Pepe Aguilera’s family farm has a lot of history behind it. The small fields surrounding the farm, which is located in and named after the Huertas Bajas region in southern Spain, have been worked for generations since the time of the Moors, who used the neighbouring historic town of Loja as a military stronghold.
Nowadays, the region is known more for its veg than its soldiers, with the fertile land watered by the nearby River Génil, and rainwater caught by the mountains.
Pepe runs Huertas Bajas Farm with his brother, Antonio. Between the two of them they grow a variety of organic veg for our boxes: green and purple asparagus; a reliable supply of juicy, delicate spinach; and a vibrant range of baby salad leaves, specialising in oriental varieties such as Mizuna, Yukina and Wasabina. In total, the farm encompasses 55 hectares, with 25 dedicated to vegetables and 30 to olive groves.
The crops from Pepe’s farm are a welcome frontrunner to the UK season. Our veg boxes can be filled with colourful Spanish veg in early spring, a time when British fields are mostly empty (after the winter crops have ended, but before the new season’s veg is ready to harvest; known as the Hungry Gap).
For Pepe and his brother, who grew up watching their father farm this same land until they took over in 1993, conventional farming with artificial chemicals was never an option. “It was clear to us that conventional agriculture was not the future for us, for our children, or for the fertility of the land and its environment,” explains Pepe. “So with a deep conviction we started to work in organic farming.”
As organic farmers with an ethical mindset, Pepe and Antonio are focused on reducing the environmental impact of their farm wherever they can. Minimising the use of plastic and packaging where possible is top of the list, and the brothers are also planning to install solar panels on their warehouse and move towards generating their own sustainable energy.
Pepe’s favourite part of the job is still working in the fields, he says, and overseeing the journey from seed to vegetable, while out of all the crops he produces his favourite is always the first of the new-season asparagus.
The local area around Loja, which is just west of Granada, is known for its rich wildlife and vegetation. Close to the farm there have been sightings of cranes, kestrels and foxes, while the lush vegetation is home to varied tree species like willows, elms and poplars. The valley is known as a fertile yet fragile ecosystem, so it’s all the more important for farmers here to work in harmony with nature.
Things like protecting soil fertility and the delicate riverside vegetation are all part of Pepe and Antonio’s careful management, with crop rotations and organic matter added to the soil all helping to ensure the farm and its surrounding environment will continue to thrive for generations to come.