Travel & Culture
Almeria, the winter garden for organic vegetable production
All year round we visit the supermarket and load our trolleys with fresh vegetables – often without giving much thought to where the vegetables are produced.
Did you know that during the winter months many organic vegetables come from Spain? When temperatures drop in Northern Europe, some crops are difficult to grow locally. The Spanish sun offers a solution. We visited Francisco for a tour of his impressive organic farm, Biosabor, in the province of Almeria in Andalusia.
Organic growers in Almeria
Almeria is the heart of European agriculture, producing millions of kilos of fruit and vegetables every year. Due to the favourable climate, vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplants, and cucumbers are grown in greenhouses without heating. In addition to conventional cultivation, organic cultivation has been present in this region for the past 20 years. Most organic growers are located in the beautiful nature reserve 'Cabo de Gata'. An environment where organic growers can be sure that no pesticides or fertilizers from neighbouring non-organic growers will blow across.
A family business with a vision
Francisco and his family made the switch from conventional to organic farming almost 20 years ago. Even though the challenges and risks were great, Francisco's vision overcame his fear that it would not work. He realised that the world was changing and that finding another way of producing nutritious food was inevitable if people and the planet were to stay healthy. And he felt that the new direction of his company would contribute favourably to this idea.
It was a journey of trial and error; when you are one of the first, the learning curve is steep, and things can, and do, go wrong. At the beginning, Francisco dared not dream that his company would become the size that it is today. With 150 hectares and 1000 employees, the courageous step he took has proven to be a success. When we ask him what he is most proud of, he names his employees as number one. This is confirmed by the sign in his boardroom that reads: 'The people are the company'. The packing station that the boardroom overlooks is another example of exemplary employment practices. When the building was designed, a lot of thought was invested in the environment, which had to be beneficial for the people and the products. The result is a small oasis amidst the heat of Almeria.
Ultra-fresh products with flavour
Biosabor supply dozens of supermarkets daily in England, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and Scandinavian. The products are harvested in the morning and packed in the afternoon before being transported to their destination. A well-oiled machine that ensures the products are ultra-fresh, despite not being grown locally.
In addition to freshness, flavour is of paramount importance at Biosabor. It's already reflected in the name as sabor means flavour. From the choice of seed to the rapid handling of the final produce, every step in the production chain contributes to a delicious-tasting result.
Biosabor has several greenhouses in Almeria growing a variety of products. All managed by family members. Take for example brother Salvador Belmonte’s cucumber greenhouses. The greenhouses dotted across this beautiful terrain, house cucumbers in varying stages of growth.
Cucumbers are fast growers. A month after planting they are ready to be harvested. Organic cucumbers always grow in soil, where they obtain water and nutrients. In Almeria, the soil resembles sand and after touring the greenhouse, we look like we have trekked through the desert. In addition to harvesting the cucumbers, the greenhouse workers are kept busy turning them as the plants grow. This protects the flowers (from which the cucumbers grow) and fruit, ensuring sufficient cucumbers can grow on the plant.
Candy machine for tomatoes
The harvested vegetables are brought to the central packing station. Here each vegetable has its own aisle for sorting, weighing, and packaging. At this point, they are placed in the supermarket packaging where they are to be delivered. The most impressive machine is the tomato sorter. A sort of candy machine where the small red tomatoes rapidly roll through into the packaging. Willy Wonka's chocolate factory has nothing on this!
The vision from 20 years ago is still reflected in Biosabor’s current activities. Ana, a nutritionist, has been part of the team for years. She processes the vegetables into healthy soups and smoothies with the aim of providing families with easy and tasty food that retains as much nutritional value as possible. This is just one of the ways that Biosabor contributes to a healthier world.
We were impressed by our visit to this winter garden of organic vegetables production. It is a place where vegetables for Europe are grown with great passion and care when local production is not possible.