Eighty-one year old Luigi Aceto lives in the small coastal village of Amalfi where his family has been working as lemon farmers for six generations. Located in a seashell shaped valley along Italy’s western coast, the Acetos’ 20 acres of land funnel the sea and mountain air together to create the perfect climate for the cultivation of sfusato lemons that are uniquely large and tasty. But today, even with exquisite two-pound lemons that can be eaten off the tree like oranges, Luigi and his family worry what the future will bring, since land on the Amalfi Coast is far more valuable for luxury tourism than for the cultivation of boutique lemons.
In some ways, the Aceto family parallels Italy’s shift from an agrarian-based feudal society into an industrial and economic power. But with this change comes uncertainty of whether Italy wants to, or can compete globally. The debate however, has become ever more one-sided toward remaining domestic, especially with the change from the Lira to the Euro, which raised the price of Italian exports, making it harder for local businesses to remain competitive.
The Acetos have a very niche product: world-famous lemons, prized for their low acidity and delicate flavor that allow them to be eaten raw without experiencing the usual bitter taste. Moreover, cutting into the thick rind produces an abundance of essential oil that is very difficult to extract from normal varieties.
The farming of sfusato lemons requires much more than that of common varieties. The fruit is grown on stepped terraces on which wooden trellises stand, requiring periodic protection throughout the year. The upkeep process requires continual work and maintenance. As a result, sfusato cultivation is effective in creating long-term jobs that pay enough to support families year round, thus stimulating the local economy and reducing the need for seasonal migrant workers.
Due to this employment pattern, the Aceto enterprise boasts more people working for them than the national average. That being said, the one-of-a-kind microclimate as well as expensive and limited real estate prevents local expansion of the Acetos’ lemon growing operation. In addition, there is even pressure from other locals to drop the production of sfusato lemons completely in favor of regular ones that offer greater crop yields. Nonetheless, Aceto is firmly set on the quality of lemons over quantity; tradition over local expansion.
Even amidst a struggling European economy, the Aceto family has set out to spread its niche product and cultivation throughout the world. In fact, over the last several years, members of the family have traveled to Brazil, France and Japan as part of efforts to share their products as well as teach how to grow and cultivate their prized fruit.
These projects have begun creating jobs abroad. Recently they journeyed to the Catholic University of Joinville in Brazil, which has a microclimate similar to the one found in Amalfi. Together with the university’s students and staff, the Aceto family planted a grove of sfusato lemon trees that will produce the same fruit found on the Amalfi coast. If successful, this endeavor will have created sustainable year-round jobs, boosted the local economy and increased the popularity of the sfusato.
As a result of selling their lemons and lemon-based products throughout the world, Luigi and his sons have spread the culture of the sfusato while creating good agricultural jobs, as well as given other people the practical instruction necessary to grow the unique lemons on their own. All this they have done with the hope that one day people will see their Amalfi lemons like they do … as the best-tasting lemons in the world that also create stable and sustainable jobs.
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