To outsiders, farming can seem like a solitary profession. Farming conjures up images of a farmer, alone in a tractor, out in the field.
While sometimes I am out alone in a field, the truth is that it is impossible to farm alone. Successful farming requires networks of collaboration and exchange – for everything from borrowing equipment to sharing ideas for new markets or new practices to adopt.
Successful farming requires community.
A critical part of my community is the network of young farmers in Italy – the Associazione Nazionale Giovani Agricoltori (ANGA; the national young farmers association).
ANGA has chapters locally and regionally throughout Italy, and participates in young farmer policy-making at the European level through the European Council of Young Farmers. There are three main farmer associations in Italy, and ANGA brings together the young farmers (under 40) who belong to one of those organizations.
Most of the young farmers in ANGA run or are in the process of taking over the family farm business. There are very few young farmers in ANGA who are first-generation farmers.
At its most basic, ANGA is a network of colleagues. I rely on my local chapter for all sorts of help and information – we share experiences and advice on everything from tractors and mechanics, to how to enter new markets and promote products more effectively.
In its true form, ANGA is a group of friends who are all trying to manage farm businesses in a constantly evolving market without much help from heavily bureaucratic national and regional institutions. Many ANGA farmers are – or have had to become – capable entrepreneurs to remain competitive and keep the family farm.
Nationally, ANGA weighs in on policies that affect young farmers. We are organized into product groups as well so that when there is a particular issue or crisis in a certain sector (e.g., the collapse of rice prices due to imports from Southeast Asia), we have ways to communicate, connect, stay informed, and mobilize if necessary.
Because it encompasses young farmers regardless of type of production, ANGA often focuses on developing tools that young farmers need to run successful businesses. There are initiatives currently focused on building “intelligent” supply chains that incorporate innovation while recognizing tradition and the long history of agriculture in Italy for everything from wine to tomatoes to milk.
Last weekend, I spent a couple of days with other young farmers from central Italy for a weekend workshop on farm accounting and financial planning.
In keeping with all of the farmer groups I’ve known and been a part of, ANGA members also know how to have fun, get together to enjoy good food and drink, and let loose.
It goes without saying that without ANGA, farming for me in Italy would be much harder – and a lot less fun.