Carmine Pepe is the owner of the Pepe company, located in Cellole, and founded in 1957. He passed on the business to his son Claudio. He said to FreshPlaza, "We have been farming cauliflowers for 60 years when hybrid seeds were not even available. Back then, cauliflowers were named after their harvesting month (e.g. ottembrini, natalini, marziatici, etc.). In the past, I also farmed common and durum wheat varieties such as the R37, the Frassinese, and the Roma. They were used to bake an incredibly fragrant bread, the scent of which was enough to make you crave it. I have never seen anything similar, since then".
From the left: Carmine Pepe with his son Claudio.
The company is located close to the shore, and it occupies 60 hectares of completely plain fields specialised in fruit and vegetable farming. The main crops are cabbages (white, green, purple, romanesco), Savoy-cabbage, broccoli, curly San Marzano broccoli, fennels, puntarella, lettuce, endive, beans, green beans and peas, onions, garlic, tomatoes, potatoes, watermelons, melons (netted or yellow), pumpkins (lunga di Napoli, moscata di Provenza, Halloween and Butternut varieties). During the winter period, cabbage farming covers 70% of the company's acreage.
Carmine claimed, "Our company has always been particularly careful about sustainability and protection of local ecotypes. That is why we have available produce varieties such as the lunga di Napoli pumpkin, the torzella (a broccoli variety) - which is a renowned gourmet cuisine ingredient - black-eyed beans and tondino di Villaricca beans.
Challenges for the future
The company distributes its produce to local cooperatives (e.g. Giotto and Cristoforo Colombo), and only a small part is marketed through a short supply chain. Further, Pepe supplies the Fondi wholesale markets, from where its products eventually get to the customers' tables.
Claudio Pepe, Carmine's son, is the current CEO of the company and he shared his hopes for the future, "I hope that my son too will take the company on his shoulders, one day. Additionally, we are thinking to implement greenhouse farming alongside the open field one, in order to achieve higher production standards. Further, I would like to realise a Pepe branded ready-to-eat products plant, someday".
In the last winter campaign, the company experienced frost damages which compromised the puntarella and fennels production. Despite this situation, the prices extremely increased so that Pepe company recorded a fairly good revenue from the non-damaged goods.
"It is widely known that farming is a very risky business. Fortunately, we have been able to make our way through, thus far. We had many lucky years, like 2010 when we recorded good production and revenue". The company has always focused on late varieties thus ensuring good revenue and a good portion of customers.
What are the goals for this year? Claudio Pepe replied, "For 2019, Pepe wrote down a farming plan through which we will supply Italian customers throughout the year, focusing especially on early, medium-early and late varieties".
Generations in the field, from the left: Davide Valletta (Rosa Pepe's son, sister of Claudio), Carmine Pepe and Claudio (Carmine's son).
Drawing from his immense expertise, Carmine explained how his company went through technological development, "In 1958, I purchased my first tractor. Before that, I used horses, bulls and donkeys. The best memories I have regarding farming is the advent of the harvester, the hose-reel irrigation and the fertirrigation systems". Then, he concluded, "If I was born in 2019, I would again choose to be a farmer".