Our farm, Casa Alta, is famous for its farmhouse, a nineteenth-century construction perched on the top of a hill that dominates the entire area. It has always been linked to agriculture; for example, at the time of rainfed agriculture, it was used to produce almonds, olive oil and raisins. However, rumour has it that due to its strategic location, the owners of the house gave refuge to one of the best-known bandits in Andalusia, Manuel Melgares. Together with his band of outlaws, such as El Bizco de El Borge, they would extort landlords and commit robberies, in the style of Wild West films, while constantly on the run from the authorities, who identified them as their main enemies.
Casa Alta is located in the Axarquía region, very close to the Torre del Mar beaches, in the area known as Las Chorreras. This owes its name to the year-round waters that flow into the Babucena stream, a small channel of water that leads down to the beaches of Mezquitilla.
This area is truly privileged, thanks to its exceptional climate with mild temperatures and many hours of sunshine. That's why the cultivation of tropical fruits is very widespread. My family bought the farm in the 1970s, and we were among the first farmers to plant avocados. Today they're majestic trees, which form part of the farm's history. On the farm, we have old carob trees and muscat vines, a reflection of the agricultural activity of yesteryear.
Another crop that we once promoted was the strawberry, famous for its spectacular flavour. Known as 'Algarrobo strawberries', some farmers still grow them today as a minor crop, as they're highly renowned and appreciated. In fact, we grow them for our own use.
The most recent history of Casa Alta is all about research and innovation, in keeping with current times. In 2015, some family friends asked us to use our greenhouses to grow papayas, a crop that is relatively unknown in the area. These friends are researchers at a renowned centre for the study of tropical crops, and for years they'd been studying papayas to show that they can be produced commercially in southern Europe, thereby doing away with the need to import from tropical countries.
Thanks to their research, their many tests and their teamwork, we achieved the viable production of a tasty and juicy papaya (grown under EU organic regulations) which is highly appreciated and generates high demand. This breathed new life into our farm, meaning that we could recruit more workers and conjure up interest in papayas produced in Europe.
Regarding water needs, the papaya is a plant that needs twenty litres every five days, approximately, which is similar to a banana tree. The water from our farm comes from a well-known reservoir in the area, La Viñuela, which feeds most of the plantations in the region. To optimise every single drop of water, we use drip irrigation and tensiometers, which let us know when to water and how much. Greenhouses are necessary because they simulate the tropical climate that the plant needs, with high humidity and heat, which results in a sweet and tasty fruit. We don't use mechanical sources such as heaters or assisted ventilation; it's basically the sun and the water that help us recreate tropical humidity. And, of course, every time we renew the greenhouse cover, we use authorised recycling points.
Our entire farm is certified as organic, so we implement an integrated crop management system. For example, we use the pruning remains from the papaya plant as crushed organic matter to foster soil development. And the beehives around the farms help us pollinate the papaya flowers, providing food for the bees in times when pollen is scarce. What's more, we foster biological control through organisms in our environment to fight off pests that damage papaya, which also avoids the use of chemicals.
Papaya has been an opportunity for several families, who thanks to the increase of work on the farm, became part of our work team. Thus, the usual team of two workers was recently joined by two others who are now part of the Casa Alta family. In addition, our researcher friends are part of the project, as partners who provide the knowledge and experience necessary to produce our delicious papayas.
Our papayas are so renowned that they're all used in some way or another. Any that fail to meet the minimum quality requirements to be sold as fresh fruit are used for processed products such as organic jam and juices. That's why our farm has signed up to the movement to combat food waste.