High on a hill in central Italy, Giulia Savini can hear a collective ‘moo’ rising in intensity as she approaches a corral holding dozens of cattle on her farm, Valle Nuova. These cattle are happy because they know her visit means meal time.
For Savini, happy cows are important because Valle Nuova isn’t just about harvesting beef and produce, it’s also about harvesting dollars from happy tourists.
Valle Nuova is one of the growing number of Italy’s agriturismi, small farms that survive by attracting tourists willing to pay euros for a rural experience.
Once a thriving center of agriculture, the Marche region in central Italy has seen many of its farms disappear since the end of WWII. In the late 1980s the trend began to change. Farmers found a simple solution that would bring agriculture and tourism together. The idea of incorporating restaurants and hotels onto farms created a new hybrid that would save many foundering businesses. The ambitious plan was a success, and the agriturismo business was born.
“The idea of agriturismo is giving the farmers a way to stay on the farms and get extra income,” Savini said. “You can’t really live on agriculture these days. You need to be very big or very specialized and produce something very interesting.”
The Italian government sets legal standards for farms considered agriturismi. Under the laws, the farm must produce at least 35 percent of ingredients used in the restaurant or hotel on the farm. Another 50 percent of ingredients used must be purchased locally.
Only 15 percent can be purchased at chain grocery stores. This 15 percent is usually used to buy things like coffee, peanut butter and other commodities not generally produced in Italy,
Raising Tourists’ Expectations
Overlooking the corral is a small bed-and-breakfast-style house. This working farm has accommodations for up to 16 guests who are trying get away from busy city living, looking to enjoy the uniquely quiet rolling hills the Marche region has to offer.
In 1981 Savini’s parents bought the farm and moved the family from Milan to Fermignano, a small but growing city just down the road from city of Urbino. Beef has always been the main focus of the farm, but organic farming was a choice related to economic realities.
“Everyone was very poor in the beginning,” said Savini. “We couldn’t afford a large amount of pesticides.”
The organic farming techniques became a part of daily farm practice, and today at Valle Nuova that tradition continues. However, the farm survives because of the agriturismo model. Savini said in 1994 the farm opened an organic beef shop in town in 1994, but had to close because of lack of business.
“The market is not big enough for just an organic butcher,” Savini said. “Meat is a difficult product for organic producers. Lots of people eating organic are vegetarians, so we have a problem.”
Like many struggling farms in the area, Valle Nuova needed something to stimulate business. Finally in 1999 the family opened the bed and breakfast on the property — and a whole new line of challenges had to be met. The biggest has been marketing.
Le Marche, a relatively unknown region in Italy, is tucked between the Adriatic Sea and three of Italy’s most popular regions — Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio. Many tourists bypass the region in favor of Florence or Rome. “[Le Marche] is very underused as a tourism source,” Savini said. “It has wonderful things and wonderful landscape and nobody knows about it.”
Savini is constantly writing to guidebook publishing companies to get the word out about agriturismi and the Marche region. Her persistence has paid off. Valle Nuova has been written about in several different books over the last few years. Because of this, Savini’s farm has built a solid list of clients who return time and time again.
“I don’t get my guests because I’m an agriturismo, I get my guests because they know they can trust me,” said Savini. “They know they can get nice food, a nice place, nice accommodation, and nice people.” In addition, they get the surprise of an untrammeled beauty. Le Marche and Fermignano are just that.
Please check out the multimedia package on Valle Nuova.