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Emily in Italy: Berkeley to Bologna, MO to BO: Nostalgia and Slow Food for Youth

We’re catching up on Emily Ventura’s Italian explorations, and in today’s installment, Emily shares with us the sense of community and engagement she found at an agriturismo farm near Bologna.

I grew up in Berkeley, California, but because both of my parents are originally from Missouri (MO), I spent many summers as a child in the midwest. But for the last 14 years, since I was 18, I have lived elsewhere. One of the amazing and surprising things about living in Bologna, where I am now, is that it has brought me back to my roots of both Berkeley and St. Louis, especially now that summer has rolled around. A large university town, Bologna is known as the most liberal city in Italy. It is located in the upper middle of the country, and the summers are hot and humid. The combination of Birkenstock-clad folks roaming the streets and cicadas chirping in the trees has made me nostalgic. This experience is particularly fitting because here in Italy, part of my project is to learn new approaches to bring the Slow Food movement to youth. This is much easier to do while feeling a resurgence of the magic of being young.

The nostaglia first hit me in early July, while Paul and I were camping with our new friends. While at a Slow Food cooking class sponsored by the Mercato della Terra here in Bologna, I met Simone, a dynamic leader of a Slow Food chapter in Faenza, which is about an hour east of Bologna, and his equally vibrant girlfriend Hande. We hit it off right away, as we are all about the same age and are passionate about making Slow Food relevant and more accessible to a younger crowd. Simone and Hande invited Paul and I to an event at “Pian di Stantino,” an agro-tourism (agriturismo) farm near Faenza. Called “PiandiStantinoStock,” the event had the flavor of a mini, tame Woodstock (minus the drugs and mud). The party started on a Saturday afternoon, and included dinner, a concert, camping, and a leisurely day of hanging out on the farm on Sunday.

Pian di Stantino is run by another young couple, Martino and Denise, who are friends of Simone and Hande. They are carrying on the family business begun by Martino’s father, not because they are obligated to, but because they are passionate about sharing the message of promoting a lifestyle that is more connected to the land. They live on the small farm, grow their own fruits and vegetables, raise goats and one big pig called Ciccia, or “Fatty,” and as a source of income they host guests for dinner and overnight stays.

Pian di Stantino isn’t a place you would find on accident; it is hidden in the hills outside of the city. Once we arrived, I felt completely removed from normal life, and for the first time in a long time, felt entirely relaxed.

Around 400 people came to the event, and many of them were in their 20s and 30s like us. Though there were many babies, young children, and older adults too. Upon arrival, we each paid 15 euro, and received a drinking-glass mason jar that was tied on a long necklace made of twine. The entrance fee covered everything: a dinner that featured organic produce, locally-made wine, the concert, camping, and even breakfast and a light lunch the next day for those that wanted to stay around. On Saturday afternoon the neighbors who raise sheep came by and did a demonstration to show the kids how the sheep are sheered and how the wool is dyed with natural materials such as pomegranates.

Dinner, served on plates made of tree trunks from the property, included pizzas cooked in the outdoor wood-burning oven. Hande and I quickly jumped in on the pizza-making operation, and rolled enough pizzas to have sore palms the next day. I was happily brought back to the days when I was working as a cook, and soaked up the familiar mix of camaraderie and friendly taunting in the kitchen that seems to transcend location, culture, and language.

But in addition to the comforting sense of engagement that I found in cooking with friends for a crowd, the experience was new enough to seem a bit like a dream. Could I really be learning how to make authentic pizza in a wood burning oven in Italy in the middle of a forest? It was magical, and the feeling only continued as the night went on. Simone and Hande took us to a spot toward the edge of the forest where hundreds of fireflies lit up a marsh. The last time I saw a firefly was at my grandma’s house on a lake in Missouri when I was 10, and in the 22 years since then I had completely forgotten about them and found myself in awe. Simone, Hande, Paul, and I sat on bales of hay, drank wine, watched the miniature light show, and listened to the cicadas in between sets of the band which was playing nearby.

The event wasn’t officially part of Slow Food, but it embodied the exact same philosophy, and I hope that through Slow Food we can work to give more people, especially youth, an experience like we had at Pian di Stantino. It is through casual, affordable, and experiential events like these, rather than fancy dinners, that we will reach and captivate the younger generation.