Youth on the land: Daniele and the Conio bean

06 April 2021

He’d always liked country life, and helping his parents out in the summer and after school in the fields sown with Conio beans.

Once he’d finished his studies, however, Daniele Ventimiglia chose a different line of work: “I fixed coffee machines, the automatic vending machine types. It wasn’t bad, but in 2015 it got to the point where I had to choose whether or not to leave my family farm behind forever, a farm my parents had invested years of work in, becoming Slow Food Presidium producers, or else to give up my job.”

And so he chose to swap his engineer’s overalls for a pair of farming boots, taking over the family farm in Borgomaro, in Liguria. Today he grows Conio beans at 630 meters above sea level.

More work, less stress

Conio bean

At the beginning the quantities were small, so the first step was increasing production enough to be able live off it: “I started with a production of around 500 or 600 kilos a year, but today that’s tripled. Compared to the surrounding regions these numbers are still very low, but for Liguria they’re significant numbers.” This land, in fact, quite difficult to work with: “We have the classic long terraces but they’re quite narrow, dry walls, and a lot of our work is done by hand. I use a tiller along the rows to cut the grass, but you need to be careful around the plants. The beans require a lot of time. Compared to my old job it’s a lot more work, but it doesn’t weigh on me as much. Here I’m putting in more effort but I’m much less stressed.”

The satisfaction is immense: “What’s made me most proud, without wanting to take anything away from my parents, was when I realized that I would be able to run the farm almost by myself. At first I needed a lot of help, but I’ve gained a lot of experience: I’m faster and the beans grow better. It’s a good reason to be proud! Today I work almost entirely by myself. I ask for a hand from my parents for one or two weeks a year, during harvest, and to handle the bureaucratic side.”

The Conio bean conquers Rome and Milan

Conio bean

The Conio bean, which is the protagonist at Ventimiglia’s farm, is a Slow Food Presidium, alongside the Badalucco and Pigna beans grown nearby. “We’re three small farms, three adjacent valleys each with their own bean.” What they have in common is their color, their sweetness, and a thin skin which is almost unnoticeable once the beans are cooked, but the Conio bean is distinguished by its kidney shape, and for the fact that it’s larger than the other two varieties.

Daniele’s choice to leave his job and to invest in the bean has paid off. “Even in 2020 with the disaster of the pandemic, I sold the entirety of my harvest. We’ve never had problems selling what we grow here. We supply shops in Imperia and Sanremo, and others around Savona, as well as restaurants. Ours is a nice product, but we’ve had requests from places as far off as Milan and Rome. We try to spread the word everywhere, and so to receive this demand is a personal satisfaction.”

by Marco Gritti, m.gritti@slowfood.it 

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