In August of last year Reuters reported about Sicilian farmers, who, struggling to find markets for their locally grown, indigenous fruit and vegetables like lemons, melons, tomatoes, aubergines, and peppers and so began planting tropical fruits instead.
The temperature in Sicily has risen 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) in the last century and for farmers, it made sense to adapt their crop planting strategy.
Sicily has suffered from having an excess of lemons and oranges. The volcanic soil is extremely fertile, and groves always produce plentifully, Sicilian lemons are prised everywhere. However, with cheap imports found up and down the length of the Italian peninsula, it can be easier to find small Spanish lemons than Sicilian one in supermarkets in the north, they have often gone to waste. Farmers have tried everything, from producing limoncello to candied lemon peel and juice to try and maximise their harvest but it was a losing battle.
The tropical fruit market has breathed new life into the local economy for many farmers on an island which has an unemployment rate as high as 60%. Agriculture is once again a viable career fpor Sicilians who wish to stay at home.
Climate change has brought new opportunities to Italian farmers, avocadoes are now a major export and the country has become the second biggest producer of kiwi fruit after China. The adaptation includes also animals. In 2013 the Gjmala farm in the village of Trecastagni, began breeding dromedaries for milk production, as an experiment in future proofing dairy production on the island, they are much better suited to the arid conditions that climate change will create.
Tropical fruits require far more water to grow that the what has been traditionally cultivated and so supply will need to be protected, it is a problem that Sicily;s farmers are acutely aware of and are trying to pre-empt through the spirit of co-operation.
The new availability of tropical fruit on the island of Sicily, will no doubt begin to have an effect on its cuisine. Sicilian cuisine is largely based on the incredible flavours of its fruit and vegetables made possible by its volcanic soil and clear water. The freshness of local produce has always been the fundamental ingredient in the Sicilian kitchen. Just what will occur when adaptive farming meets traditional Sicilian cooking techniques will be fascinating to see unfold.
Italian food has always been about the adaptation to constantly shifting cultural influences. Eastern, North African and South American elements have become so ingrained in Italian cuisine that we sometimes lose sight of their origins and consider Italian food as an immutable thing. The very opposite is true.
Oranges were only brought to Sicily by the Arabs between the 9th and 11th centuries, the tomato came from South America in the 16th century. Sicily has always been a melting pot of cultures and people and the same is true today. Just as the island has been a landing spot for those fleeing war and economic plight in North Africa in the last few years, it is a hub for climate change and the creeping north of the subtropical climates. Wonderful Sicily, with it’s excess of cultural identity, it’s rich and endlessly diverse terrain and cuisine will continue to evolve and adapt it has always been Sicily’s strength and always will be.