Sicily, land of myths and legends, is a small paradise of natural beauty, full of all good. The agri-food industry of the largest island in the Mediterranean, in particular, offers such a variety of products for which you are spoiled for choice.
Sicilian extra vorgin olive oil is one of these treasures. Our green gold, appreciated all over the world, comes from many small and medium-sized family companies that, with knowledge, professionalism and passion, carry out a rewarding job but behind which there is equally work and effort.
Carla Sala is one of the few young Sicilian agricultural entrepreneur women, devoted to her land. His company is located in the heart of Southern Sicily, in the suggestive Porto Empedocle, birthplace of one of the most famous Sicilian writers in the world, Andrea Camilleri. Over the years, Carla has created an organic farm, “Tenuta Ragabo”, a stone’s throw from the sea, and from the stunning “Scala dei Turchi” (UNESCO Heritage). The family-run business, one of the company’s strengths, produces extra virgin olive oil, and almonds, grape must and spices. Carla exports its products all over the world. Her humanistic education (Degree in Philosophy and a past as a journalist) is the basis that has made her versatile and capable of facing significant business challenges.
From philosophy to journalism and finally to agricultural entrepreneurship. Can you tell us how you came to become owner of a company like “Tenuta Ragabo”?
Philosophy was my first love. I attended the Liceo Classico in my city and, having reached the first year of high school, I fell in love almost immediately with philosophy for what I do not know what ‘irregular’, for its being not at all obvious , it seemed to give a thickness to things, made them become three-dimensional, not only in the material view, but also in the intellectual one. After graduating from the University of Pisa, with a thesis on theoretical philosophy, I returned to my homeland. I missed the sea and the sun, the landscapes colored with ripe wheat, because kissed by a perennial sun. But with a degree in Philosophy in a small town, you can’t help but disappoint the achievements of years of study. I had recently finished an internship at a private company that deals with the distribution of primary services, when I started, a little for fun, to take care of the cultural part of some local newspapers. So far, there seem to be no clear discrepancies between my studies and my business. One day my father, who is an engineer, with the most mathematical mind that I know, proposed to me to acquire the lands of some distant relatives and to start a new working adventure, yes, but above all of life. It seemed to me an ‘irregular’ proposal in the same way as philosophy and I started a company manager course. At the same time, I began to manage the rental funds and to realize what it meant to manage a company full-time and at full speed. Life on the field, tiring but full of satisfactions and many good goals, has taught me that when you train your mind to reasoning you are ready and able to handle even the most critical situations. During a harvest, for example, when you need to speed up time and maximize the amount of harvest, the unexpected is always on the corner to make you some jokes, but I always carry my philosophy with me that has always guided me to problem solving in an admirable way.
In addition, for some time, after having developed the major rock issues, so to speak, I have been dedicating myself a lot to writing, from brochures to all types of corporate information conveyed to the public, to social networks. I take care of the drafting of texts, of public relations, and here too I am very comfortable.
I do not know if it is only my way of seeing reality in three dimensions, but, in the end, it seems to me that the step from philosophy to entrepreneurship has been short, albeit not at all obvious. At best, ‘irregular!’
Your almond grove tells the scents and beauty of the splendid Sicilian land. What are its characteristics?
With this question you touch a point that makes me a little proud: my company is entirely organic and some friends, every now and then, give me a fundamentalist for the rigor with which I keep this imprinting given to the company, and it is always a bit of fundamentalism that has led me to keep an ancient, autochthonous cultivar in my area with regard to the almond tree. First of all, I believe that, especially in organic farming, it is necessary to choose cultivars that are not very suitable for diseases or attacks of any kind by parasites. In addition, I am convinced that a company like mine can survive in the very crowded international market only by characterizing its product, and what better character than the Sicilian one?
The almond I produce is a little smaller than the one found on the market and very sweet even if some have some bitter grain, as the nature of the almond commands (at least of that ancient almond for which Sicily is famous) in to which some branches grow wild, producing bitter almond, which is also very valuable, and also sought after above all by those who make almond sweets, a delight for the palate and pride of Sicilian pastry.
What varieties make up your vineyard?
Here too, my fundamentalism led me to choose made in Sicily: Grillo, white, Calabrese, Nero d’Avola, red.
The olive grove is one of the strengths. What are the Company’s cultivars from which the oil is born? What are the characteristics of the “Tenuta Ragabo” oil?
This time we speak in the plural, the oils: they are two blends: ‘traditional blend’ my workhorse, is the result of the pressing of olives that are born in an olive grove recently planted, but that, kissed and blessed by themselves, salt (the my company is located right above the Scala Dei Turchi, of which we look at the sea in front of it) and excellent soil, it already produces a fair amount of oil. The blend is made up of Biancolilla, Nocellara del Belice and Cerasuola, the oil that comes from it is delicate and very fragrant. Every time you open a bottle, you seem to be in the oil mill, in front of the freshly milled oil, you can smell the field herbs and the tomato, on the palate it is delicate but distinctive. The ‘Antica Riserva’ oil, as the name suggests, is the product of the olive harvest of a centuries-old olive grove which includes, in addition to the cultivars of which I have also told you, the Messina ogliarola, an ancient cultivar from my Sicily. This blend produces the classic Sicilian full-bodied oil, round and soft, on the nose similar to the first, on the palate characterized by
How is your day on the estate characterized?
In quarantine times from codiv19, the rhythms are slower but we will resume soon with the hectic days which, of course, vary according to the period and season, depending on the type of work to be done on the field. During the harvest, for example, the alarm clock is inclemently pointed at 5 o’clock. I need time for myself to be operational, we arrive at the company and we prepare everything, which in most cases I have already had the afternoon ready, and we go down to the field, where the harvest begins, between the chatter with the workers or the scoldings, the phone calls the e-mails, the bureaucratic urgencies that make me run away in some office, the showers and the changes on the fly, the change in the car and / or the double-sided dress, the return to the company with nothing in your stomach and the tiredness that does not abandon you until you have slept two days in a row after the harvest period.
When there are no urgencies in the company, the days go by to deal with marketing, on the phone, on the PC or around Sicily, the development of registers, the orders of various and eventual (bottles, jars, labels, brochures, manure for fertilization, PPE for workers) training courses, information races, etc.
The challenges of globalization are not always easy for small and medium-sized companies. At the time of covid19 even entrepreneurial life changed for everyone. Yet, especially in Italy, the demand for genuine products has increased. What are the current difficulties for young agricultural entrepreneurs from your perspective and what are the opportunities to be seized?
As I said, the Covid-19 has radically changed the work that has become agile, for many, for me, on the contrary, sedentary. I think this story has been fundamental for those who have found an opportunity, and for those who have been able to grasp it, the word crisis, I repeat for a few days, comes from the Greek krisis, which refers to the Italian chosen, I hope to have made the right one having found an opportunity in quarantine. Of course, the difficulties remain and are many especially for young people: access to credit, the EU Rural Development Plans which are not established and are not implemented by the management class to facilitate work but to put some medals on the chest of some ‘enlightened’. Or, again, the difficulties linked to a globalization that makes Italian companies not very competitive even compared to other EU ones, let alone those of the countries defined as ‘third’ and that we have a duty to help, by bringing in products of dubious origin obtained from exploitation workers even in an illicit way at times. The opportunities, on the other hand, exist and are equal to the potential of the possible ways of doing business, albeit in the bureaucratic-economic and market jungle.
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