It would have been hard to find a more likely group of folks to travel to Valli Unite with—we were eight farmers, food system educators/organizers, and activists from the West Coast, and we found ourselves gathered at a 30-person cooperative organic farm in Northern Italy called United Valley. We fit right in.
As perfectly placed as we all were at Valli Unite, the route to getting there was full of happy coincidences and near-misses.
It was only a day before we arrived that we decided to band together as a group of eight. We found the farm because Annie, a self-proclaimed non-leader of the group, found a sweet woman named Sara at one of the booths at Salone del Gusto and discovered that they both spoke Spanish. As they chatted, Sara told Annie that she had a farm with an Agriturismo. So when our West Coast group formed and was seeking a last minute local agriturismo for a reasonable price, Annie recalled that conversation. Annie only knew that it was somewhere in Northern Italy (and hopefully in the direction we were going, which was south from Torino to Cinque Terre.
So with that, on the last day of the conference, sheep farmer/cheesemaker Rebecca, farmer Annie, and I set off into the Salone del Gusto to try to find this woman Sara without a map or the certainty of Annie’s recollection of where Sara was. Though the Salone was divided by Italy’s regions, this was still the world’s largest food and wine fair, and the crowds seemed to be getting thicker by the aisle.
So we followed Annie with no exact memory of where she met Sara and no sense of whether this lead was even going to turn up in the right region, let alone be in our price range or have an opening for eight last minute American farmer-foodies.
After weaving through the aisles for enough time to be unsure of where we were anymore, we found Sara seated at a booth at the end of the last room, and she recognized Annie right away with a smile that was like encountering an old friend. She was charming and warm, and opened her flip-phone to call back to the farm to see if there was an opening for our group. With fortune on our side, there was!
So, in what seemed the first opening of the fates for this journey, we made our first plan and set our map apps for 100 kilometers southeast of Torino, to the tiny town of Costa Vescovato.
- We will travel together for varying portions of the trip.
- We will rent two cars.
- We will stay at an agriturismo.
- We will spend 25 Euros per person, per night on housing, at a maximum.
- And acknowledging how big of a group we’d become, we made one promise: “go with the flow.”
So, with peace signs in the air in a red fiat called Panda, we set off for the United Valley by way of Pollenzo.
And after a stop at the University of Gastronomic Sciences, and a backward glance from blue steel, aka farmer Evan, we arrived the after the sun had set.