Cosimo Ridolfi and the history of agronomy

Podere Villa MeletoCosimo Ridolfi (1794-1865) was not an artist, scientist or writer and his fame certainly does not rival that of other illustrious characters of the area, yet we are grateful to him for some of the most innovative farming solutions experimented throughout the 19th Century. Furthermore, Ridolfi was well-known in the field of politics during the Italian Risorgimento and was also the founder of the Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze bank.

The history of Cosimo Ridolfi is closely linked to the Valdelsa area, in particular to the Fattoria di Meleto, a few kilometres from Castelfiorentino. On this family estate, under the guidance of the farmer  Agostino Testaferrata, Cosimo developed his love for the earth and for its fruits which led him to study physics, chemistry and biology and to travel to England and to other European countries in the search of innovative solutions to maximise farming yield. At the time, in Tuscany and in Italy in the early 19th Century, there was a real food crisis due to an increased population and an insufficient output of cultivated land. The agricultural research carried out by Ridolfi and by the establishment in 1827 of the Giornale Agrario della Toscana (Agricultural Journal of Tuscany) together with Raffaello Lambruschini and Giovan Pietro Vieusseux and by the institution in 1829 of the Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze bank to encourage agricultural incentives, was the only way to overcome the crisis.

In Meleto in 1830, Ridolfi founded an innovative Agricultural School where students could put Ridolfi’s mandates in to practice in a real experimental way: for the first time the “sistemazione a spina” was put into practice, an irrigation system with a series of canals which allowed for water to be distributed to all areas of the land preventing the erosion of hilltop land. Today this original irrigation method is still visible in Meleto.

The positive experience of the Agricultural School allowed Cosimo Ridolfi to convince the Grand Duke to establish the first Italian Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Pisa in 1842 where he taught for years.

Driving along the panoramic roads of the Valdelsa, observing the hills and fields cultivated with vines and olive trees is a bit like retracing the work of Cosimo, who dedicated his life to developing the techniques and good practice which make Tuscan agriculture stand out even today. Find out more at the Vine and Wine Museum in Montespertoli.