The farm covers an area of 120 hectares, in which meadows and woods have been cultivated and maintained according to organic criteria since 1996. In that year we joined the European Union’s CEE Reg. 2078 - Action F1 programme, in which all land qualifying as “areas of special landscape and environmental interest” are to be cultivated under a special regime for twenty years. The programme requires that land be kept fallow so as to restore the turf, prevent erosion, landslip and hydrogeological instability; in order to achieve this, the area is mown only once, after 10 July, in order to encourage the spontaneous reseeding of the stable meadow.
Over 3500 local varieties of wild fruit trees were planted to provide food for the local fauna and further boost the restoration of the ecosystem.
Land not falling under the description of “areas of special landscape-environmental interest” is used to grow vegetables and organic cereals, including spelt, wheat, barley, field beans, peas and linen. Lambrusco vines and alfalfa were introduced in 2011, both organic.
The kitchen garden and nursery
In 2011, we started growing vegetables and herbs in the organic kitchen garden for use in the holiday farm kitchen. These include endives and gentilina lettuce, Tropea onions, beetroots, tomatoes, borlotti beans, peas, green beans, peppers, aubergines, courgettes and marrows.
For years, we have made a point at Montebello Park of encouraging the growth of the existing vegetation, which had thinned out owing to past deforestation and the effects of climate change, by replanting selected specimens of naturally occurring local species of tree. This has enabled us to offer themed botanic trails through the local ecosystem, illustrating the different plant families and species.
The ecosystem: habitat, flora and fauna
“The area around the farm is a zone of pronounced biodiversity. There are still numerous shrubs, uncultivated fields, cultivated open fields and a small pond, containing interesting species protected by regional laws.
Within the farm there is also an area of “calanche” (ravines) close to meadows containing grasses adapted to dry conditions, where the flowering of over ten species of orchids, all protected and some rare, such as Himantoglossum adriaticum, Oprhys fusca, Gymnadenia conopsea and Orchis coriophora, can be admired in the springtime.
There are also extensive hedges with berry-bearing shrubs like hawthorn, privet, dogrose, dogwood and spindle, supporting several species of birds, including nightingales, blackcaps and orioles, as well as birds of prey like the hobby, kestrel, buzzard, sparrowhawk and many others.
Between the uncultivated fields and the pond is an area inhabited by a considerable number of amphibians and reptiles of great interest, such as the spotted newt, grass snake, slowworm and three-toed skink.
Strolling across sunny glades, one may come across large numbers of butterflies, such as several of the Vanessa species, swallowtails, longwings, fritillaries and orange tips, not to mention various species of dragonfly near the pond.
In the fields, one can often see roe deer and squirrels emerge from the woods towards sunset. And by looking closely along the paths, one can find traces of more elusive animals, such as the fox, badger, boar and wolf, whose presence in this area was confirmed several years ago.
The park lies close to the CAI path linking the ancient chapel of Mucciatella (Puianello) with Canossa Castle, and following the crest the walker can enjoy a wonderful view of the surrounding hills and the Po valley.”
Luca Artoni (biologist in charge of Lipu Bianello Oasis)
Plant and mushroom gathering
Visitors can gather herbs and other organisms found in the undergrowth within a 35-hectare area of certified organic land. Anyone wishing to do so is kindly requested to book the preferred day beforehand. There is a charge of 8 euros per person per day, which includes parking.
A few hectares were put aside recently to raise pigs under free-range, organic conditions. The idea of a pig rooting around for tubers and acorns is sure to conjure up ancient values and genuine flavours. Our project is designed to follow this line of thought by raising animals in a way that respects the environment and above all ensures the wellbeing of the animals, a practice that also ensures products of supreme quality.
The shade and the ample supply of food in the undergrowth, together with plentiful pasture and an appropriate environment, suggest that this type of venture might in future become a viable alternative for making the best use of areas of no other commercial value. Our free-range pigs live entirely free in this very environment and are able to enjoy 75,000 sq. m of grassland/woods, eating acorns, grass and little cubes of organic wheat, barley and corn flour. The grassland, mud baths, grass feeding and natural environment ensure that the quality of the meat has no equal on the market.
The animals also enjoy a natural rhythm of life, since their growth is not boosted by any artificial means. The meat of these free-range pigs is immediately recognizable by its colour, aroma and flavour, recalling the “tastes of yesteryear” which made Italian products famous the world over.
Our farm’s supreme quality meat is healthy too. It is easy to digest, having a low fat content, but containing a high proportion of proteins, iron and vitamin B.
In 2013, the farm replaced pigs with Angus cattle and other crossbreeds, partly as a measure to improve the quality of the pastureland.