Welcome back to Fornello, Future home of the Shepherd


Although I wrote a post about this workshop last year, there is still plenty to share. Returning to this workshop is almost like re-watching your favourite movie, you notice things you missed before, understand a bit more and return to it when in need of inspiration.

A small recap: the Fornello project is the ongoing restoration project of an ancient cave site. Its intended purpose is to aid in local cheese production and keep the tradition of shepherding and the slow food movement alive in Southern Italy. It is open to people all over the world and from all backgrounds to partake in. If you want more background and haven’t read the last post regarding this project, you can find it here.

By 6 am in July in Southern Italy the sun is already heating up the pasture filled lands of Puglia at a comforting 27°C. As you make your way along the curvy roads, you will notice the farmers tending to their crops and the shepherd leading their flocks. One of whom is 90 year old Vitto, a lifelong shepherd.

Vitto wakes up every day and walks his flock of sheep 3–4km to different pastures so they can eat various types of herbs which aid in better milk production. With new EU regulations local cheese makers can’t afford the machinery to produce the cheese at their farms, which means there is a diminishing local market where Vitto can sell his milk at a fair price. Instead he is forced to sell his milk to large corporations for .75c per liter. Each sheep makes about 1.2 litres a day between the months of May and August and very little the rest of the year. This equates to about .90c a day and $6.30 a week per sheep, with a flock of approximately 50 sheep, Vitto Roughly makes $315.00 a week and $5,016 overall in the peak milk production season (a four month period). Hardly enough to survive in today’s economy.

For quite some time parts of Southern Italy have been able to maintain a slower pace of life with a successful local food market. While many parts of the world, especially North America, are in a rush to get places sooner, eat faster, work more and relax less, Puglia stayed content with their pace of life. Now as we all struggle to gain something back that seems authentic, move away from the corporate food world and support local means of food production, the new EU regulations are starting to force Puglia to speed up while the rest of us are trying to slow down.

Essentially Puglia’s inability or perhaps refusal to move at the same pace as other parts of the world now puts them ahead of their times, which is the Motto for Messors, the organization behind the Fornello project. “A way of life so far behind it’s ahead” is the motto of Messors, which Vitto could be the ambassador for. As today’s North American society is more conducive to us running to McDonalds to grab a McMuffin on our way to our 9–5, Vitto is walking at a moderate pace, each step protecting an authentic and natural food product and the cultural heritage of southern Italy. Vitto is 90, and this is all he has known for much of his life and with the EU regulations not effecting the region until around 2013, he was not about to seek a career change or new way of life at 87. So Vitto continues to keep the shepherding ways of Puglia alive with every sunrise he walks his flock under.

Alas, with Vitto’s shepherding days drawing to a close as are many others, and with the next generation being more aware of the impossible living standards for shepherds and cheese makers, how do we prevent this slow pace of life and the slow food movement from increasing at a rapid speed to a point in which in ceases to exist? Tonio Creanza the founder of the project puts it best, for something to progress and be sustained people must see the value in it, especially the locals. They need to realize what they do is important, that it has value beyond the sun drenched fields of Puglia. There needs to be a revived feeling of pride in the locals and sons and daughters of the shepherds and cheesemakers. He put it best in saying when people don’t see any value and opportunity in their region, they move and when people move ideas move.

This project not only engages tourists in the hands on restoration and promotion of the re-use of a heritage sites, it also helps locals realize that their cultural heritage, traditions and livelihood matters. Seeing other people from different parts of the world pay to be involved in something away from their homes, makes the locals see a value in their home and traditions. The realization of this importance can start to invigorate a sense of urgency within local communities to start to implement ways and become more active in maintaining their cultural heritage and traditions. We as tourists are only there for two weeks, after that it’s in the hands of the locals.

It’s been another inspiring and eye opening year being a part of the Fornello Project, a seamless blend of the experience and understanding of heritage as the interconnectedness of place and purpose. Once again you can find out more about it on our site and on the Messors Website.

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