A short drive away from Verona – a city famed for its romantic ties to Romeo and Juliet – is a picturesque province that looks like it’s straight from its own story. We’re in northeast Italy near Lake Garda, in Malavicina Roverbella, where our fragrant and juicy peaches are grown.
In this quiet corner of the world, the long hot summers create ideal conditions for the local peaches to slowly sweeten to perfection and the farmers here carefully work with the land to ensure their produce is nothing short of delicious.
Giovanni Pietropoli is a third-generation farmer in Malavicina Roverbella and has been growing organic peaches with his wife, Cinzia, since 1999 when the family made the switch from conventional farming (which allows the use of pesticides) to organic farming.
“Farming organic is more difficult than conventional farming, but it gives you much more satisfaction,” Giovanni said. “It’s a lifestyle choice that’s better for the environment and healthier for everyone.”
The Pietropoli family now have 30 hectares of land all of which they look after naturally. They take their peaches very seriously – growing eight different tasty varieties – alongside kiwis and nectarines.
Farming in harmony with the land inevitably means more hours in the orchard and finding creative solutions to naturally-occurring problems such as mould and weeds, but it also means that more care and consideration is given to the environment and the produce.
Giovanni has six people who work on the farm year-round with only four extra people employed for the harvest season. He said this was because they never harvested in bulk but rather passed through their orchards multiple times only picking the ripe-and-ready fruit in small batches – and all by hand.
Not only does this mean no machines are used, reducing the farm's environmental footprint, but it also means consistently higher quality fruit and quicker processing. The pickers also use this time to discard any fruit that is going bad to ensure the rest of the harvest stays happy and healthy.
Once harvested, Giovanni said his fresh peaches were always processed into a puree as soon as possible which was, more often than not, the very same day.
While it may sound simple, growing peaches is no easy feat and the fragile fruit needs to be tended to carefully even before the fruit appears. In the late winter when the buds start appearing, the family uses specialised irrigation systems to increase the temperature of the orchard and prevent frost killing off the buds.
Mould is also a serious threat to the fruit, especially when farming organically. Giovanni said the way he planted and pruned the trees each year was so important as it helped to aerate the orchard and minimise future problems.
Despite working with peaches for many years, Giovanni is yet to tire of them. He said his peaches were the tastiest you could get (we agree!) and he still eats many of them straight from the tree while he’s tending to his trees.
“I love this lifestyle [organic farming] because every day is different,” Giovanni said. “You can’t programme everything and you need to think on your feet in the moment.”
While Giovanni isn’t considering retiring just yet – he’s thinking of adding organic pomegranates to his repertoire next year! – he does hope his son, Andrea, will continue the family business for many happy (and delicious) years to come.