Gino and the Seghieri brothers said that a typical farmer in San Salvatore would have produced all the food needed to feed his family. Four or five people could survive on the produce of one ettaro of land, about two and a half acres. Their gardens would have grown a large variety of vegetables the same as are seen in farmers’ markets today, including carrots, potatoes, beets, garlic, radishes, turnips, artichokes, tomatoes, eggplant, asparagus, fennel, chard, spinach, broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, peppers, beans, lentils, chickpeas, zucchini and other types of squash and another handful of verdure I have neglected to mention. Then they would have had fruit trees: apples, pears, apricots, peaches, figs. Every family had its own chickens, pigs, rabbits and cows. Extra eggs, vegetables and fruit would have been sold at the market in Montecatini, they said.
|Pietro shows how he used this tool, which he called a frullana, to cut his wheat.|
A macellaio would come by every week to see what animals were ready for slaughter, Pietro said. Sergio recalled that the piglets would be butchered before Christmas so the family would have plenty of meat for the holidays. Every day, a lattiao would come on a horse to collect milk, with two big bombole hanging down on each side of the horse to hold the milk. “Milk from our cows was not for the family,” Pietro said. “It was to be sold. We would make bread once a week, enough to last all week. It was better than the bread they make today.”
None of the houses had inside bathrooms, running water or heat. Water had to be drawn from the well each day. Firewood had to be cut and gathered for winter warmth. And of course all the planting and harvesting was done by hand with simple tools, though man and animal worked together with machines to plough the fields.
|A zappa would be used to cover|
up the seeds of grain.
“The contadini would go the bar owner,” Gino said, “and they’d say, ‘Give us a room of our own where we can lock the door and not be seen by the padroni.”
Huge advancements came at the end of World War 2. Technology advanced so that machines took over much of the work. Electric lines were run to the Marcucci neighborhood. The mezzadria was abolished. But perhaps the biggest change was the development of the flower market, which hit the Valdinievole like a storm. Farmers who formerly had to sharecrop were able to buy their own land, and those who already owned land and made the switch to flower farming—including Pietro, Sergio and Mario Seghieri—prospered, though not without a lot of lot of back-breaking work. Today these cousins of mine are retired and able to enjoy some leisure time in the same neighborhood where they and our ancestors tilled the ground for centuries. However, now they live in clean, modern and spacious houses they were able to build by strain, sweat and the mid-1900s boom of the plant industry. “It was a simpler life before the flowers,” Pietro said, “but the flower business was better.”