From business manager to farmer to keep the family traditions alive
January 19th, 2021. By Francesca Faratro
Salvatore Aceto is a man who lives for his lemons, and we could say that these precious yellow fruits live thanks to him. He is the perfect example of a traditional Amalfi Coast farmer who dedicated his life to caring for these plants and their fruit. To be a farmer, an occupation that still exists thanks to younger generations’ passion, is a family business.
It runs in the family
His family has been working in this field for various generations. Lastly, Salvatore’s father, Luigi, known as “Giggino,” carried on the family business in Valle Dei Mulini. During the 18th century, the Acetos didn’t own land, so they worked as farmers for the high aristocracy of Amalfi. But then, in 1825, they were granted the possibility to buy one around Minori and Ravello, so they did it. With the passing years, they could buy more and more land, and they started to grow lemons, wine grapes, and various vegetables.
From a desk to wooden stakes
In the beginning, Salvatore chose to follow his inclinations and went to study economics, becoming later on a vital business manager. But after a while, he clearly understood that a life focused on numbers, documents, and clients wasn’t the life he wanted.
“Following the 2008 economic crisis, I needed to change my life and go back to my roots. I felt a strong desire to live again in the fields where I grew up so I could be as passionate as I once was. After helping so many companies manage their business, I understood it was time to concentrate on my own and save it, which I did in 2010. The accounting profession was interesting, and I enjoyed it for a while, but I felt the urgency to return to my traditions. This is how I ended up jumping around on stakes looking like a flying farmer trying to reach for the higher fruits!”.
The courage to change direction
But Salvatore is no stranger to flying. He started to do it the moment he decided to follow his dreams leaving a comfortable chair in a studio behind and choosing a job where you sweat from physical exhaustion and need to carry heavy baskets around the place at any hour. “After finding the right people to pass my old professional life to, I gave it all up in December 2012. Then I underwent a year of apprenticeship with my father as my boss, and finally, in 2014, I started the company that today brings my name.”
He felt the transition from an office job to one in nature, but today Salvatore would do it all over again. His choice was to follow this direction, even if it was something that his father and the land strongly encouraged. The terraces in this territory must be taken care of by the owners if there are no other buyers.
“Agriculture is a challenging field in our country. As a farmer, you will face struggles and fatigue, and sometimes it even means you’ll spend everything you had saved in a year to be able to reclaim a plot of land. Some days I feel frustrated and tired, and my knees ache, but I try to mask all of this behind encouraging words that I tell my staff. I couldn’t quit, or everybody would do it too.” The passion saves Salvatore in his darkest days and helps him see the beauty in the nature surrounding him in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
35% of the lemons they grow are used to create sweet baked goods, lemon juice, and limoncello (the famous liquor). The 65% remains bought by local sellers that supply department stores or sell them to European producers, keeping this reasonable price. The Sfusato lemon has a protected geographical status, an exact brand, and an organic certification, but the company’s face is still essential even with that.
“Our worldwide clientele demands a clear identity, so they know who to associate with the brand’s quality. Almost like a picture of me, my father or brother Marco could reassure them that they are buying a high-quality product and can trust us”. They also have an e-commerce platform where buying their products from Italy and all European countries is possible.
A day in the life of a “flying” farmer
“For us, it is impossible to talk about a typical working day since we depend on the weather, the temperatures, and the seasons. But generally start our day very early in the morning after a good breakfast. My father still comes to work with us despite his age!”. The work is intense, but they still manage to rest during the day, especially at noon when the nearby church’s bells strike and everyone gathers for lunch.
Sometimes the lunch they consume consists of a sandwich and other times of a pasta dish cooked at home. “I love to eat with everyone when I have a chance. The first thing they do is to offer each other something to share, even as simple as a piece of bread.” Farmers don’t drink much wine, but if they do, they constantly mix it with water so they don’t lose balance while working on the stakes. “You never stop learning. That’s why I still enjoy taking lessons from my foreman and my dad”.
A lemon for any need
We could say that the veins of the Aceto family don’t run blood like the rest of us but lemon juice, something they like to joke about. “Our lives are dedicated to lemon,” they say, explaining how everything in their daily life revolves around this fruit.
They use it a lot in the kitchen, where lemon zests are often added to beverages like coffee, tea, or water to refresh them. But here, Lemon is a useful ingredient while cooking and a helpful tool to sanitize wounds, help with mosquito bites, and even soothe the throat.
As we’ve said earlier, different variables affect production in this line of work. For example, lemon maturation is deeply linked to sunlight: if a piece of the terrace is more exposed to the sun, it’s essential to harvest those lemons before the ones that grow on plants less affected by sunlight. Usually, the harvest goes from February to September, but a particular type of Lemon called “verdello” gets picked in December.
Even if they use a form of ropeway transportation to bring the lemons downstream, there are some terraces where we cannot use this type of technology, so the farmers must carry baskets full of fruits that could even reach 50 kg each. The harvest is different depending on the vegetation: so it’s easier to pick the fruits when the plants are short, while when the plants are higher, the workers need ladders.
“That’s why a farmer has to have specific characteristics such as being slim and not too tall. Because to be able to fly around the stakes to pick fruits, it’s best to be somewhat of an acrobat. But besides physical abilities, experience in this field is the most important aspect. It’s essential to master the right way to harvest, cut, and pick the plant’s fruit. Our clients, for example, love to see the leaves still attached to the fruit because it gives them a sense of authenticity”.
“I wanted to offer people an experience through my business. That’s why I created the Lemon Tours. The guests can walk around our property following guided tours to discover more about terraces and have the chance to taste our lemons in all their declinations.” Lemons are almost like a badge of honor to the Aceto family.
“Lemon, to me, symbolizes union, and for this reason, I like to gift it to the people I meet, could they be lawyers, doctors, or politicians. I’m proud to show the world the result of our hard work. Often when I fill up the baskets with the fruits that are ready to be shipped and sold, I feel a lump in my throat because I wouldn’t say I like the idea of losing them. It’s almost like the lemons are all children of mine that I love equally, even if they are not good-looking or show imperfections. I believe that when the lemons are far from looking perfect, you have a biological, healthy product”.
A life that revolves around lemons
Salvatore wasn’t like the kids of his age: when he was 11 years old, during summertime, he preferred to pick lemons rather than go to the beach with friends. “It wasn’t clear to me back then, but now I know that the only life for me is the one full of lemons. I intend to keep the tradition alive while promoting my family business and showing the world how precious our land and its fruits are. It’s true that here in the Amalfi Coast, a farmer is a producer of goods, but at the same time, he’s someone who protects the environment”.
We are talking about a type of profession that doesn’t look for validation as its reason to exist, but rather, it’s kept alive by the passion of people who are thrilled to work with nature in one of the most beautiful places in the world. It is a type of love that must be passed on and spread. “When my day is over, I’m happy as I go to sleep at night. I feel content that I managed my terraces well and safeguarded my land. I don’t work only for myself or my family. I also do it for my Amalfi Coast people and everyone who worked hard to make this land what it is today”. The Amalfi Coast has been designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This happened not by luck but thanks to the work of the community.
(Translation by Michela Pandolfi)