The Salina Seccagno Tomato: Michele and Dani Oliva

PYMWYMI: Describe the tomato that you farm and its characteristics. 

Michele: Above all I cultivate the Salina Long-Storage Tomato, known for many years on the island of Salina and found hung on all the terraces. Here on Salina I am the first to appreciate the value of the tomato by inserting it in the market, currently only in the Italian market. The tomato has an intense red color that ends with a point. Furthermore it possesses a thick skin, elastic and rich in water, while the interior has little water. Once hung a bunch of tomatoes can last for 6 to 9 months, due to the thick skin that resists problems. In all the houses on Salina you can find this tomato hanging on the terraces. 

What has motivated your interest in the Long-Storage Tomato, and to produce it on Salina?

My interest was born after research which was carried out at the University of Catania. My thesis dealt with various tomato ecotypes that develop without water, and among these the Salina Long-Storage Tomato. 


How does the name Salina Long-Storage Tomato (seccagno in Italian) relate to its manner of production?

(Author's note: In Italian secco means dry, and Michele has used the Italian word seccagno to name this unique tomato, which is grown using relatively 'dry' mathods. However, the English name (long-storage tomato) does not utilize a similar playful connotation. ) It’s named  seccagno because the plant is not irrigated and so it develops without needing watering, also thanks to the presence of these two mountains: Monte delle Felci and Monte dei Porri, whose height and orientation cause a collection of humidity which generates a little bit of water for the plant. We can say that my work is accompanied by the important work that nature carries out.


In the second half of the 18th century, a parasite arrived on the islands that attacked the roots of the grapevines. Unfortunately, the farmers at the time did not have a cure for the parasite, and this had a destructive impact on the local economy which successively reduced the population of the islands from 20,000 to 14,200. Consequently, a lot of the land that was previously farmed is today abandoned.


How is the land use on Salina today different from the past?

From an agricultural point of view, Salina today is quite untapped, though it possesses a very important potential. Until about 50 years ago people got by with, more than anything, agriculture. The mountains were almost completely cultivated and to survive you worked the land. Today not even a quarter of the total land is farmed.


Do you own the land that you farm your tomatoes on?

I do not own the plot where I cultivate because on Salina the plots are very expensive and so I seek out abandoned plots of land to recover, reclaim, and cultivate products originating from Salina. I seek to give value to them through producing typical foods or those of quality. We are working to re-appreciate to the maximum this tomato which has an ancient history here on Salina.

Can you elaborate on the meaning or impact that typical products have on the development of the local economy, culture, the environment, and tradition? 

Today the tendency to buy typical local products of ancient traditions is growing, so organic products that have a higher quality with respect to industrial agriculture products. Today the market demands kilometer-zero products, which increases the demand for rural tourism, where behind the farming is a story of a past that wants to be remembered. 


What activities are you and Dani working on, apart from farming?

Being aficionados of the kitchen, we are looking to organize tastings of everything that we produce for those who are passionate about food, nature, and agriculture. The fundamentals of our kitchen are simplicity, together with raw ingredients that represent the work to obtain the quality and authenticity of the products.

We look forward to bringing visitors to Salina to taste the products that are produced by Dani, Michele, and many other local producers on the Aeolian Islands. Interested in learning more about Michele and Dani's work? Check out their website here!

"You have freshness on a plate, essentially."

Watch the extended version of the above interview here, and glimpse the site of Michele and Dani's work.