In 1997 Bruno Sodano took over the reins of his family business. He’s the third generation at the helm, working with the same passion as his parents and grandparents.
Bruno is tied to traditions and a love for his land; it’s a calling to work with the soil. “This business for me means family first of all. It’s telling a story. The story of my grandfather, my father, our identity, our land still cultivated today as it always was, our products and above all this wonderful job: to be a farmer, to till the soil… for me it’s a passion.”
Getting your hands dirty to save biodiversity
Bruno’s dream is to be able to pass the importance of this work down and ensure its continuation. “I’ve always been fascinated by the recovery of varieties of products at risk of extinction, like the Neapolitan Papaccella. I grow and take care of these foods that are symbolic of our traditions, I protect them, try to tell their story and share it.” The protection of the land and its products, Bruno hopes, will one day be the responsibility of his children and other young people.
The farm produces four different Slow Food Presidia: the Neapolitan Papaccella, the Acerra Dente di Morto bean, the Neapolitan Ancient Tomato Varieties and the Hundred-Day Pea, as well as other ‘forgotten’ varieties like the Torzella cabbage, Formella beans, the Vesuvian yellow tomatoe giagiù .
Physical and ethical work
Bruno continues: “The young people are often curious by this work that’s so ancient, physical and also ethical. Unfortunately what often doesn’t come with it is passion. Being a farmer, today more than ever, means confronting a lot of difficulties. Above all you need patience. Patience with nature and its rhythms, to follow its cycles, know how to reinvent yourself, to work hard physically. It’s not a job that pays as well as it should, especially in this age of globalization and ever-greater competition. That scares young people.”
“Once the farmer’s work was shared by all the family, it was passed down and you lived off the land. Today, more often than ever, those who start a farm already have another profession to support themselves. There are very few young farmers’ children who choose to take on the reins of their family farm. For this reason, here in our farm, we organize a lot of education visits to tell children about the beauty and the importance of what we do. Agriculture can be a way of not abandoning our land to go and seek our fortune elsewhere. And agriculture is key to saving our identity, our land and the resources that derive from it.”
Neapolitan Papaccella, the Queen of ingredients
In the last 20 years the farm has adopted methods of sustainable cultivation, almost completely manual, out of respect for the environment. This is important as Bruno and his family are growing local vegetable varieties at risk of extinction. “In a market so rich in products that come from all over the world, what we grow and protect needs to have its story told in order for it be chosen by consumers. These products are the greatest expression of this land, the DNA of this land, they’re our cultural heritage. It’s important to share that.”
The Neapolitan Papaccella is a variety of pepper at risk of extinction that Bruno is committed to growing and protecting. Meaty and flavorful, with small, flat forms, it’s also caalled the “urchin pepper”. The Papaccella has a particularly sweet pulp, and it’s harvested by hand here. It’s the protagonist in various local recipes too, and can be consumed raw, baked, grilled, fried, stuffed or pickled.
The sowing takes place in spring and summer, while the harvest is done between June and November. As Bruno says: “In the local markets it’s a pepper variety that’s widely appreciated, but outside of this area they’re a very few people who know of it. When I took part in the first Salone del Gusto, thanks to Slow Food, a spark flashed in me. I understood how important it was to share and protect this product. I work every day to this end. We keep up with the times too, sharing our Papaccella on social media, and this year it’s even possible to buy them online though the marketplace of Terra Madre.”
Farmers and restaurateurs: an important alliance
We ask Bruno tell us about the difficult last year and how his farm has coped with the pandemic: “The Christmas period helped us keep our heads up but both before and afterwards have been difficult. But it doesn’t matter, when I think of the enormous difficulties that others are facing. I think of the restaurants, and how important they are for farmers. So I’ve taken part in charity initiatives, and I donate my products to the businesses that need them most. I don’t ask for anything in return. They’ll pay me back in the future, or if not, I’ll be happy to have contributed what I could anyway.”
Bruno and his farm teach us a lesson of solidarity. But it also tells us about an infinite passion for one’s work and an unbreakable bond with the land and the great resources it gives us, and our duty to protect it.
by Carolina Meli, email@example.com