“We are three girls with a passion for organic farming,” say Erika, Emma and Luisa, the team behind the Spanish organic group Premium Organics. They work closely with small-scale family farmers, sharing their technical expertise in the fields and helping to find keen organic buyers once they’ve got the crops just right. Premium Organics represent some of our most vital Spanish growers, whom we rely on to help us fill our boxes during the colder months – including Enriqué and Juan Vallejo, Luis Moreno, and the Gonzalez Serrano brothers.
Enriqué Vallejo and his son Juan farm in the north of Spain, in the mild, sheltered town of Alhaurín de la Torre, just outside Málaga. They are citrus specialists, with stunning groves of grapefruits, oranges, clementines and lemons. When Enrique first inherited the land from his father, he realised that he had to change the way they farmed; his children were still small, and he didn’t want them to grow up in an environment saturated with artificial chemicals. So, he started the conversion from conventional to organic methods, and by 2001 they were fully certified.
We first headed out to meet Enriqué and Juan when we were looking for someone to supply us with organic broad beans in winter. The beans didn’t work out – but while we were there, some citric experiments caught our beady eyes! Since then, the Vallejos been growing lots of special citrus for us to try: kumquats, limequats (half lime, half kumquat), Kaffir limes, Buddha’s hands, and finger limes filled with caviar-like beads. Juan and Enriqué also grow our fragrant organic lemongrass stalks, an Asian cookery essential.
For courgettes outside of the UK season, we turn to Luis Moreno and his wife Pilar Alonso Cañadas, over in the southeast, near Almería. Luis and Pilar have been organic since 2000, and have long focused on perfecting their favourite crops: juicy courgettes and watermelons. Their farm is in the heart of the Cabo de Gata-Níjar National Park. “It not only has beautiful scenery,” says Luis, “but is also the perfect uncontaminated region to grow fruit and vegetables.”
Going organic wasn’t an easy journey. “In the beginning we lost a lot of our crop to diseases that we could not spray against,” says Luis. But after a few years of trial and error, they got the hang of it – and don’t regret switching for a moment. “Organic agriculture just feels right,” Luis says. “It fits better with our way of thinking about the environment and mankind.”
Heading out to Don Quixote territory, in the deserts 100km south of Madrid farm the brothers González Serrano: Julián, Ana Bélen and José Manuel. Because their organic and biodynamic farm is in the baking hot heart of the country, the season continues from March to October; perfect for when our other growers in the south and west of Spain are finally defeated by the cooling weather.
We get all sorts of fresh organic treats from their fields: fat Barbosa onions; Butternut squash; Galia, Honeydew and Piel de Sapo melons; Romano peppers; Otello tomatoes… All in all, our boxes would be much emptier without them!
Working with these sustainable Spanish growers to grow naturally sun-ripened crops is much more environmentally friendly than growing the same crops in the UK using artificial heat. In our study with the University of Exeter, we worked out that trucking tomatoes over from our friends in Spain uses 90% less carbon than growing them at home in heated glasshouses! Plus, sun-ripened crops have a much better flavour.