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Farming

Potato was the main crop and staple food across the entire Alpine range. Prior to the introduction of this crop in Luserna (between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries), the main crops grown in the village were cereals, and, in particular rye (rogg), wheat (kinkl) and barley (gerst). However, without a town mill, the Luserna inhabitants had to descend all the way to the valley to grind their grains and obtain flour, as well as share a portion of the yield with the miller for his services. Over the years, Luserna also tried to cultivate grain and vines, but adverse weather conditions never allowed to obtain satisfactory results. Fortunately, potatoes were not as challenging to grow, since this crop is hardier and highly resistant to incessant rains, particularly cold summers, or periods of drought. Potato growing, however, required continuous soil treatment and a specific sequence of operations: the soil was first manured at the end of winter, then weeds had to be removed with the help of a pitchfork. Sowing took place at the end of May or early June. Because plows were not available in Luserna, earth clumps had to be removed with the help of a pickaxe, after which furrows were made by using a shovel and potato placed at 25-30 cm from one another and adequately covered. When plants had reached a height of about 10 centimeters, the soil was removed again, awaiting further growth of the plant, then the field was re-processed by placing much soil around the plants in order to protect them. Potatoes were picked towards the end of September, first by removing the green part of the plants, and then unearthing the potatoes with a hoe, and piling them on three different mounds, depending on their size: larger potatoes were to be eaten, those of medium size were stored for planting the following year, and the smallest were fed to pigs. Potatoes were kept in the stable in a cool and dark place. It has historically been proven that the introduction of potato cultivation in Luserna and, hence, In the diet of its inhabitants, led to a remarkable increase in the standard of living and to a decrease in the mortality rate. Even today, the fields adjacent to houses are used to grow potatoes. In the last two centuries, however, cabbage and beetroot also became rather widespread crops; as for the former, it was sown in June and at harvest time cut and arranged in layers, salted and stored in wooden containers. After about two months, cabbage (by now turned into “sauerkraut”) was ready to be consumed. Its leaves and stalks were used to supplement pig feed. In Luserna’s vegetable gardens it was possible to spot other vegetables as well, like salad, celery, leeks and radishes, though they only had a marginal role in the crop landscape, since they were difficult to preserve and, therefore, could only be consumed at the time of harvest. Unfortunately, agriculture in Luserna had to constantly deal with water shortages, as water supply was heavily constrained by the  shape of the subsoil and by the geographical position of the village at the highest point of a plateau.