Cultivating Hope

Hard works and happy times at Ca’Baronco organic farm.

Pedra Gradl emerges from her stone farmhouse, a structure so draped with vines that they nearly engulf every visible window. She walks to a rustic picnic table where her husband, Siegfried, sits looking over the valley beneath the Apennine Mountains. A smile lights her face as she looks at him. She places a tray of teacups on the table followed by steaming pots of coffee and Shanghai green tea. The couple sits close, and Siegfried gazes at his wife with such infatuation that they look like newlyweds.

Siegfried Gradl

Siegfried Gradl stands in the kitchen of his farmhouse, originally built 500 years ago and restored by Siegfried in 1983.

This tranquil domesticity seems in perfect harmony with the rich, natural life Pedra and Siegfried have chosen to live together. The Gradls’ family farm, Ca’Baronco, is the product of their philosophy to live organically and freely. Their goal is to spread these values among their Metauro Valley community, and to others.

Ca’Baronco is an organic farm in the foothills of the Apennine Mountains near the town of Sant’Angelo in Vado. Chickens scurry across the gravel road leading to the Gradls’ farmhouse, a 500-year-old structure that Siegfried rebuilt in 1983. At their farm, they raise organically certified pigs, cows, goats, sheep, and bees. On Saturdays, they sell their fresh salame, prosciutto, sausage, and honey directly to visitors. Pedra also has a small laboratory where she produces natural soaps and essential oils made from lavender, rosemary, and helichrysum.

Originally from a small town near Hamburg, Germany, Siegfried was not always the passionate organic farmer that he is today. Before coming to the Marche region, he worked at Telekom, a German phone company, where he felt stuck in a routine life.

I came to the Marche in 1983 and was one of the first organic farmers. I came to Italy because other family friends came to begin organic farming in Tuscany, but I was looking for a quieter place to stay.

“I came to the Marche in 1983 and was one of the first organic farmers,” says Siegfried. “I came to Italy because other family friends came to begin organic farming in Tuscany, but I was looking for a quieter place to stay.” He explains that in Tuscany there were already many farmers from Switzerland and England. He felt they would accept him in Tuscany only if he could make a lot of money, so he came to Le Marche where he felt there were fewer expectations. Later in his life he met Pedra, a nurse with children in Germany who had always lived organically and taught her children to do the same.

Siegfried and Pedra believe everyone should embrace natural living. The core of their philosophy is respect for nature: If people respect nature, it will respect them as well and the result will be better quality goods and a better quality life for all. “To me, nature means hope,” says Pedra. “An example is the chestnut tree: In autumn when the leaves fall, the buds are already here, ready to blossom, and this is an example of the co-existence of past and future. Life is not linear, it’s high and low, what happens to nature happens also in life and it’s always a fight. There a quote of Goethe I really like: ‘Saure Wochen, frohe Feste,’ which means ‘hard works and then happy times.’”

Siegfried Gradl hoists up an eager young goat

Siegfried Gradl hoists up an eager young goat for an evening feeding. Siegfried is the owner of the farm Ca’Baronco near Sant’Angelo in Vado, which produces organic meats and beauty products.

Siegfried and Pedra regularly participate in art and food events both to support the artistic spirit of the Marche region and to offer their organic food to patrons. The family encourages people to visit their farm to see how the Gradls live, depending only on the resources that nature has provided and developing a “sense of self,” as Pedra puts it. “We love to show people our life here, but in the end they get to choose how they live. If they are interested in it then they may follow us, otherwise they make their own choices on how they live,” she says.

Giancarlo Lepore, a professor of sculpture at the Accademia di Belle Arti at the University of Urbino and a figure in the social and artistic life of the Metauro Valley, believes Ca’Baronco is an influential contributor to the region’s character. Like the Gradls, Lepore participates in art events in the Marche region. “What strikes me most is the ‘poetry’ of their commitment, the way they face the daily relationship with the little things,” says Lepore. “They manage to be in perfect harmony with nature, even in breeding animals. Every action towards animals and fields seems to be the result of a longstanding tradition, blending with the places and adapting to the rhythms of life.”

Lepore is inspired by the beliefs that Ca’Baronco so strongly embodies: “When I look into the eyes of these people who spend their days studying new strategies to better use the resources we have available, to avoid waste, to be more close to natural cycles, then I think I have faced a good traveling companion on the path of this life that too often seems to have lost all connection with reality.”

As Pedra picks up the empty teacups and begins to gather the rest of the dishes, she makes clear why she leads this type of life. “Here on the farm, it is difficult because you have to do many jobs but it is easy to find a sense of being,” she says. “Even if you are in a big city or you’re working in a garden, if it is something you love then you are already finding your sense of being. The most important thing is to recognize the sense and the reason why you are doing what you are doing.”

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About Jessica Christian

Having the rewarding experience of being a part of the Urbino Project has been an adventure that I will always cherish. I have grown tremendously as a journalist and have been challenged every day to continue to learn more about photojournalism and myself as well. Being able to practice what I love and be in such a historic city is something I’ve always wanted to accomplish and Urbino has exceeded my expectations. I have met so many talented and influential people who have taught me so much and I am truly grateful to have been a part of this program.