In Italy, 44 percent of people running farms are over 65 years old, while those under 35 make up a miniscule 3 percent. City-dwellers now outnumber the rural population and while the majority of Italians might be the grandchildren of farmers, they have grown up in an urban environment. If there is no longer a link to the land within the family, it is very rare for young people to search it out. Yet sometimes it happens. With the crisis in the industrial sector and rising unemployment, new generations must find new solutions, overcoming the prejudices that value intellectual work over manual work and theory over practice.
The small proportion of young people who have chosen to pursue a career in farming and food production face difficulties but also great satisfaction, and young cheesemakers taking a central focus at Cheese this month, Slow Food's event dedicated to the world of dairy.
In Italy, young producers from Slow Food Presidia are connected by shared values and a taste for work in the open air, for contact with nature, for a way of life in harmony with the rhythm of the seasons. Andrea Signori, for example, traveled around Italy for five years to learn more about small-scale agriculture. He left Molise with two sheep and a horse and ventured up the whole length of the Apennines until he reached Piedmont, where he decided to stay and learn how to make Langhe sheep tuma, a Slow Food Presidium cheese. However, adopting a lifestyle marked by new rhythms and new harmonies can be difficult. "Our generation has moved away from this craft. We have to start from scratch and learn from the elderly," says Camilla Solazzi, 26, a producer from the Marzolina Presidium in Lazio.
"Manual work teaches you to take pleasure in the little things," says Andrea. Camilla adds: "Even if you're overwhelmed by responsibility that your peers don't have to face, the satisfaction of creating something with your own hands has no comparison."
According to Edoardo Batassa, 31, a producer from the Sibillini Mountains Pecorino Presidium in the Marche, young people are no longer willing to do these kinds of jobs because of the cultural model they grew up with. "While we quickly get used to new urban habitats, nature is becoming increasingly distant and unknown," he says. Visitors to his farm sometimes complain about the smell of manure. "But they don't care about the exhaust fumes that come in their windows while they're eating!" he says with exasperation.
The stories and experiences of these young and others will be visited during the coming edition of Cheese, to be held in Bra from September 16 to 19. Workshops such as "The Next Generation of Italian Cheesemakers," and "What Future for Herders" will be exploring this issue in greater depth.
For more information on Cheese, visit www.cheese.slowfood.com
Extracted from Slowfood magazine no. 51