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AMALFI COAST LEMON | A “How Does it Grow?” Special: THE FLYING FARMER

(Music)

On Italy's Amalfi Coast,

there's a food farmed nowhere else on Earth.

Caring for it requires fearlessness,

breathtaking agility,

and a deep connection to the land.

This is a young man's trade

but it's done almost entirely by old men,

and I've come here to meet one of the greats.

(Music)

Gigino just turned 83.

He's spent his whole life tending a very special kind of lemon,

here on the hillsides of Amalfi.

Gigino and his son Salvatore have invited me

to harvest the fabled Amalfi Coast lemon,

a variety that is celebrated for its sweetness and aroma.

But first, café!

(Nicole): Saluti!

With a twist of lemon, of course.

That's really good! (Laughter)

(Nicole): I'm ready to go now. Let's go!

(Salvatore): Now you're ready.

(Music)

The name, sfusato, comes from the lemon's taper end,

like a spindle or "fuso", in Italian.

(In Italian) The original!

Only sfusato grown along the 20 miles coastal strip between Vietri and Positano

can legally be sold as Amalfi Coast lemons.

This is the preferred habitat of the sfusato amalfitano,

and attempts to commercially grow it outside of Italy have failed.

(Music)

Gigino often works in the most precarious place possible --

atop the mountainside pergolas that support the trees.

(Music)

This breathtaking aerial act has earned Gigino and his cohorts a nickname:

the Flying Farmers.

(Music)

It's easy to drive along the coast,

and think the cascading lemon terraces are entirely ornamental -

they are just postcard perfect.

But that's what this coast does to people:

it gives us delusion of grandeur,

that all of this is here purely to fulfill our fantasy of paradise.

But in reality, the lemons play a vital role,

not only in the livelihood of farmers like Gigino,

but in the very survival of the Amalfi Coast,

literally, the survival.

The roots of these trees are anchoring the soil to this sheer coastline.

Now, the farmers are aging,

and there's not exactly a line of people clamoring to take up this work.

As more farms have been abandoned, the mudslides have increased.

Gigino's farmland includes an ancient terrace grove

that overlooks the heart of Amalfi and the sea.

Up here feels worlds away,

but it's staringly close to the bustling streetlife below,

where you can hear children playing as Gigino works.

It's terrifying to think of what would happen

if these terraces crumbled.

It was only recently that Gigino's eldest son Sal

quits his cushy accounting job

to become his father's apprentice.

He knew that if he didn't act now,

then a legacy of over two centuries and five generations would die with him.

He teaches me day by day and I'm learning.

It's difficult because

it's difficult to learn 80 years of experience.

Gigino tends two seasons worth of lemons at the same time.

The ones he'll harvest this year from February to September,

and the babies that will be next year's crop.

Gigino's lemons are organic,

not because he's trying to conform to any modern day standard,

but rather the opposite,

because he's farming the way his family has farmed for generations.

The spring is such a special time to be here.

The trees are uncloaked from the netting

that protects the fruit against wind and hail.

The trees bloom perfuming the air and luring bees to pollinate.

The Aceto keeps their own hives and harvests the honey too.

The fertilized flowers grow into fruits which start up as green as limes.

A third of Gigino's lemons are used to make limoncello

in their own small factory.

The rest goes to ice cream and other limoncello factories

and a few to fresh markets.

(Nicole): Can I try? (Gigino): Yes.

All right, these are real deal shears. (Laughter)

Ok.

All right, we want leaves on these.

The branches and the leaves also indicate that is really fresh,

that is coming straight from the farm.

(Nicole): I've got this one.

(Gigino speaking Italian)

(Nicole): It's not for me -- (Gigino speaking Italian)

(Nicole): He'll do it --

I can get this one, though --

it's heavy enough!

(Music)

- Saluti! - Saluti!

I've seen a lot of tough farm work,

but I really can't think of a more challenging terrain than this.

Heavy loads have to be hauled up and down narrow craggy steps

from terrace

to terrace

to terrace --

But Gigino also claims a unique advantage.

He's got one of the most technologically advanced poling systems on the coast.

I'm serious!

This little cable car!

Cable car aside,

watching Gigino farm is stepping back in time 200 years.

He crafts each pergola himself, from the chestnut trees in his forests;

and then, he uses pliable willow branches

to tie the pergola to the limbs of the lemon trees -

to lift them up to the sun, which sweetens the fruit.

Preparing the willow ties is an ancient practice.

Watching him do this fills me with a deep sense of privilege.

It's like, I'm seeing a tradition so fragile

that if I blink, it may cease to exist.

It's Sunday,

and three generations of Aceto are gathered under the pergolas for lunch.

There's pasta, sausages and flank steak and of course,

lemon cake.

You know, in its heyday, Amalfi was an incredible, powerful maritime republic,

and a gateway to the continent for Arab traders.

They are the ones who first brought citrus to this coast

in the 10th century.

Ever since, wealthy visitors from near and far,

have volleyed for the keys to this kingdom.

Most of the aristocrats that lorded over this land are long gone,

but the local people they hired to care for these orchards,

their lineage remains. And for now,

for as long as the roots of their trees can hold this place together,

this land belongs to them.

(Music)

My time with the Acetoes is over, but our adventure is just getting started.

I'm heading to nearby Naples, to discover how lemons have inspired Italian cooking.

Join me to learn from this dashing lad --

- Ciao! - (Laughter)

a delicious lemony pasta that's so easy,

you can master it at home.

So, stay tune for Part 2 of our Southern Italy special.