Most of our rice fields drain into the Riuet, which is one of the most important irrigation channels in the Albufera Natural Park of Valencia, and it takes the water directly to the Albufera lake. That is why we call our lands that name. In the past, the Riuet was the natural connection between the Albufera and the sea. We call these connections "golas" or gorges. There are currently three in use, plus the Riuet. Now, after many centuries, instead of connecting the lake with the sea, the Riuet collects the drained fresh water from the rice fields to pour it in the Albufera lake. The plot you are adopting is located in the highest part of the rice-growing area and receives water directly from the “Séquia Reial del Xúquer”, which is the irrigation channel that supplies clean, crystal-clear water to most of the vegetable gardens and rice fields located around the Albufera.
Rice cultivation takes place in an environment surrounded by fresh water, but consumes very little of it. We farm around the largest freshwater lake in Spain and most of our fields are below the level of the lake, thus, they are naturally flooded. Unlike other areas or crops, we have to pump the water out of the fields to be able to cultivate them, the water is not left in our fields, on the contrary, sometimes it comes out through springs called “ullals”.
During the whole cultivation cycle, water is going from the rice fields to the Albufera and from the Albufera to the rice fields, in a continuous circulation that purifies it. It is neither lost nor consumed, but recirculated. As the water slowly flows through the fields, all the suspended solids are deposited and the plants absorb the nutrients from the water, leaving it cleaner than when it entered: this is why we say that the rice fields are true green filters for the Albufera and a lung that keeps it alive.
We know these lands very well because our family has been cultivating them for more than two centuries. Its enclave naturally possesses special features of temperature and flooding, which make it a very fertile area for rice production. This is how we grow our rice:
We start the rice cycle mixing water with the soil and the remains of the previous harvest (this step is called “fanguejar”). It is a precious moment: while we are working the birds of the area come to the rice fields to look for the seeds that appear when the soil is turned over. Then, we till the soil, level it and fertilise it to make it ready for our rice plants to grow in it.
Sowing is done by scattering the seed as evenly as possible on the ground. The fields are flooded so that the seed can begin to grow. The richness of the soil and the light of the spring and summer accompany and nourish all stages of the plant's growth from sowing, which lasts from the beginning of April to May.
During the summer the plant grows until the spike is born. When it turns to a golden colour, the plant has reached harvesting maturity. From then on, harvesting begins, which lasts from the end of August to mid-October, depending on the variety of rice and, above all, the weather conditions. After the harvest, autumn and winter are the seasons in which the land is left fallow and flooded, fostering the regeneration of the soil.
Once harvested, we dry the grain for its correct preservation and store it in the barns. Then throughout the year, and after having left the rice to rest, we process and pack it according to our customers' requirements. Our growing, drying, processing and packaging processes take place in the same area of the Albufera Natural Park, minimising travel and CO2 footprint.
Everything is used from the rice harvest: after passing through the mill, the husk is separated from the grain. This rice husks can be used for a variety of purposes, such as poultry bedding, for floriculture as an organic fertiliser among other uses. The whole rice grain, carefully selected in the mill for its size and colour, is packaged for our CrowdFarmers so they can adopt it and enjoy it in the kitchen.
Another relevant point is the importance of the rice fields maintaining biodiversity. Thanks to that, the local administration awards us with the Natural Product seal. First of all, the fields are surrounded by a network of irrigation and drainage channels in which we always leave a part of the adventitious grasses that are an oasis of life. In addition, the wealth of invertebrates, fish and, above all, birds is enormous in the fields themselves. They are true refuges of nature where thousands of migratory birds stop on their journeys. Without rice, thousands of them would be left without a home. Working with nature makes us part of it.
The entire region where we farm is a rural environment dotted with small villages. We are very close to the city of Valencia, whose inhabitants have traditionally lived from working in the fields. However, given the small size of the plots of land that each family has, it is very common for people to work the land part-time, combining it with other job. We are one of the few full-time farmers in the area. In recent years some of our neighbours have decided to give up farming due to the low profitability of rice cultivation, which is why we have leased these plots of land so that they do not remain without cultivation. A tradition of more than a thousand years cannot be lost.
Our team is made up of 5 women and 19 men, who are working the fields, milling, doing maintenance, packaging, selling and doing advisory tasks. They are all key links in this vertically integrated project: from the field to the table, with no middlemen to make the product more expensive. Some members of the team have been with us since my father was managing the fields, but in general it is a young team, eager to grow and looking forward to do their bit for a better world. The salaries are above the collective bargaining agreement and we work together as a family, offering maximum flexibility to reconcile work and personal life. As part of our commitment to society, we have recently incorporated two people with intellectual disabilities from a special employment centre in the area of packaging; with them we have grown our team.