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CROWDFARMING

I love social media! No, that’s not true. I don’t love them.
I love my husband and my children and my grandchildren, but I really do enjoy the possibilities afforded by social media, not least for contact between small service enterprises and their potential customers.

My eyes are wide open, and I can see how it could get out of hand. That it’s possible to spend too many hours every day in an Instagram dream world instead of being present (as was the case when flow TV sucked in some viewers for hours or days on end).

I am painfully aware that people with sinister motives can exploit data gathered via social media, I realize that the world has more nuance than the image the media algorithms throw at me, and I take responsibility for drawing on a diverse range of sources.

January 2020

 

From HÅNDVÆRK bookazine no. 1 (sold out)

 

– But without social media, without algorithms, I would never had met the Crowd Farming organization, Sergio and Ana, who grow oranges, Julian and Antonio, who grow lemons, or, for that matter, Juan, who grows olives.

 

Let me explain:

I all began in winter 2018–19 on Facebook when I was introduced to Crowd Farming and the opportunity to buy freshly picked oranges directly from the orchard. I ordered oranges from Sergio and his girlfriend, Ana, who have an orchard in Valencia. That whetted my appetite, and this year in July I went to Andalusia to meet Julian and his son, who grow lemons that they sell through Crowd Farming. To talk about lemons and what it takes to run a lemon orchard and to learn more about Crowd Farming. I also stopped by Juan’s farm and the family-owned olive orchard La Alquería.

Facts about Crowd Farming:

Lena, who is part of the communication team of the Crowd Farming organization, was happy to answer all my questions about the organization. She shares an office space in Madrid with 25 colleagues, who are in charge of marketing, communication, sales, administration, finances and IT.

Crowd Farming in its current incarnation was founded in 2017, but in a sense, the concept has been under development since 2010, when Gabriel and Gonzalo Úrculo inherited their paternal grandparents’ organic orange orchard in Valencia and decided to move out of the city to devote themselves to the orchard and its future.

Making a viable business based on selling through traditional channels proved to be an uphill battle, so Gabriel and Gonzalo began to explore the possibility of trading directly with the consumers and inviting them to share ownership of the orchard (by adopting one or several trees).

In 2015 the new approach was so well established that they were ready to take the next step. That would involve either buying more land to expand production or bringing in more growers.

They chose to bring in more growers and founded Crowd Farming in its present set-up. A concept that is under continuous development.

The growers who are invited to join the network are either certified organic or have adopted organic principles without certification.

It is still possible to adopt trees, but Crowd Farming is primarily an opportunity for buying directly from the growers, thus getting fresh produce and supporting the continued existence of smaller farms.

Crowd Farming is not pro or con meat or other animal products. Their focus is on quality and transparency in terms of products, environment and the people involved in production.

At the time of writing, the product range includes oranges, clementines, lemons, cheese (goat, cow, sheep), honey, balsamic vinegar, olives, olive oil, grapes, mangoes, salt, chickpeas, salt, flour, rice, pistachio nuts, walnuts, almonds and coffee from Crowd Farming growers in Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Colombia and the Philippines.

The growers deliver to most addresses in Europe. Is that a good idea, you might ask? The people behind Crowd Farming always seek to minimize the environmental impact of transportation by optimizing planning.

Crowd Farming encourages consumers to place group orders. That seems reasonable, and although we should, ideally, base most of our diet on locally sourced food, few of us are prepared to give up lemons, oranges and olive oil.

Going on an adventure

I visited the Bonillo Barcia family, who own an organic lemon orchard in the agricultural region of the Arboleas Valley in Andalusia.

The orchard is run by Julian Bonillo Barcia, who is 58 years old. His father also had a lemon orchard, albeit a smaller one.

Julian has two sons, Antonio, aged 29 years, and Martin, aged 32. Both sons live close to the family home where they grew up.

Antonio is involved in daily operations, while Martin helps out during peak periods and otherwise pursues a career in industry as an engineer.

The grandparents’ generation could make a modest living as lemon growers. But times have changed. Julian runs the local post office, and Antonio, who has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management, is a works manager in a local agricultural export business.
The orchard is run on a spare-time basis. That is the way it is for all the growers in the area.

However, the orchard has generated enough income to put both sons through university, and education is crucial in modern Spain, the three men all agree.

The family orchard has been certified organic for more than 20 years, and throughout this time they have sold their crop to a distributor who delivers to European supermarkets. They still sell a large share of their crop that way.

A very small share, the fruit that remains after the large large, premium lemons have been harvested, are picked and sold to the soft-drink industry.

 

We begin with a cup of coffee in a local restaurant

And why Crowd Farming, I asked, after we had sat down. Before answering my question, Martin, who is the only one of the three who speaks English, explains, ‘I won’t translate everything my dad says; he is in love with his lemons, and it will just be too much if you hear how passionate he is about the fruit.’ I do want to hear about it, and besides, I can see it in Julian’s eyes, which light up like the Mediterranean sun that is bringing the temperature up to 37o Celsius in the shade.

‘Crowd Farming reached out to us,’ says Martin. ’Antonio and I were working on our graduation project, which was to establish a company. We created a company that sold premium lemons in an exclusive wooden case. For gin and tonics and stuff like that! The thing is, we had the domestic market in mind, but didn’t consider that most people in Spain have easy access to fresh-picked lemons, so the project was never successful!’

’What happened, instead, was that the materials we prepared began to circulate on the Internet, and that’s how the people at the Crowd Farming office came to hear about it. So, ultimately, the project did prove worthwhile, and the logo we designed for our expensive wooden crate is now printed on the cardboard boxes we pack our Crowd Farming lemons in. This is our first season as Crowd Farming growers, and we have packed and shipped about 300 boxes a week since April.’

‘For next year, we are planning to sell prickly pears in addition to lemons. We planted cacti this year. You have to see them, they’re right next to our kitchen garden, which we also want to show you, but first let’s take a look at the part of the orchard that’s closest to the house.’

 

And so we did

Accompanied by the family dog, we walk on the crusty soil through a fruit lover’s paradise. Naively, I marvel at every single tree, in fact I am so delighted that they have to ask me whether I’ve never seen a lemon tree before?

Julian is happy to see that I share his enthusiasm, and he asks me how I would feel, as a customer, about receiving a box of differently sized lemons. My eager reply: ‘The more variation, the better!’ He asks me to share that attitude with others and says, ‘Fruit comes in all shapes and sizes, and any marks on the skin don’t mean there’s anything wrong with it, only that it rubbed up against another fruit on the branch, or that an insect stopped by at some point during the growing period. If we had to standardize the size, that would raise the price and lead to considerable waste.’

He quietly points out that the fruit we buy in the supermarket was harvested long before it hits the shelves. As long as a month before, he says, while the fruit from a Crowd Farming grower is picked, packed, sent and reaches the consumer within a week.

I explain that in our corner of the world, there is a strong interest in both organic growing and niche production, and that I am certain the lemons will find a warm welcome.

Martin adds that the interest in organic farming is also strong in Spain. Personally, he buys only organic, while the idea of locally sourced produce has never been an issue: ‘Nature here is so generous that we naturally eat local produce. It’s also the cheapest option, it’s always been like that, and that’ll never change.’ – No doubt about that!

 

We have now reached the garage where the boxes are packed.


In front of the building there is a chicken coop and more lemon trees as well as tangerines, avocadoes and grape fruit.

I am generously introduced to their abundance of produce.

We jump into the car, an old Suzuki 4WD and go for a bumpy ride on the potholed gravel roads.

First we go to see the dammed-up reservoir that is shared by all the farmers in the valley, and which enables the necessary irrigation of the orchard.

Next, we see the kitchen garden with almond trees, aubergines, peppers and other treats, including, not least, the cacti that will provide me and others with prickly pears through Crowd Farming next year.

We end, as we began, in a restaurant. This one overlooking the entire valley with different types of citrus trees, olive trees and almond trees as far as the eye can see.

They are proud of their place, both the two men who are fully devoted to the orchard and the one who has to admit that he really is more focused on his day job!

Facts about lemon growing:

The lemon (citrus limon) originates from northern India and has been cultivated in China and Asia Minor for thousands of years. Today, lemons are grown mainly in the Mediterranean region and in California.

A lemon tree is a relatively small tree that grows to a height of 3–6 metres. It has a lifespan of up to 60 years and reaches peak output when it is between 10 and 30 years old.

The tree has thick thorns and large flowers with white petals that are pink on the outside. The tree is in bloom all year round and thus carries flowers and ripe fruit at the same time.

Lemons can be harvested all year round, but peak season is April to August. The rest of the year the output is more modest.

In the orchard in Arboleas there are rows of recently planted trees, a section with young trees, one with older trees and one with old trees. I am also shown a number of lemon trees grafted on orange tree trunks. They are said to produce a very large crop of big, premium lemons.

Jeg elsker sociale medier! Nej, det er ikke rigtigt. Elsker gør jeg ikke. Jeg elsker min mand og mine børn og mine børnebørn, men jeg er ret glad for de muligheder, sociale medier giver, ikke mindst for kontakten mellem små håndværksvirksomheder og deres potentielle kunder.
Mine øjne er vidtåbne, og jeg forstår godt, at det kan tage overhånd. At man kan tilbringe for mange timer i døgnet med at drømme sig væk på Instagram i stedet for at være til stede (sådan var det også dengang flow-tv lagde beslag på svage sjæle hele og halve døgn). Jeg er mig smerteligt bevidst, at folk med mindre ædle formål kan udnyttet data indsamlet via sociale medier, og jeg er opmærksom på, at verden er mere nuanceret end det, som de algoritmestyrede medier præsenterer mig for, og jeg tager selv ansvar for at orientere mig andetsteds.

Men uden sociale medier og uden algoritmer havde jeg hverken mødt Crowd Farming-organisationen, Sergio og Ana, som dyrker appelsiner, Julian og Antonio, som dyrker citroner, eller for den sags skyld Juan, som dyrker oliven.

Lad mig forklare:

Det begyndte med, at jeg i vinteren 2018-19 på Facebook blev præsenteret for Crowd Farming og for muligheden for at købe nyhøstede appelsiner direkte fra plantagen. Jeg bestilte appelsiner fra Sergio og hans kæreste, Ana, som har deres appelsinplantage i Valencia. Det gav mig blod på tanden, og dette år i juli tog jeg til Andalusien for at træffe Julian og hans sønner, som dyrker citroner, som de sælger gennem Crowd Farming. Dels for at tale om citroner og om præmissen for at drive en citronplantage, dels for at høre mere om Crowd Farming. Jeg var på samme tur også forbi Juan og familievirksomheden La Alquería, de dyrker oliven.

Fakta om Crowd Farming:

Lena, som er kommunikationsmedarbejder i Crowd Farming-organisationen har beredvilligt svaret på alle mine spørgsmål om organisationen. Hun deler kontor i Madrid med 25 kolleger, som tager sig af marketing, kommunikation, salg, administration, økonomi og IT.

Crowd Farming i sin nuværende form blev etableret i 2017, men konceptet har på en måde været under udvikling siden 2010, hvor Gabriel og Gonzalo Úrculo arvede deres farforældres økologiske appelsinplantage i Valencia og besluttede at kvitte bylivet for at hellige sig plantagen og dens fremtidige liv.

Det viste sig at være op ad bakke at få økonomi i driften ved at sælge gennem de traditionelle kanaler, og Gabriel og Gonzalo begyndte at afsøge mulighederne for at handle direkte med forbrugerne og for at lade forbrugerne dele ejerskabet af plantagen (gennem at adoptere et eller flere træer).

I 2015 var deres system så etableret, at de kunne tage næste skridt. Her gik overvejelserne enten i retning af selv at købe mere plantage og at udvide produktionen, alternativt at involvere flere avlere.

De besluttede sig for det sidste og etablerede Crowd Farming, som det ser ud nu. Et koncept, som er under stadig udvikling.

De bønder, som tilbydes at blive en del af netværket, er enten certificerede økologer eller dyrker efter økologiske principper uden certifikat.

Man kan stadig adoptere træer, men primært er Crowd Farming muligheden for at handle direkte med bønderne og på den måde både få friske varer og støtte opretholdelsen af de små bedrifter.

Crowd Farming tager ikke stilling for eller imod kød og animalske produkter i det hele taget. Det, de tager stilling til, er kvalitet og transparens. Både hvad angår produkter, miljø og de mennesker, som er involveret i produktionen.

I skrivende stund kan man købe appelsiner, klementiner, citroner, ost (ged, ko og får), honning, balsamicoeddike, oliven, olivenolie, druer, mango, salt, kikærter, salt, mel, ris, pistacienødder, valnødder, mandler og kaffe fra Crowd Farming-bønder, som sender fra Spanien, Frankrig, Tyskland, Italien, Colombia og Philippinerne.

Man kan bestille varer og få dem sendt til de fleste adresser i Europa. Er det nu klogt, kan man spørge? I Crowd Farming gør de sig mange tanker om, hvordan de minimerer konsekvenserne af transport, og de styrer så godt og så meget, som de kan ved hjælp af planlægning.

Crowd Farming opfordrer til, at slutkunderne om muligt bestiller i flok. Det er der noget rimelighed i, og selvom vi i princippet skal spise så lokalt som muligt, så vil få af os undvære citroner, appelsiner og olivenolie.

På eventyr

Jeg besøgte Familien Bonillo Barcia, som har en økologisk citronplantage i landbrugsområdet Arboleas-dalen i Andalusien.

Plantagen drives af Julian Bonillo Barcia, som er 58 år. Hans far havde også citronplantage, men i mindre målestok.

Julian har to sønner, Antonio på 29 år og Martin på 32 år. Begge sønner bor tæt ved barndomshjemmet.

Antonio er involveret i driften på daglig basis, Martin hjælper til, når der er spidsbelastning og gør i øvrigt karriere som ingeniør i industrien.

I bedsteforældregenerationen var det muligt at leve beskedent af en sådan plantage. Sådan er det ikke længere. Julian passer det lokale postkontor, og Antonio har en bachelor i erhvervsøkonomi og ledelse og er driftschef i en lokal landbrugs-eksportvirksomhed.
Plantagen er fritidsbeskæftigelse. Sådan er det for alle i området.

Til gengæld har plantagen givet økonomi til, at de to sønner har kunnet uddanne sig på universitetet, og uddannelse er nødvendigt i det moderne Spanien. Siger de tre samstemmende.

Familiens plantage har været certificeret økologisk i mere end 20 år, og i alle år har de solgt deres citroner til en distributør, som har videresolgt til supermarkeder rundt omkring i Europa. Sådan afsætter de stadig store dele af høsten.

En meget lille del – de frugter, som bliver tilbage, når de store, fine citroner er plukket og solgt – går til sodavandsindustrien.

 

Vi starter med en kop kaffe på den lokale restaurant

Og hvorfor nu Crowd Farming, undrede jeg, da vi får sat os til rette? Martin, som er den eneste af de tre, som taler engelsk, indskyder, inden han svarer: ”Jeg oversætter ikke alt, hvad min far siger, han er i et kærlighedsforhold til sine citroner, og det bliver for meget, hvis du får at høre, hvor glad han er for frugten.” Det vil jeg nu gerne vide, og for resten kan jeg se det i Julians øjne, som stråler om kap med den sol, som sørger for, at der er 37 grader i skyggen.

”Crowd Farming tog kontakt til os,” fortæller Martin – ”det er sådan, at Antonio og jeg lavede et afsluttende projekt på vores studie. Projektet gik ud på at etablere en virksomhed, og vi kreerede en virksomhed, som havde til formål at sælge premium-citroner i en eksklusiv trææske. Vi tænkte til gin og tonic og sådan! Sagen er bare, at vi havde forestillet os at afsætte produktet på hjemmemarkedet. Sådan tænkte vi uden at tage højde for, at de fleste i Spanien har let adgang til friske citroner, så det blev aldrig nogen succes!”

”Hvad der derimod skete, var, at vores materiale kom i cirkulation på internettet, og så kom det folkene på Crowd Farming-kontoret for øre. Således er det gået til, at projektet alligevel er kommet til nytte, og det logo, vi fik designet til vores dyre trækasser, pryder nu de papkasser, vi pakker Crowd Farming-citroner i. Det er vores første sæson som Crowd Farming-avlere, og vi har pakket og sendt ca. 300 kasser om ugen siden april.”

”Lige nu satser vi på, at vi til næste år ud over citroner skal sælge kaktusfigner. Vi har plantet kaktus i år. Dem skal du med ud at se, de ligger ved siden af vores køkkenhave, som vi også skal besøge, men først går vi gennem den del af plantagen, som ligger nærmest vores hus.”

Som sagt så gjort

Vi går sammen med familiens hund over den sprukne jord og gennem et paradis af frugt. Helt naivt og glad jubler jeg over hvert eneste træ, så meget jubler jeg, så de må spørge mig, om jeg aldrig før har set et citrontræ?

Julian kan lide, at jeg deler hans begejstring, og han spørger, hvordan jeg forholder mig til, som kunde at modtage en kasse med citroner af uens størrelse, og jeg ivrer, ”jo mere forskellige jo bedre”. Han beder mig om at dele den holdning. Han siger: ”Frugt kommer i mange former og størrelser, og at der er mærker i overfladen, er ikke tegn på, at der er noget i vejen, men bare at frugten har hængt tæt op ad en anden frugt på grenen, eller at et insekt har været forbi på et eller andet tidspunkt i frugtens vækstperiode. Skulle vi standardisere størrelsen, ville det øge prisen og give stort spild.”

Han gør i øvrigt stilfærdigt opmærksom på, at den frugt, man køber i supermarkedet, er høstet længe inden, den lander i butikken. Op imod en måned, siger han, hvorimod frugten fra en Crowd Farming-bonde plukkes, pakkes og sendes afsted og lander hos forbrugeren inden for samme uge.

Jeg fortæller, at på vores breddegrader er der en stor interesse for både økologi og for nicheproduktion, og jeg er sikker på, at citronerne vil falde i god jord.

Martin supplerer og siger, at der også er en øget interesse for økologi i Spanien. Han er fx selv helt gået over til at handle økologisk, hvorimod lokalproduceret aldrig har været et spørgsmål, ”naturen her er så generøs, at vi selvfølgeligt spiser det, som vokser lokalt. Det er også det billigste, sådan har det altid været, og sådan bliver det ved med at være.” Ingen snak om den sag!

 

Vi er nået tilbage til garagen, hvor kasserne bliver pakket.

Foran huset er der hønsegård, også her er der citroner, men også mandariner, avokado og grape.

Jeg bliver generøst præsenteret for hele deres rigdom.

Vi hopper i bilen, en gammel Suzuki firehjulstrækker, og vi bumler afsted ad de hullede grusveje.

Først skal vi se det opdæmmede vandreservoir, som dalens bønder deler, og som giver mulighed for den nødvendige vanding af plantagen.

Dernæst skal vi se køkkenhaven med mandeltræer, auberginer, peberfrugter og meget andet godt, og ikke mindst skal vi se de kaktusplanter, som næste år skal forsyne mig og andre med kaktusfigner gennem Crowd Farming.

Vi slutter, som vi startede, på restaurant. Denne gang med udsigt over hele dalen, der er citrus af flere slags, oliven og mandeltræer så langt øjet rækker.

De er stolte over deres sted, både de to, som brænder for plantagen, og ham, som ærligt må indrømme, at han er mere optaget af sit job!

 

Fakta om dyrkning af citroner:

Citronen (Citrus limon) stammer fra det nordlige Indien og har været dyrket i både Lilleasien og Kina i adskillige tusinde år. I dag dyrkes citroner især omkring Middelhavet og i Californien.

Et citrontræ er et relativt lille træ på 3-6 meter. Det kan blive op imod 60 år gammelt og har størst ydeevne, når det er mellem 10 og 30 år gammelt.

Træet har kraftige torne og store blomster med hvide kronblade, der er lyserøde på ydersiden. Træet blomstrer året rundt og står derfor med blomster og moden frugt samtidig.

Man kan høste citroner året rundt, men højsæsonen er fra april til august. Resten af året er der tale om høst til ’husbehov’.

I plantagen i Arboleas er der rækker med helt nyplantede træer, et område med unge træer, et med ældre og et med gamle træer. Desuden præsenteres jeg for et antal citrontræer podet på appelsintræsstammer. De giver angiveligt et meget stort udbytte af flotte, store frugter.

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