In the evening when we go down to water the terraces we often find Clementina, bent over in her white undershirt, pulling weeds out of her neat rows of vegetables. She keeps a white handkerchief tucked under one strap. From a distance her hair looks thick and brown, but when she bends over her tomatoes you can see that on the top her of head her hair is thin and white. Other times when I look out over the terraces from our kitchen window she is walking through the rows in her orange top and blue pants, smoking a cigarette.
Clementina and her husband used to be responsible for farming all of Casa L Orto’s terraces, but now Clementina comes only in the evenings to farm a small section on one of the lower terraces. With help from her son Pasquale, Clementina maintains a vegetable garden that feeds her family. She also keeps chickens and two rabbits. We ask Clementina about her garden and for suggestions with our work—she knows more about how to farm this land than anyone else.
The evening I took these photographs, we found Clementina watering her beans. She told us she had been lazy and hadn’t watered them in almost a week. Now she had to give them a good soaking. Clementina’s beans are planted alongside broccoli, not because the two are companion plants that use different nutrients (as I thought at first), but because the broccoli plants hold the soil in. She told us that she had to pull the broccoli plants out soon in order to give the beans more space and more sun.
Our conversation moved seamlessly from the garden to Clementina’s 1 ½-year-old grandson Lucca. Clementina’s face lit up as she described a joke that Lucca makes—I couldn’t fully understand her Italian but from her imitation I understood that he clasps his hands together as if to ask for forgiveness. Just then Lucca appeared several terraces above us, his mother holding him up to the railing. He showed us the motion himself, clasping his hands together and moving them back and forth. Clementina began climbing slowly up the terrace steps to join Lucca, but before she left she cut us two beautiful heads of lettuce to have for our dinner.
I am looking forward to spending more time with Clementina, because I want to learn from her about how this region used to be farmed and about the best ways of continuing to farm it today.