The vaporetto pulls out of Piazzale de Roma into the Venetian lagoon and I can’t quite believe I am in Italy. This is my first overseas trip after the pandemic. I am here for the European Network of Agricultural Journalists AGM and a press trip to the Cavallino Treporti region to explore “Farming in the lagoon”.
For the next 35 minutes, my colleague Michele and I tour around the outskirts of Venice, one of the most unusual and famous cities in the world. All the magnificent buildings and churches come into view from our vantage point on the boat – Doge’s Palace, the Bell Tower and the Clock Tower. We are skirting the south side of the city along the canale della Giudecca. Every type and shape of boat speeds by, some faster than others. I can’t get over the swell of the water – not to mention the colour, it is the most unique green – and if I focus on the water long enough, it feels like it has hypnotic properties.
We pull into San Zaccaria and, thankfully, we have some time before the next boat to the island of Cavallino – Treporti. We dander around the streets and up and down the myriad of bridges (there are estimated to be 400 in Venice), as speedboats zoom past us underneath. I feel like I am in the movie The Tourist and that’s exactly what I am! It is estimated that about 20 million tourists per year visit Venice each year.
We will come back to explore the city, but for now, we head to one of many islands in the Venetian lagoon – Cavallino – Treporti. This is a strip of land between the Adriatic sea and the lagoon home to 13,500 inhabitants. It has been a recognised UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987 for its natural landscape and unique habitat. It is the sixth most visited Italian area after Rome, Milan, Venice, Florence and Rimini.
The next vaporetto is just as busy and we decide to take a seat rather than stand. There seem to be more locals on this boat as we make our way to Punta Sabbioni and our base at the campsite of Ca’Pasquali.
This island is popular with Germans for holidays and there are campsites ranging from 3 to 5 stars all around us. Some, like ours which is more of a luxury resort than a campsite given the facilities on it, have access to beautiful beaches off the Adriatic Sea. In 2019, the region had over 6m visitors, which reduced by 60% in 2020 because of the pandemic but rose again in 2021 to 5.1m. There are 28 campsites plus 5 agricampeggi sites i.e. farm based campsites. Recently, a 7km bicycle lane that floats along the lagoon was opened, so there is lots to see and do.
One hundred and seventeen islands sit in the salty bay. Venice is by far the largest and most famous island but no food is grown there. So it is up to the other islands to grow fruit and vegetables in the flat, fertile and damp land.
The next morning, we meet some of the farmers that feed Venitians and in true Italian style, even in October, we can sit outside as they share their stories. There are around 200 active farms on the island with a horticulture focus along with a few small-scale pig farms.
We are being hosted by the Valleri family outside their organic farm shop, Azienda Agricola Valleri run by Stefano Valleri. The company was established in 1957 and since 2008, has been processing their own vegetable produce. They have created the most amazing display of produce grown on the island – pumpkin, butternut squash, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, courgettes, radishes, artichokes, zucchini, eggplant and fruits as well.
Each year, new lines are added, their most recent being Veggy snacks – dehydrated fruit and vegetables for people on the go. Thanks to a cold dehydration process, the taste and nutritional properties of the vegetables remain unaltered. “We try to enhance the taste of the fresh vegetables and fruit – nature gives us products that are already perfect as they are, we try to keep them that way as much as possible.”
Another farmer in the panel, Marco Bozzato, has an unusual accolade for a farmer in that he is a published author!
Marco of Azienda Agricola Bozzato has a new vision of doing agriculture – Verbezia. This project was born out of the need to find a viable alternative to the usual horticultural productions the family farm had specialised in over the years. Their target market is high-end catering – the segment that Marco imagined could pay for his work in a decent way.
He turned his research and production toward less common vegetables, with unusual colours and shapes such as the trombetta or yellow zucchini, red and green eggplant, purple potatoes, tomatoes and peppers of all kinds, focusing on quality not quantity.
“When I proposed them to restaurants, the chefs introduced me for the first time to herbs and flowers they had been using for a long time. I was curious and started to experiment and now my work is focused solely on growing herbs.”
Sorrels and basil of all kinds, nasturtium, marigold are just some of the items he now farms, grown in the sandy soil.
“The project is still in its early stages and there is a long way to go. At the moment I am still too focused on selling fresh produce but the possibilities to differentiate are many and the first partnerships have started.”
Lagunar Herbarium, a sentimental gastronomical journey through the wild herbs of the Venetian territory was written in association with Caterina Vianello, a well known food writer.
We get to enjoy some of the delicious produce at lunch and as we stock up on seconds of the canapes laid out, unbeknownst to us non-Italians, the main course of salmon lasagne is shortly brought out, served of course with prosecco. A delightful way to end the morning press conference with colleagues from all over Europe.
Find out more about the trip in the next blog as we visit a vineyard and an organic farm that has a farm shop in the heart of Venice.
This article was written by purplerain