Thursday, February 20, 2014

Doing the Right Few THings

It happened again.  My return to Orange County culture lag.  Everytime we return from time in Italy, I see the sharp contrast in the rural, connected to the land communities there and the, well…OCness of here. 

The trigger for me yesterday was getting my truck washed and watching a clearly “modified” woman put on her make up while staring into a mirror tucked away in her Louis Vuitton bag.  Meanwhile, her dog sat obediently in its $400 stroller that would soon be tucked away in the hatch of that new Land Rover.

The Neighbors!
Just a week earlier, we were loading hay into a truck that would feed the three cows whose bells could be heard moving around the stable that sits underneath the kitchen of a lovely German family.   One minute discussing the merits of cows vs. goats in the production of the winter’s milk and cheese and the next minute listening to two ladies talk about which dog nutritionist is best.

These re-entries are becoming increasingly difficult because I am seriously questioning which side of the equation is normal.   My passion is in living a life more connected to the land.  One in which the food that nourishes us comes from local, clean sources and not trucked in from 3,000 miles away.  I believe what started as a fashionable thing to do at Whole Foods Market is now becoming more evident as an essential element in building healthy communities.

Our Windows Milled from the Local Wood
So perhaps bear with me for a few minutes while I share our vision for the real purpose of Veglio and how it may hopefully fit into our life back in California.   Our village is a collection of maybe 50 houses that are surrounded by one hundred acres of terraced fields that were used for vineyards, grains, hay and vegetables.  Beyond the fields are another few hundred acres of chestnut, larch and birch forests.

From these forests, were harvested all the wood for fuel as well as selecting cutting of the hardwoods for furniture and construction.  In the late Spring, some of the livestock was taken up a path that leads 2,500 feet up to the top of the little mountain on which we sit.  There, they would graze in the rich grasses and wildflowers until early signs of Fall. 

The Swiss actually have a saying that “Winter Cheese is Boring Cheese” which speaks to the fact of the richness of the milk from the cows that eat the fresh grass and plants in the Summer.  Interesting that just now, we are recognizing this same thing here in the US with huge financial premiums for grass fed milk and cheese.  Science today tells us that the nutrients from this milk greatly exceeds the milk from grain fed animals. 

Today, there are still a handful of people in the Ossola Valley in which Veglio sits that understand how to work these lands in the natural way.  That you cut trees in the winter while the foliage is off.  A waning moon for furniture wood and a waxing moon for firewood. 

Andrea's Artistry
In our construction techniques, we are using natural lime mortar not concrete since the stones may be reused in 400 years.  It also is does not have the toxins that occur in the modern cements.

In the gardens, nutrients are received from the presents left behind by the sheep and cows that live in the stables connected to the houses.  The heat from the houses provide warmth and in return the animals provide fuel for the Spring gardens.

The homes themselves sit up from the valley floor with exposure to the afternoon sun.  Lower humidity, less disease prone and the capturing of the warmth that is held in the stones for a very long time.

Historically, this was a largely enclosed ecosystem that provided a healthy environment.  And while I recognize that “modernization” has changed many things, I do believe that there are lessons that must be taken from places like this. Lessons that can return us to a healthier, more connected place.

Our goal is to expand these lessons from a few people to many more. First, through creating an environment where a handful of young people can establish small family farms in the village.  Then, sell this organic product in the local areas and then down to Lago Maggiore which is a large tourist area. 
The Local Alps at 9,000+ feet

From there, we hope to create both regional and international educational programs where techniques can be taught and the integration into modern life can be studied. 

Latin Translation: Do Just a Few Things, but Well.
There is also talk from people who want to open up a small Osteria and a brewpub which could use the local produce.  People will be able to stay in a few homes and cottages that are being restored.  Short excursions for Alpine hikes or trips to the Lakes are just 20 minutes away.

We don’t know exactly how this all unfolds but we have the outline of a plan and hope that others will share our interests.  In the meantime, we will be getting the garden ready in California and trying to figure out who is going to take care of our “soon to arrive chickens” when we are gone this Summer.   Maybe the lady in the Land Rover.