The village of Bétera is located twenty kilometres away from Valencia, in an area surrounded by orange trees. It’s a place with centuries of agricultural tradition where legend has it that Roman war veterans retired to so that they could enjoy their twilight years cultivating the land.
This is home to the El Carmen farm and its farmhouse. This house was a dream come true for Manuel Gonzalez Martí, a Spanish-born illustrator, historian, scholar and founder of the González Martí National Museum of Ceramics and Luxury Arts, who died without heirs in 1972 despite leaving a major cultural legacy.
Our grandparents, Fernando and Julia, bought the farm and started planting orange trees. In the 1970s and 1980s, they implemented a flood irrigation system with pipes. My grandfather told us that he used to sleep with one foot on the pipeline so that he could get up when the water arrived and open and close the floodgates to water the trees on each plot. Today, we use a drip irrigation system, which is more efficient, but we have kept some community-operated watercourses as a reminder of those times.
After the death of my grandfather Fernando, when my older brother was sixteen and I was thirteen, my family was ousted from the management of the farm for almost ten years. At that time, my siblings and I were busy studying for our future and my parents were fighting to get it back. In 2009, we finally succeeded, but the people who had been in charge of the farm had managed it with a short-term view, financially squeezing everything out of the fields without investing in improvements. Recovering it entailed a huge investment that my parents couldn't afford, and the only apparent solution was to put it up for sale.
At that point, I convinced my brother that we should both quit our jobs and fight to save the farm. The first few years were tough, but we learned a lot. The good thing about running a business in the agricultural industry is that you make sure that you can always eat what you grow, even if things aren't going well. We got a bank to give us a line of credit for 100,000 euros to start operating the business and we convinced my parents to put off the sale. It took us five years to start making money, and not losing it. We had to scrap some of my grandfather's machinery in order to pay the first instalments of the loan, but it was a price for learning much of what we know today. It was our master's degree and our best decision.
We learned about orange trees and how to create a website where we can sell our products directly to the final consumer. Today at El Carmen, in addition to growing oranges, clementines, lemons, grapefruits and persimmons, we also have a plot where we harvest tomatoes outdoors in the summer months. Everything is grown organically.
We use three water wells for irrigation, two of which work with motors and the third with a windmill that we have repaired. We use a drip irrigation system and another sprinkler irrigation system in summer on days with a warm westerly wind and in winter on very cold days in order to prevent the harvest from freezing.
Farming philosophy: at El Carmen we're not just interested in developing organic agriculture, but also a type of farming that creates a positive social impact. As a result, in addition to implementing the European Union legislation on organic farming, we implement a model that considers the social impact of our agronomic activities and the conditions of our workers.
There are forty of us working full-time now: farmers, engineers, beekeepers, programmers, designers, etc. A great mix of people working on a profitable agricultural project with the ability to attract talent. If you're passing through Valencia one day soon, we'll be delighted to show you the farm and our way of life.