Rick Gush
February 4, 2011
Italian farmer in mink coat

Photo by Rick Gush

You see all types at the agricultural fair in Rapallo, Italy — even farmers wearing mink coats.

Last weekend was the big annual fair in Rapallo, Italy, and as usual, two of the streets down by the water were filled with agricultural vendors. Although it’s still pretty cold outside and the garden is too muddy to do much work, this event always gets me excited and leaves me feeling that spring is right around the corner. 

One of my favorite things about these fairs is how the customers in the agriculture section aren’t all scruffy old farmers, like me. Whole families were everywhere. Some of the younger kids enjoyed the spectacle seated in their strollers, and the older ones excitedly helped their parents select the best specimens.

Young farmer

Photo by Rick Gush

A young girl browsing the herbs eventually selected four Marjoram plants. When she left, I moved in and bought two for myself.

Even customers in mink coats bought plants and garden supplies alongside the dirty-fingernail crowd. Mink coats are still popular here in politically incorrect Italy, and some days, I swear I can see 500 of them strolling along the beachfront promenade that dominates Rapallo’s downtown area. The agriculture fair is no exception. I saw dozens of them haggling with the merchants and carting home everything from bare-root fruit trees to onion sets.

This year at the agriculture fair, I bought a new male kiwi vine. While the female kiwi vines I planted a few years ago are growing robustly, the lone male is wimpy, to say the least, and I haven’t had any fruit yet. I saw some of my neighbors also looking at kiwis, but they weren’t sure if they wanted to buy both males and females. I stepped forward and explained that because I was buying a male they wouldn’t need to—that part of our garden is right next to their own little plot. They were quite happy and purchased two females.

I also purchased a new lemon tree. This is by now a tradition with me, as I have been buying a new citrus from the same vendor every year at this fair. The older trees are just starting to produce fruit, and we had a few oranges, kumquats and lemons this past season. I’m good buddies with the citrus vendor now, and we spent a bunch of time discussing the nursery business. As usual he invited me to visit his nursery, which is on the slopes of the volcano Mt. Etna in Sicily. One of these years, I hope to take him up on his hospitality offer.

Finally, I bought two marjoram plants. Marjoram, which is almost always used fresh, is extremely popular for kitchen herb gardens here. Everybody has one, even those families living on the upper stories of the tall apartment buildings. Since I’ve lived in Italy, marjoram has become my favorite seasoning herb. It surprises me to remember back to when I lived in the States and didn’t grow this herb at all. What an ignoramus I was!

Read more of Rick’s Favorite Crops »

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