also provides jobs to immigrants, which creates a robust and connected community and region. Additionally, the farm utilizes everything it makes. For example, when they make sunflower oil, the byproduct becomes feed for animals. This closed-loop process is very environmentally beneficial and is a great example of how farms can become more sustainable.

Image shows an Italian home with wooden poles to hang fresh pasta from.
Photo credit: Gigi George

Along with internships and classes, we’ve recently started our “Cucina for English” program, in which, every Monday we have dinner with the same Italian family. I help my “Cucina for English” family’s child with English homework, and they help me with my Italian while we all cook and eat together. My Italian family has taught me how to make risotto, eggplant parmesan, pesto, carrot cake, and roasted zucchini.

My favorite thing we’ve made together so far is fresh tagliatelle pasta. I love this recipe because it is not only simple but also delicious. If there’s anything I’ve discovered about Italian cuisine it is that pasta is of the utmost importance (and rightfully so). With that being said, I am listing the most underrated pasta shapes. Perhaps I’m living under a rock in the United States, but these have truly been a whole new world for my food experience in Italy.

My New Favorite Pastas:
Farfalline – best with olive oil and parmesan
Tagliatelle – best with olive oil and porcini mushrooms
Gemelli – best with homemade pesto
Short Rigatoni – best with red sauce and eggplant
Orecchiette – best with a creamy sauce, vegetables, and sausage

 

 

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