When you daydream about Italy, you probably envision an olive grove, the afternoon sun dappling the leaves as you dreamily pluck a green olive and drop it into your handmade basket.
This is my life!
A few weeks ago, I headed up to Agriturismo Costantino, located 30 minutes from my home, closer to the west coast of Calabria, with my new ex-pat friends. We'd signed up for an event hosted by Eimí Experiences, a phenomenal company that creates curated events and activities throughout Calabria.
I was told we'd go olive picking and have a picnic. That was the extent of my expectations. But reality exceeded them!
Wait, What's an Agriturismo?
I realize this term might be new for you, so let me explain. An agriturismo is a working farm, usually with a restaurant and/or accommodations. They first popped up on the scene in the 1970s as a way to help farmers survive, as well as to educate tourists about local farming practices.
Like anywhere, farming is expensive and not highly profitable. The Italian agriturismo concept provides much-needed income to farms that might not otherwise be able to survive.
From the visitors' perspective, they're a fantastic way to understand the land and its people. I stayed in one in Sardinia for a week and met the family pigs, practiced my Italian over loooong, delicious meals, and learned to cook pasta!
I'm learning that Sunday is a popular day for locals to drive half an hour and have lunch at a local agriturismo. I can get behind that!
Sustainability Isn't a Gimmick Here
I sometimes feel that in the States, sustainability is a bit of a marketing tactic. The organics industry charges an arm and a leg for products that aren't sprayed with poison. Labels proudly boast "gluten-free! vegan! All natural! Organic!" and we pay more for those, too.
In Italy, organic food is a given. They don't charge extra or toot their horns about produce being raised organically. It's just the right thing to do.
And sustainability comes out of necessity, not trendiness. On our tour of Costantino, we learned that the farm has solar energy and rotates its crops. It uses everything to keep from wasting it: the grain they can't use for human food is fed to the chickens...who make eggs...that are used in the restaurant...then composted. It's the perfect circle of life.
While the agriturismo has modern olive oil machinery, we learned how to do it old-school. After introducing us to the local goats, our guide, whose family has owned the farm for generations, took us on an amble down to the creek where we each picked two rocks. What for, you ask? To smush olives. More on that in a minute.
A Break from City Life
Okay, where I live isn't really the "city" per se, but I can see how someone working hard during the week could really unplug at Costantino. All its buildings are modern, with clean lines and vines of bougainvillea draping between them. A sparkling pool invites lounging and dipping. A large outdoor restaurant is filled with laughter and Italian.
After our tour, we were given baskets and invited to pick olives from the trees near the buildings. It's pretty easy to pick olives. Just pluck 'em and drop 'em in your basket!
Afterward, we were shown how to schiacciare one between our two rocks, remove the pit, and drop it in a bowl. This is how they originally prepared olives for making oil. It was a bit meditative, but I wouldn't want to do thousands of pounds of them!
The Idyllic Italian Picnic
All that smashing made us hungry (or rather, thirsty), so we made our way to our adorable hay bale picnic table. There were about 25 of us, half our American crew and the other half Italians.
When the server brought the first carafe of wine, we Americans made a laughable mistake. Not seeing any wine glasses, we poured wine in our water glasses. Then the server brought the wine glasses! I'm sure the rest of the table was cracking up at how eager we were to drink the (delicious) local wine!
We were served plate after plate of focaccia, cured meats, and cheeses, followed by coffee and amaro (or limoncello). The weather was perfect. The company was wonderful. I kept saying, "this is my life!" in disbelief.
The Dolce Vita is Real
I told Paola, the event organizer, that this is an American's dream of Italy. To pick olives and enjoy such a beautiful picnic...it seems like something you'd do on vacation, but here we were (and other locals), enjoying the magic of Calabria on a Sunday afternoon.