Farming and health care in Italy compare favorably to U.S. | Farm and Ranch Life

Italy experiences many of the same dilemmas as the U.S. in health care, agriculture and politics. Marilyn and I spent 12 days in Italy recently, accompanying students in her International Healthcare course, which she teaches with another faculty member at Clarkson College.

As part of the course, we spent an afternoon at a hospital in Siena and visited ancient sites where forms of health care, such as baths in mineral waters, have been undertaken for 20 or more centuries.

Our agricultural experiences included the better part of a day on a diversified family farm near Rome. The operation includes a son and his family and two hired employees; they produce cheeses made from sheep milk, Romagnola and Simmental cattle raised for their meat, Percheron draft horses, olive oil, wine, geese, chicken eggs and vegetables.

We also visited a Montepulciano farm in central Italy for lunch and a tour of their wine-making facilities, along with two large grocery stores and a marketplace.

Although limited by time and geography, our experiences were rich and telling.

Health care in Italy currently ranks second in the world, according to the World Health Organization; U.S. healthcare ranks 37th. The WHO criteria include longevity of residents, wait times for immediate care and specialized procedures like surgery, infant survival rate, obesity rate, health care costs and many additional criteria. Italy’s healthcare system serves everyone, including recent immigrants.

Our hospital tour indicated that Italy’s residents appreciate their health care and its providers. Health care is free, but several health care providers and taxpayers I visited with were concerned that the country can’t absorb as many desperate immigrants as have arrived in Italy recently, most from Africa and some from Syria and close-by countries.

The hospital facilities and the spas were sometimes not modern — many buildings were 40-plus years old — but their medical care was akin to the latest available in the U.S. Their funders and administrators concentrate on patient improvement and relations among the staff, patients and the providers in order to implement effective treatments, rather than on frequently upgrading facilities and making profits.

When the students my wife and I accompanied recited their class reports, they said they felt patient care was the first priority in Italy. They especially liked the mutually respectful and warm patient-staff relations. One student decided his first post-degree career would entail working in Italy as a traveling nurse.

The agriculture we observed was thriving. The vineyards, olive groves, wheat, corn, barley, canola and vegetable fields appeared productive.

The farmers I visited with told me they are striving to enable their land to produce well, utilizing analyses of soil samples, purchased fertilizers and minerals, animal manure, processed human wastes and crop rotation to enhance fertility. They also worry about low grain prices.

The farmers and merchants’ reports defied impressions I had read that agricultural land in Italy was mostly depleted, tracing back to the days of the Roman Empire. Then the workers of the land were usually slaves who obeyed only their patrician masters. They “slacked off” so the land wouldn’t produce abundantly, forcing Senate patricians to depend on farmers in the outskirt provinces of the Roman Empire.

According to some historians, when their local supply of food dwindled, the empire became vulnerable to the demands of their mostly Northern European neighbors whom they had conquered earlier but now depended on for sustenance. Eventually these agrarian producers rebelled successfully.

Apt observations by Italians I visited with also included these: “Taxes are high but it’s our cost to enjoy free lives.”

A visit to a cemetery where American soldiers are buried after losing their lives during World War II confirmed Italy’s appreciation for America. Another Italian added, “We love everybody.”

Indeed, the latter seemed true. The people of Italy were the most generous, friendly, open and kind people that Marilyn and I have met in our travels. This was Marilyn’s fourth and my first visit to Italy.

The farm operator outside Rome where we visited gave us two wheels of select cheese made from sheep milk, called Pecorino, and wouldn’t take any payment. He proudly showed us his 100 ewes, all contained in a large covered building; the ewes weren’t lactating, for they would be birthing soon.

There is much more to report, including one of the best days Marilyn and I have ever spent and some of the best thinking we have ever experienced about why people farm and live as we do. Look for a follow-up article.

Dr. Mike Rosmann and Marilyn live near Harlan, Iowa, on a farm. Contact the author at:

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Farming and health care in Italy compare favorably to U.S. | Farm and Ranch Life

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