Italy Struggles to Engage a Younger Generation in Agriculture

Several factors prevent the E.U.'s young people from entering into agriculture: difficult access to land, variable income, lack of training

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He didn't become a farmer because he was against industrial agriculture, GMOs, or on a mission to change the world. Originally from Bergamo, Andrea was just looking for the lifestyle that suited him. In his late 20s he took a trip to the South of Italy where he worked for a few years as a shepherd. That's where his journey began.

Andrea heard about a man by the name of Mario Gala who produced cheese using a local breed of sheep called the Murazzano near a town of the same name. He found a place among the animals, learning how to make the cheese (now a Slow Food Presidia product) while gradually saving some money to buy his own parcel of land. Here, he will live off of only what he produces. This decision grew out of an early desire to have options and control over his daily routine, to follow the seasonal changes, the sunrise and the sunset, the movement of animals -- and to live as freely as he could.

Andrea's story isn't atypical. Andrea's story is representative of what is currently happening with farming in Italy. Since World War II, many European countries have seen a steady decline in people working in agricultural areas. Currently, within the 37 nations that make of the European Union, only six percent of those working in the industry are under the age of 35. In some countries, this trend is more pronounced: In Cyprus, more than 31 percent of farmers are over the age of 65; in Portugal, that number is greater than 40 percent.

Andrea is especially rare among the few young farmers left because he is a property owner who did not inherit his land; he is not part of a farming family.

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The Italian food system retains its historic sense of seasonality, rationality, and quality despite some modern changes. It doesn't need to be fixed -- it needs to be sustained. In the United States, many young farmers around the same age as Andrea are working to promote and be a part of a change in the American food system, which is undergoing a shift in focus, production styles, and demand. The American food system is relying on people at a grassroots level to aid in the facilitation of change. Italy is relying on young farmers to continue its gastronomic traditions.

Even though Andrea was able to save and buy land, there are still many barriers for young people who want to go into agriculture. There are five main factors that prevent young people in the E.U. from entering into agriculture, according to Stephanie Mamo of the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy, who has recently written on this subject: difficult access to land, variable income, lack of credit opportunities, increasing responsibilities, and lack of training.

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Jesse Dart is a writer and photographer based in Italy.

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