Josephine Falchetti. From finance to agriculture
When Josephine Falchetti arrived in Italy in 2004, she did not speak Italian and she did not have any experience working in agriculture.
Born and raised in Paris, France, Josephine had originally pursued a career in finance and worked in the metropolitan centers of several different countries before landing in London, where she met Andrea Falchetti, the Italian man who would eventually become her husband. They later relocated to Milan, Italy. When Josephine became pregnant with their first child, they decided to seek out a space in the Tuscan countryside where they could raise their child in a natural setting and be nearer to Andrea’s parents. They found an expanse of available land on the top of a hill in a small town called Montiano and built their home in the midst of an olive grove of about two hundred trees. They planted more than two thousand more olive trees and named their property PoggioLecci.
Though the transition to life in Italy had gone relatively smoothly for Josephine, the transition from finance to agriculture was not easy. Josephine explains: “When you’re working in finance, every year you have a business plan and a precise forecast of how much money you will make… The first time we tried to make an investment plan for PoggioLecci we thought: we have that many trees and they are going to produce that many kilos of olives per tree, so at the end of the year we get that much olive oil.”
Nature, however, had other plans. That year, freezing temperatures damaged about half the trees and the others did not produce any fruit. “We realized that there is so much out of your control. You cannot just make a base, a bull, and a bear scenario,” says Josephine, referencing banking terminology. With farming, instead, she observes, “You have twenty-five different scenarios and the base is usually the maximum that you’re gonna get.”
As Josephine began to realize the harsh reality of farming, she also came to understand its rewards. “When you work in finance you’re just making money with money and you cannot see or touch anything that you’re doing. The whole thing is pretty unsatisfactory from a heart perspective and from a sensory perspective. In agriculture it is the opposite. I had to use my nose to smell the oil. I had to feel where the wind was coming from. I had to put my hands in the earth,” she explains, going on to add: “You plant the tree and some leaves arrive, and then the fruit, and you pick it and get the olive oil. The process is very magical. You are a witness of the beauty of nature.”
While learning how to work with nature to grow life on her land, Josephine became acutely aware of her responsibility as the primary caretaker for the life growing inside her. During her pregnancy with her first child, Josephine worked with an agronomist to manage her olive grove. When she was informed that a pesticide would be sprayed on her trees and that for three days afterward she should avoid spending time in the grove just outside her home, Josephine worried for the ealth of her baby, as well as her own health and the health of the people who worked there. It was at this time that she decided to transition to organic agricultural practices.
The process of obtaining organic certification for her farm was not so simple. Though olive oil was produced naturally in Italy for thousands of years, over the course of recent decades many Italian olive oil producers began to use toxic chemicals to combat harmful insects and other potential threats. Choosing to grow organically made Josephine an outlier in her community. In moving forward with her decision, she had to ignore the doubt and criticism launched at her by neighboring farmers as she attempted to find her own balance between tradition and innovation. Her agronomist, who supported her
choice to pursue organic certification, told her, “At some point you ave to stop listening to others and believe in yourself.”
Together they experimented with every step of the olive oil production process, testing out old and new techniques to produce a high quality collection of organic olive oils. Josephine even managed to convince the local olive oil press to open early for her each year. Harvesting and pressing early in the season gives her olive oils their intense flavor. Each of the nine kinds of olives that are grown at PoggioLecci are pressed separately, then bottled individually or blended, which allows the extraordinary flavors of the olives to shine in their purest form or uniquely complement one another.
PoggioLecci olive oil has earned special recognition from chefs throughout Europe and has even made its way into Parisian restaurants. Josephine returns often to her hometown, but she is firmly rooted in Italy. That a French girl could become a banker in London and end up as a farmer in Tuscany is unlikely (to say the least); however, Josephine’s passion and persistence defy expectation – and so does her olive oil.
Strada Consortile Poggio Maestrino
Comune di Magliano in Toscana
58052 Grosseto (Italy)