From NYC to Tuscany. The exciting story of an organic farmer
Ariane Lotti was not born in Italy, but her roots in Maremma run deep. In 1936, Ariane’s great-grandfather came to this unique area of southern Tuscany and saw potential in its beautiful and wild landscape. Four generations later, Ariane acts as the manager of the farm he founded, Tenuta San Carlo, and has developed her own close relationship with the land.
Born in New York City to an American mother and an Italian father, Ariane visited the farm frequently throughout her childhood, but did not consider it home until a few years ago. In 2014 Ariane was working as Assistant Policy Director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in Washington, D.C. when she and her sister, Samantha Lotti, were faced with a difficult decision. They had inherited Tenuta San Carlo from their father and came to the realization that they would have to sell the farm – unless one of them moved there to manage it directly. Ariane, who had developed an interest in agricultural and environmental studies at a young age, chose to relocate to Grosseto, Italy and take care of her family’s land.
Upon arriving, Ariane immediately began the process of transitioning the farm to organic production. She explains, “Our approach to land management and food production is to work with nature instead of against it.”
As an Italian-American organic farmer in rural Tuscany, Ariane has confronted various cultural and agricultural challenges with grace as part of what she considers a “delicate dance” between tradition and innovation. “I think Italy is one of the best places to experience this,” she says. “Changes in farming happen over time and Italy has a strong tradition of agriculture and food, but it also has a strong tradition of creativity and innovation.” Ariane honors tradition by continuing to grow rice and some of the other crops that her grandparents once cultivated, but she seeks to innovate through the application of modern methods that enable her to improve the sustainability of her farm.
Ariane claims, “In applying sustainability practices to the land, you are in conversation with it. You learn what it can and can’t do, what it prefers to do and what it does with difficulty, what is most efficient and what is most challenging for it… You do that only if you are able to connect with the land on a daily basis and observe and listen to what it’s saying through the plants and the animals that are on it. Through this we can have a knowledge and an understanding of this specific piece of earth that is like a human relationship that comes with its ups and downs, its joys and sadnesses. It ties us to this place even if we have a global outlook. That concept of being so connected to a place is something that in current times is not experienced by many people because modern life is so removed from nature.”
Through Tenuta San Carlo, Ariane strives to help others reconnect with nature. She and her sister have converted two farmhouse structures into rental apartments so that guests can spend their vacations immersed in the pine tree forest that her great-grandfather planted. They also encourage locals and visitors alike to participate in events that take place on the farm, including educational farm tours led by Ariane herself. Though not everyone is able to visit Tenuta San Carlo, many have the opportunity to enjoy a taste of Maremma throughout the entire region of Tuscany by dining at restaurants and shopping at grocery stores where Tenuta San Carlo organic rice products are sold.
“Given the extraordinary beauty of this place, we really work with our rice to maintain the qualities that characterize this landscape,” says Ariane. The result is “rice that tastes like rice,” as she puts it. “The flavor of the plant isn’t hidden – it’s exalted.”
While plenty of people are familiar with terroir when it comes to wine and other specialty products, Ariane is proving that rice can also have a sense of place, reflecting the character of the land it grows on and even the personality of the family that has lived on that land for generations. When Tenuta San Carlo obtained organic certification, Ariane chose to sell two of her rice varieties using special names: Achille, for her great-grandfather, and Olga, for her grandmother. Every grain of rice grown at Tenuta San Carlo is imbued with the story of these people and this place, and thanks to Ariane’s thoughtful stewardship of her land, there will be many more rice harvests to come.
Strada Provinciale 40 Della Trappola, 147/a, 58100 Grosseto GR
Elena Valeriote is a food, farming, and travel writer who specializes in sharing stories that center on sustainability and sense of place. Though born and raised in California, Elena is currently based in Tuscany.
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