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AMALFI COAST LEMON | A “How Does it Grow?” Special: THE FLYING FARMER


(Music) On Italy’s Amalfi Coast, there’s a food farmed
nowhere else on Earth. Caring for it requires fearlessness, breathtaking agility, and a deep connection to the land. This is a young man’s trade but it’s done almost entirely by old men, and I’ve come here to meet
one of the greats. (Music) Gigino just turned 83. He’s spent his whole life
tending a very special kind of lemon, here on the hillsides of Amalfi. Gigino and his son Salvatore have invited me to harvest the fabled Amalfi Coast lemon, a variety that is celebrated
for its sweetness and aroma. But first, café! (Nicole): Saluti! With a twist of lemon, of course. That’s really good!
(Laughter) (Nicole): I’m ready to go now. Let’s go! (Salvatore): Now you’re ready. (Music) The name, sfusato, comes
from the lemon’s taper end, like a spindle or “fuso”, in Italian. (In Italian) The original! Only sfusato grown along the 20 miles
coastal strip between Vietri and Positano can legally be sold
as Amalfi Coast lemons. This is the preferred habitat
of the sfusato amalfitano, and attempts to commercially grow it
outside of Italy have failed. (Music) Gigino often works in the most
precarious place possible — atop the mountainside pergolas
that support the trees. (Music) This breathtaking aerial act has earned
Gigino and his cohorts a nickname: the Flying Farmers. (Music) It’s easy to drive along the coast, and think the cascading lemon terraces
are entirely ornamental – they are just postcard perfect. But that’s what this coast does to people: it gives us delusion of grandeur, that all of this is here purely
to fulfill our fantasy of paradise. But in reality,
the lemons play a vital role, not only in the livelihood
of farmers like Gigino, but in the very survival
of the Amalfi Coast, literally, the survival. The roots of these trees are anchoring
the soil to this sheer coastline. Now, the farmers are aging, and there’s not exactly a line of people clamoring to take up this work. As more farms have been abandoned, the mudslides have increased. Gigino’s farmland includes
an ancient terrace grove that overlooks the heart
of Amalfi and the sea. Up here feels worlds away, but it’s staringly close
to the bustling streetlife below, where you can hear
children playing as Gigino works. It’s terrifying to think of
what would happen if these terraces crumbled. It was only recently
that Gigino’s eldest son Sal quits his cushy accounting job to become his father’s apprentice. He knew that if he didn’t act now, then a legacy of over two centuries
and five generations would die with him. He teaches me day by day and I’m learning. It’s difficult because it’s difficult to learn
80 years of experience. Gigino tends two seasons
worth of lemons at the same time. The ones he’ll harvest this year
from February to September, and the babies
that will be next year’s crop. Gigino’s lemons are organic, not because he’s trying to conform
to any modern day standard, but rather the opposite, because he’s farming the way
his family has farmed for generations. The spring is such
a special time to be here. The trees are uncloaked from the netting that protects the fruit
against wind and hail. The trees bloom perfuming the air
and luring bees to pollinate. The Aceto keeps their own hives
and harvests the honey too. The fertilized flowers grow into fruits
which start up as green as limes. A third of Gigino’s lemons
are used to make limoncello in their own small factory. The rest goes to ice cream
and other limoncello factories and a few to fresh markets. (Nicole): Can I try?
(Gigino): Yes. All right, these are real deal shears.
(Laughter) Ok. All right, we want leaves on these. The branches and the leaves
also indicate that is really fresh, that is coming straight from the farm. (Nicole): I’ve got this one. (Gigino speaking Italian) (Nicole): It’s not for me —
(Gigino speaking Italian) (Nicole): He’ll do it — I can get this one, though — it’s heavy enough! (Music) – Saluti!
– Saluti! I’ve seen a lot of tough farm work, but I really can’t think of
a more challenging terrain than this. Heavy loads have to be hauled
up and down narrow craggy steps from terrace to terrace to terrace — But Gigino also claims a unique advantage. He’s got one of the most technologically
advanced poling systems on the coast. I’m serious! This little cable car! Cable car aside, watching Gigino farm is
stepping back in time 200 years. He crafts each pergola himself,
from the chestnut trees in his forests; and then, he uses pliable willow branches to tie the pergola
to the limbs of the lemon trees – to lift them up to the sun,
which sweetens the fruit. Preparing the willow ties
is an ancient practice. Watching him do this fills me
with a deep sense of privilege. It’s like, I’m seeing
a tradition so fragile that if I blink, it may cease to exist. It’s Sunday, and three generations of Aceto
are gathered under the pergolas for lunch. There’s pasta, sausages
and flank steak and of course, lemon cake. You know, in its heyday, Amalfi was
an incredible, powerful maritime republic, and a gateway to the continent
for Arab traders. They are the ones who first
brought citrus to this coast in the 10th century. Ever since, wealthy visitors
from near and far, have volleyed
for the keys to this kingdom. Most of the aristocrats that
lorded over this land are long gone, but the local people they hired
to care for these orchards, their lineage remains. And for now, for as long as the roots of their trees
can hold this place together, this land belongs to them. (Music) My time with the Acetoes is over,
but our adventure is just getting started. I’m heading to nearby Naples, to discover
how lemons have inspired Italian cooking. Join me to learn from this dashing lad — – Ciao!
– (Laughter) a delicious lemony pasta that’s so easy, you can master it at home. So, stay tune for Part 2
of our Southern Italy special.

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