Discovering floriculture in Liguria and why it was saved first by the Abruzzese and then by migrants today
Do you have a vague idea of what an immense world is hidden behind those flowered floats you see during the Sanremo Festival?
The origin of floriculture in Liguria
The history of the first flowers in Liguria is intertwined with that of the Russian tsars who for centuries came here to winter. The houses they stayed in were often important villas, with beautiful, well-kept gardens full of flowers; those flowers that they then wanted to take back home with them, as a reminder of the time spent in Liguria. Here, this is how the Ligurians began to grow and sell flowers: as botanists and court gardeners. If then this profession has turned into a real trade it is thanks to some people who with their lives have changed the course of local history (and economy), such as Gerolamo Cattaneo. «My grandfather, tells us his granddaughter Mariangela (of whom we will tell you about his company), «for years he used to walk to Nice to sell vegetables on carts. Then one day he decided to try carnations in Genoa, but he said to himself: if I sell them, fine; otherwise I board and I leave too because of this life I can't take it anymore! But things went well, and how they went well! In a moment he managed to sell everything to a florist (who is still there, Simone di via Venti). He was like that, he was a trafficker, he really had the soul of a seller, so much so that he was one of the first to trade flowers ". In a few years, the cultivation and trade of flowers only increased, but if it had not been for the Abruzzese, things would have been different.
Because the Abruzzese saved her first and the migrants later
The first Abruzzese arrived in Liguria at the beginning of the last century, between the twenties and thirties, working mainly in the construction of the railway line or in the world of catering. Most came from some small towns in the province of Pescara, such as Montebello or Penne, connected to Sanremo for years by direct bus, on Mondays and Thursdays. Then, in the 1960s, there was a great need for manpower in the floriculture sector that did nothing but grow; thus, in addition to some laborers from the Wind, there was the third migratory wave from Abruzzo, the most consistent one, destined to remain and change everything. "The first Abruzzese arrived here with the magaglio, that agricultural tool for plowing and cultivating the land," continues Mariangela. “Then they learned how to build greenhouses and irrigation systems. And in the end they bought some land and they stayed, and from sharecroppers they became owners . Just think that at the beginning of the nineties in the province of Imperia there were more than fifteen thousand Abruzzese, now in their third generation, that is, children and grandchildren of those who made the existence of the Riviera dei Fiori possible. Only a few have returned down and brought floriculture also to Abruzzo, but most have remained in Liguria, in the West, in countries such as Coldirodi or Arma di Taggia, where in fact there is never a shortage of festival of kebabs. "Today things have changed", says Mariangela, "and if it were not for the migrant labor force, agriculture would practically no longer exist. In addition, many, in particular Albanians, are opening their own plants and flowers, thus making it possible to continue this cultivation .
The birth of the Floorcoop Cooperative
Over the years, the floriculture sector in Liguria has grown, also thanks to railway connections and means of transport that have facilitated the sale, so much so that even today it is one of the most consistent sectors of the local economy. There are no certain data, but there are more than 3 thousand companies active in Ponente, between Latte and Ceriale, many of these united in the Floorcoop Sanremo Cooperative, which if it exists today is thanks to the foresight of people like Mario Cimino or Gianfranco Croese, current president , which make many small realities stand, giving the possibility to work and therefore to stay. "You have no idea how important floriculture is for our territory". But there were problems, such as the increase in purchases of foreign flowers; so they opened branches directly in the regions where the purchase was falling, such as Veneto and Lombardy. In fact, if for years the best-selling flowers have been carnations and roses, then things have changed due to the changes in the market, primarily globalization. The first victim was there pink, who have started buying almost only from Holland, mainly for two reasons: cheaper prices and availability all year round (being grown in greenhouses). So over time most of the growers have become ranunculai, that is buttercup producers, today the flowers par excellence (together with anemones) present from winter to May, "usually until Mother's Day", adds Mariangela, "also because in Liguria we continue to prefer seasonal cultivation in the open field". In spring, for example, it is time for hydrangeas and peonies, in summer for sunflowers and so on. In short, the seasonality of flowers is also important: «Florists should be the first to use only seasonal ones when preparing a bouquet. And not least we must consider this aspect when the flowers end up on the table. Now, given the latest fashions, more and more often.
Edible flowers in the kitchen
A very interesting Franco-Italian cooperation project has just ended (but has already started again with the name of Biofiori), Antea, coordinated by Barbara Ruffoni, to reorganize the emerging supply chain of edible flowers on the coast from Genoa to Nice. In fact, never before had anyone succeeded in identifying and classifying all these varieties, with their properties and uses in the kitchen. Not only, therefore, for the decorative value, but also for the important alimurgic and nutritional characteristics that some flowers have, such as the violets, which don't have much flavor, but are full of anthocyanins, as well as being beautiful to look at and present all year round. But also i marigold petals and rose, the primroses of Albenga, or i trumpet courgette flowers, of borage and, again, the Mexican sage that «here it grows very well, Barbara tells us. Furthermore, an interesting recovery project is underway on the Lavender Riviera dei Fiori, which it is already using successfully in the food sector with noodles, biscuits, honey. In short, there is some to say, but luckily from all this work a book came out that you can consult online: Flowers, from the earth to the plate with 59 recipes of French and Italian cuisine all based on flowers (grown on the Riviera between Italy and France): butter with begonia flowers, fried nasturtium flowers, pesto of tubalghia flowers and wild garlic and so on with many other interesting and well thought out dishes. In addition, there is also information on the origin, historical use and taste of the 40 species classified by the Antea project, as well as a flowering calendar and some tips for cultivation. But in reality, when it comes to floriculture in Liguria, it is now not just flowers.
The Mariangela company and the world of cut foliage
Mariangela's is a very personal story. In fact, her company is intertwined with the events of life, so she decides to do what would have allowed her to spend more time with her son Alessandro. As anticipated, if his grandfather was one of the first to trade flowers, his mother Carlotta, one of seven children, was no less: "She grew daisies, I don't know how many I cleaned as a child, but in the end she threw us on five children! . Of these five, Mariangela is the only one who has continued to work in the countryside. First she started with roses, then she looked for something that would allow her to make the most of the few lands she had and at the same time to stay more at home: “You know, flowers require constant attention, you can't leave them there”. She finds the answer in what from then on, thanks also to her, has become a new market, more niche and more and more in demand: cut foliage, that is all green parts that you find from bouquets to weddings, such as ivy, ederine, jasmine (the favorite of brides), asparagus medeola (the one you see at the Vienna concert). "And at the end of the nineties, along with the birth of my company, I too was reborn and my second life began". Furthermore, these plants have a much higher yield per square meter than flowers. "I have little land, even the walls must render!" In short, his small company Mariangela started it by itself and still continues to build it, piece by piece, renting or buying a small plot of land every year, most of which above Arma di Taggia, on the hill where his grandfather Gerolamo also worked; right there, above the house where she grew up. On that gulf of the Mediterranean Sea that even in winter continues to release the heat that those plants and flowers always need.