Ancestral Farming: linking ancestry and tradition with modern day farming and foods
“There is an internal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outlines all our lives. Those who are lucky enough to find it ease like water over a stone, onto its fluid contours, and are home. Some find it in the place of their birth; others may leave a seaside town, parched, and find themselves refreshed in the desert. There are those born in rolling countryside who are really only at ease in the intense and busy loneliness of the city. For some, the search is for the imprint of another; a child or a mother, a grandfather or a brother, a lover, a husband, a wife, or a foe. We may go through our lives happy or unhappy, successful or unfulfilled, loved or unloved, without ever standing cold with the shock of recognition, without ever feeling the agony as the twisted iron in our soul unlocks itself and we slip at last into place.” ― Josephine Hart
I first found the perfect pieces of my internal landscape lock into place when I became a Mother. I found it again, so perfectly… when we began our farm.
Above is a quote by author Josephine Hart, from her novel “Damage”. Certainly about as far removed from farming as one might venture… but words that resonate within me as I contemplate the path my son Connor and I, are traveling down as we work daily on our farm.
I am a family historian. An amateur genealogist, a person passionate about the traditions that link us with our past. To some, the term “ancestral farming” is the process of employing ancient farming techniques, such as the three sisters, when corn, beans and squash were planted together in Native American tradition. It is all of those things, but for me it is also paying homage to my ancestors. The foods they grew, the flavors they cooked with, the traditions they held. Today I weave the gardening lessons my Grandparents taught me, into my everyday routine. These childhood memories become a comforting routine as we work our way through each day. It can be as simple as growing a flower or herb that is a subtle reminder of a person or a tradition, or sowing the seeds of a certain vegetable that quite possibly was grown in fields plowed by your ancestors thousands of miles away on another continent.
Just as much as Heritage breed animals by default ensure that we are maintaining part of our history and a deep connection to our past food and farming history, the simple act of planting a row of a very specific type of squash grown only in a certain part of Italy that just so happens to be where your Grandfather grew up… is a conscious and comforting act which gives your food and farming process infinitely more meaning.
I am grateful at garden planning time for rare and heirloom seed companies that cater to my every whim and desire when it comes to my hopes to create an Italian-inspired garden that my Bisnonna Augusta would have been proud of. I’ve heard only stories of her legendary culinary skills, as she passed away before I was born. I find joy in learning about the foods and flavors of the area in which she raised my Grandfather, Dante Giuseppe Rosario Calderan… for thirteen years on her own. My Great Grandfather embarked on his journey to the USA in January 1914, when my Grandfather was only a few months old.
When we visited Italy and made a pilgrimage to Corva di Azzano Decimo, we walked on the street where she and my Grandfather walked. The house my Great Great Grandfather, Domenico Calderan, built- still stands on Via San Pietro in Piagno. And I was told that my Calderan relatives still live there, although I sadly was not able to meet any of them on my visit. Corva is a tiny town. A blip on the map that one might miss with a blink of an eye, but to me, walking through it’s main street, going into it’s two churches to light a candle, visiting it’s small cemetery and standing at the gravestones of my Great Grandparents, Great Aunts and Uncles… was the experience of a lifetime, which brought tears of my eyes.
To me, ancestral farming is the act of consciously fostering a deep connection with the past, through the foods and culinary traditions of one’s ancestors. A garden isn’t just a garden, but a piece of your history. Join me here on the blog as I venture on this journey. I’m slowly learning about the foods and flavors of my ancestry, which is dominantly Italian (Friulian), but which may take us on a journey to Switzerland, Cornwall or Scotland as well!
I will return to Corva and the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, again one day…