There’s a new generation of Italian ‘millennial-farmers’ who have returned to their offbeat native rural villages to start farms, B&Bs and launch climate awareness tourist activities.
Elio Rubino, a university economics graduate from Naples who now runs an organic farm in the countryside of Atina, central Italy, said Covid was the “trigger” he needed to ditch the city chaos and frenetic life and embrace a simple, stress-free world surrounded by nature.
“I’ve always wanted to abandon my everyday life and move to a rural, quiet area where I could live on fresh produce and animals. But it was just a dream stacked away in a drawer.
“After Covid hit, with the lockdown rules I was stuck in an apartment, my freedom was violated, so that dream turned into a necessity. In April 2020 I suddenly left Naples and escaped to Atina where my family had a rural villa for the holidays, which I transformed into a farm”, says Rubino.
The pandemic was like a light bulb switching on in his mind, pushing him to abandon comfort, friends, family and to move to a wild offbeat area, recovering that contact with nature which he believes no longer dwells in the ordinary city man.
“Straight after graduation I turned my world upside down, it was a rather bold decision but now I’m happy, I finally work in the fields in the open air as I have been wishing for since I was a kid”.
Rubino’s farm, Il Carretto, makes olive oil, wine, honey and breeds different species of animals.
He says the change, which led him to embrace “the lifeblood of nature”, has led to physical and mental benefits, and he dreams of sharing the rural world with everyone, “creating more responsible people and a more careful, eco-aware generation” with educational projects open to tourists and other young farmers.
According to Italy’s top farmers association Coldiretti, in 2020 there was a record 14 percent rise in the number of under-35s starting agricultural businesses in Italy as a result of the pandemic.
Francesco Arena, 25 years old, made an even more radical change. After graduating in service management at Milan’s prestigious La Cattolica University and working as design and luxury project manager, when the pandemic struck he went back to living on his grandfathers’ mountains in the Abruzzo-Molise-Lazio national park, in the countryside near the village of Picinisco.
Here he opened a farm, Alta Quota 1923, which makes premium honey and grows top quality grains.
“I wake up in the morning and it’s just the hills, fresh air, and pristine views. It’s my small paradise. The pandemic pushed me to reconnect with my roots and to search for an alternative, humble lifestyle. As I watched the terrible death toll rise each day, I was ever more grateful I had made the right choice”.
Francesco says city life could not give him the freedom and self-peace he wanted, which he found in such a bucolic, isolated setting.
Another millennial, Elena Galardi, opened a rural tavern and catering service in 2020 despite COVID restrictions, and restyled a historical dwelling into a B&B in the Tuscan village of Gerfalco, where barely 100 people live.
As the pandemic unfolded, Elena decided to leave her job as refugee assistant in Lombardy and kickstart a 14-hectare farm with her father, with vegetable plots and animals.
“Before, I was living in a flat in Bergamo without even a terrace. Now I live in our family farmhouse in the middle of the woods, and I feel lucky and grateful for having made such a decision.
“It’s a slow-paced life here: the B&B, called Poggio alla Luna, is just at a 2km drive from where I live right in Gerfalco center, and used to be an old building where sagra food fairs were held”.
Elena says the pandemic has led her to believe that human lifestyles must change and become more “attuned”, or there’s no hope for the future.
She believes such a “salvation” can come from a direct approach to nature and from rediscovering rural, old hamlets where depopulation can be a blessing in COVID times, guaranteeing social distancing.
“Since COVID and thanks to nature, I’ve come to seek more true things that really matter, less fake targets, and to crave for healthy, fresh foods”.
The impact of climate change has led Elisabetta Moretti, a former tourist consultant from Emilia Romagna, to restyle an old farmhouse and heat it with geothermic energy coming from nearby geysers in the wild Maremma area in Tuscany.
Her new rural ranch Ca’Novae, located on the pristine hills between the villages of Montieri and Travale, breeds Bernese mountain dogs and produces essential oils alongside honey and other fresh produce. Since last year it is her new home.
“Over the past few years I toured several parts of Tuscany like Chianti, but I found peace and wellbeing only in this remote patch of land, which is the region’s most pristine. At breakfast, served around a little natural pond, my guests are treated to views of roaming wild boars”.