During my first travel week in Spain, I met with 3 Basque farmers and an agronomist of a large bodega in the Rioja region. I climbed mountains up to 1200 meters, biked through forests (and saw a wild boar), treeless plains, on asphalt and mud roads, in wind, fog, rain and arrived in a nice spring sun in de Duero region. I passed the 2000 km sign! A bucket of observations:
1. 'Rioja' comes from the river Oja, Rio Oja. Some things are simply nice.
2. ‘Commons’ still exist.
3. Climate change is real (in case you still doubted). I discovered a new indicator.
4. Bio or not bio.
5. Pig farming, from the outside.
One of the Basque farmers has over 100 meat cows and calves. When I asked how much land he had, he told me ‘2 ha’. ‘How is that possible? ‘, I asked. ‘In the summer they are in the mountains, where we have 11.000 ha with 14 villages and 125 farmers for our cows, sheep and goats.’
I didn’t know such commons still existed! They share machinery to cut the hay. It seems to work well.
For climate sceptics: When I asked about his biggest challenge, the agronomist of the bodega answered ‘climate change’. The past 20 years we have seen the summers become hotter, longer and dryer (and winters unpredictable). Rioja was known as a light wine with 11% alcohol. Nowadays we have trouble to keep it below 14 %. More sun = more sugar = more alcohol. The Rioja alcohol percentage as a new indicator for climate change? The bodega started in 1859, so you can trace it back for more than 100 years!
Till 2000 it was not uncommon to harvest till November and now we harvest in the first weeks of September. We prune differently to keep the sugar low. We have a bigger disease pressure. But we also want to reduce our chemical treatments. ‘Young winegrowers prefer to work like their grandparents and not like their fathers. We dance with the changing conditions. I think we are going to close the fossil generation.'
Everyone said they aspire to produce ‘bio’; cheese, meat, wine, vegetables and eggs. They have different reasons. I spoke with a young farmer (30), who started his mixed farm 8 years ago in a village where he used to come as a kid with his parents in the summer. His parents are business people and his wife is a teacher, but he has a passion for farming. The land he rented had become a wilderness with shrubs when he started. Now he moves his mobile chicken houses like Joel Salatin over the plots where he grows a variety of vegetables and potatoes on just 2 ha. He is proud to create a balanced farm. He slaughters 10 chicken every week. (Which is illegal nowadays, while his mother used to buy life chicken and taught him how to slaughter…) Every Friday he sells at the market and gets direct feedback from his customers. A bio trademark wouldn’t add any value.
The wine guy said, ‘We try as much as we can because we believe more biodiversity helps us, but we don’t want to risk our crop and will spray if needed. So no bio-label for us.'
I have seen a lot of different farmers so far. The only ‘kind’ I haven’t really spoken with are pig farmers (yes, one in the rain in France). Here in Spain, you see a lot of highly fenced pig stables, although on the outside there is no single sign of what is being done inside. I don’t want to have an opinion and prefer to see and talk with an open mind, but seeing barns that look like concentration camp barracks makes me a bit sad.
NB Top Photo (bucket) by Barry/ennor via Flickr Creative Commons