Games No Boon To Farm Family

CRUNCHING through snow and ice on her way to the family farm's milk barn, Georgette Rigoletti points to a half-built chalet-style house under construction just beyond her pasture.

"We used to work that field, too," says Mrs. Rigoletti, who with her husband, Hubert, keeps 17 Holstein cows milked and happy in the mountains above Albertville. "But now it's one more of so many we've lost."

Savoie officials who tout the Olympic Games as a unique opportunity for the region also like to say the future depends on maintaining Savoie's "authentic identity." But for families like the Rigolettis, struggling to keep a small farm alive amidst encroaching development, those words ring hollow.

"There were nearly 200 milk farmers in the Albertville region 10 years ago," says Mr. Rigoletti, "and now we're 96. I can't say these Games have done a thing for us." His wife adds that "The politicians say they're concerned about us, but all their actions are focused on tourism."

The Rigolettis work about 50 acres spread out over 40 separate parcels, most of them rented. One by one, the small fields they rent are being sold for housing. "Pretty soon we'll be left with only the steepest land," says Mrs. Rigoletti. "You can't build on that, but the cows can't graze there, either."

Like almost all the milk producers around him, Mr. Rigoletti is a part-time farmer, holding down a full-time job at a nearby metals plant. If he keeps the family farm running, it's as much for tradition as for what it pays. But he's not sure how long he'll be able to stay in business.

Albertville's milk cooperative, of which Rigoletti was president, was recently forced to close. Milkers will have to work with another cooperative 30 miles away in Chambery.

Another problem is that Rigoletti and other Albertville farmers switched to Holsteins from traditional Alpine breeds because they produce more milk. But producers of the region's well-known traditional cheeses do not accept the "foreign" Holstein cows' milk.

"Our future here is not bright," says Mr. Rigoletti. "But when we're gone I don't know what they'll do to keep the remaining fields tended.

"I guess," he adds with a sardonic chuckle, "they'll have to hire gardeners."

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