La Baita Farm: The Art of Nature
WORDS BY GIORGIA CORTE | PHOTOS AND VIDEO BY MIRIAM MARINI AND LAURA SPINELLI
Two hectares of natural gardens carved from the mountainside along the ancient road of salt. Only spring water from the mountaintops waters the fruit and vegetables that seem harvested just moments before. A village, almost-forgotten, that manages to capture the flavors of the earth in glass jars every day.
We retrace the ancient salt routes that the old Lombard and Piedmontese spice merchants once used to cross Liguria in the 1800s, over an intricate network of trails, in search of this precious commodity. Along these roads in the inland of Albenga, there once existed the trattoria La Baita. A long time ago, it was a point of restoration for the traveling pilgrims and merchants. There, they slept and refueled, bartering for room and board with portions of their goods.
It seems like nothing has changed since those times when we arrive in the tiny town of Gazzo d’Arroscia in the province of Imperia. It perches on the mountainside 700 meters above sea level. That old trattoria was brought back to life in the ‘60s by Augusto and Assunta Ferrari, who have brought it forward in time while keeping the traditions, inspired by the territory, intact.
Marco Ferrari, son of Augusto and Assunto, grew up here. On this land, he learned to love the territory’s food and earth so much that he felt it calling to him while far away at college. Between one law exam and the next, he returned to Gazzo whenever he could. Finally, in 1993, he didn’t depart again, and Marco began to take care of the centuries-old Taggiasca olive trees that belonged to his family. With hard work and a passionate drive, he produced his first olive oil in 1997.
The appreciation he received encouraged his enthusiasm, and he soon expanded the farm to cultivate organic fruit and vegetables on terraces carved from the mountain out of the tangle of forest and brambles.
He began with several plots of his own land and began to cultivate. As though on a mission to conquer, he continued purchasing uncultivated land that had been long-abandoned by the town’s inhabitants when they chose to live in the city. Today, La Baita Farm has nearly two hectares of terraced gardens, some of which are only accessible by foot. Thanks to the efforts of Marco, these gardens are all irrigated with fresh springwater that gushes forth from Mount Gazzo.
Visiting the gardens of this farm is akin to stepping into a work of art; the beauty of nature reigns sovereign.
“The high altitutde and the purity of the air and the water are precious elements to help grow our crops – even though caring for them and harvesting a garden at 700 meters of altitude, by hand, is not always easy.”
Marco explains the importance of giving the plants time to get used to the garden, to grow and to strengthen year after year.
“The first organic tomato seeds we used were too weak to naturally survive without the use of synthetic fertilizers, and we didn’t harvest any for two years. But by the third year, the plants started to take to the ground with strength. Now, our tomatoes are one of our most successful and popular products. We sell them all-natural, without any preservatives, and they remain as delicious all year long as though they were cultivated yesterday.”
The operating rule of La Baita is that everything that is produced must be cultivated with natural methods: this includes olive oil, vegetables, fruit and fruit syrups, and the basil for pesto, an important and traditional product of the region.
Marco, his parents, his wife Mirella, his business partners and collaborators are not the only people to garner satisfaction and inspiration from this project. La Baita is the core around which the entire town of 48 inhabitants gathers. The elderly ladies of Gazzo arrive, piecemeal and spontaneously, to help peel the fruit, wash the basil, and cut the vegetables, all the while chatting amongst themselves. Their husbands traverse the winding trails that lead to the gardens, watering and cleaning the plant beds. All the inhabitants of this village draw life from this work, which makes them feel that they are, once again, part of a community that is nearly extinct. They are the living archive of a tradition that now will never be forgotten.
Such loving hands make the pesto, which is so fresh it seems like it has just been ground under mortar and pestle. All the fruits and vegetables of La Baita Farm recall the flavors and feelings of authenticity with a sprinkle of innovation.