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Slow tourism

Italians have discovered how to keep small family farms thriving, and Nova Scotia should take note.


There's a routine to my mornings in Colledardo. I wake up, my nose pink from the November chill that has fallen over the mountains of Italy, and wander to the kitchen where a fire is burning in the woodstove and coffee percolates on the stovetop.

On my small plate, I arrange fresh persimmon, sliced tomato, tiny clementines and homemade bread drizzled with bright organic olive oil. A week earlier in Sicily, every morning saw a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, charred toast and orange preserves next to a cup of thick, strong coffee. Everything is very simple and very fresh, as if it had fallen off a tree onto my plate.

It was at farms in Catania and Lazio where I explored the food and culture of Italy, enjoying the rural lifestyles and rustic food of the locals. From Venice to Trapani there is a well-developed network of agritourismo destinations---farms, self-sufficient olive oil and wine producers and vineyards---which open their homes to tourists interested in immersing themselves in the countryside. Antonello Siragusa is one of those farmers. He runs Italy Farm Stay near the Abruzzo National Park in Italy, two hours south of Rome, with his parents Giuseppe and Maria.

"My father is from Sicily and his family has had land for many generations---for them it was a living," says Siragusa. "So I grew up with these values of eating well and growing your own stuff. For me it was very important. The farm is to be self-sufficient as much as possible---to have our own olive oil, our own wine, grow our own vegetables and very few animals."

In October, his dedication to sustainable agriculture brought Siragusa to Terra Madre, a Slow Food networking conference in Turin.

"People come together and share ideas and interact with each other and feel stronger, feel part of a community," he explains. A delegation of Nova Scotians, including Michael Howell, chef/owner of Wolfville's Tempest World Cuisine and president of Slow Food Nova Scotia, were a part of that community. And Howell came home with renewed vigour and a new sense of direction. "It boils down to agritourism," he says.

The agritourismo model in Italy was started in the early 1980s. "It was for people who lived in the countryside in a way so that they could stay in the countryside and make money," says Siragusa. "There is a big tendency that people from the countryside, they leave to go to the city because there is no job in the countryside. So someone who has a small farm that cannot make money, they can now have an income from tourism."

"Patricia Bishop has TapRoot farm, but that's it," says Howell of Nova Scotia's market. "This is the culture that Italy has figured out and it's saving their economy and we haven't figured that out yet.

"Nova Scotia tourism has been suffering for lack of a customer. American tourists are gone; the days of sitting in a Super 8 motel and going to a theme park are gone. The true traveller---the new traveller who still has money to spend---is the experiential traveller who wants to do, see and eat. They want to 'Eat the landscape.'

"We have something very special in Nova Scotia that we're not selling to the rest of the world," says Howell. "One of the things I love about Italians, they are willing to sing their pride. We need to tighten the reins and say 'We are the best.' We need to be able to say that with a collective voice here in Nova Scotia, to have pride of place."

Howell shows off his local pride this week in celebration of Terra Madre Day on December 10, hosting a lunch in Wolfville with Slow Food Acadia. Halifax's Brooklyn Warehouse and Dartmouth's Two if By Sea Cafe are also celebrating, with "Who's Your Farmer" dinners this week as well.

While you might not be able to go stay with a local farmer, you can go meet one.

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