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Plague, Pestilence and Brimstone

I have been learning about some of the harsher realities of farming and at the same time experiencing some of the volatility of our ecosystem. No one could have escaped hearing about the most recent earthquakes in central Italy. We felt all three tremors. The last, on the 30th October, reached a magnitude of 6.6, enough to cause severe damage, but thankfully there was no loss of life………. but we felt it alright. The lights swayed, utensils in the kitchen moved from side to from side to side, time seemed to stand still, and whilst it was probably no more than about 20 seconds, it was long enough to understand what was going on and move outside the house. The strangest sensation, as I stood on the terrace, a feeling like being on a ship, the ground swaying as I watched the water slosh up and over the edge of the pool to stain the stonework a darker shade of red.

We were too far away to have anything more adverse than these strange sensations – and after the care that was taken in building our house anti-seismic it should withstand a direct hit. All the same it was unsettling.

Perhaps even more unsettling was the plague that hit our olives. A conspiracy of weather conditions resulted in a plague of these little flies that infested our olives. I now know so much more about these little mites and understand that a warm weather and humid spring meant they survived in large numbers. Most of the farmers, like us, are organic. We use no chemical spray and our olives have no protection. We watched as they fell from the trees before maturity. We picked not a single olive, and the same was the case for much of central Italy, except for those farmers who sprayed. They managed to keep some 30-50% of their harvest but the quality was poor and with all those chemicals it would not be a good product. For the local farmers who are reliant on olives for the majority of their income, the impact was far greater than for us. I feel for them. But to put this into perspective, this was the third such plague in 27 years, so the risk is low, but the impact very real.

Before the price in the wholesale market went berserk (as it did indeed subsequently do) I bought 300 litres of last year's oil from a neighbouring farmer who still had some left. Last year's oil was an exceptional year, the finest of oil, and even though it may not be quite so fresh it is still a very high quality product and a much better oil that you can get from the limited supply of this year's crop. I feel some responsibility to my customers (mostly friends and colleagues) who rely on us for their yearly supply). I won't have enough to meet everyone's demand but for those who order early I will be able to meet their needs. Since I made my purchase the wholesale price rose by 30%, so my decision proved wise.

But I get a sense of concern from the locals. What is happening to their ecosystem to bring such calamity all at one time, a sense of imbalance many said. We will all live in hope for next year but I am ever an optimist. I now hope for a cold winter. Lots of snow……………

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