It started with my grandmother’s death in 2013.
Driving back from her memorial service in New York to my home in Washington, D.C., the possibility of living outside of the Northeast corridor began to seem like a possibility now that one of the anchors keeping me in place – my grandmother – was no longer there.
There were many other anchors that kept me in D.C. In the five years since I had moved there, I had built a strong start to a career in agricultural policy working for the leading sustainable agriculture organization in the nation’s capital. I had built a community of friends and colleagues, and had bought a house to settle in for what seemed like the long haul.
The relentless pace of D.C. and policy advocacy had become the norm.
But once one of the anchors gives, the others either dig in deeper or they, too, start to give.
“But once one of the anchors gives, the others either dig in deeper or they, too, start to give.”
Across the ocean in Southern Tuscany, a thousand-acre farm that my sister and I had inherited was starting to face the financial challenges that are the result of production, policy, and market changes in agriculture.
The piece of land that my Italian grandparents bought in the 1930’s to develop and farm was no longer going to make it according to the old model.
For decades, the farm had received generous subsidies to produce undifferentiated commodities – such as rice and wheat – to sell on national and global agricultural markets.
A few quick calculations showed that the farm would no longer be profitable in a few years if we didn’t make some big changes.
In a couple of years, half of our subsidies were scheduled to expire without the opportunity for renewal. In an evermore-globalized agricultural economy, prices for raw agricultural commodities would continue their sustained nose-dive while input costs would continue to climb.
It was time to make a decision.
What if I stepped off of the track I was on and moved to Italy to save the family farm?
Could I change the life I had created for myself?
This is the answer to those questions.