Mas Titot, the how and why of the true organic product
In it for more than 30 years, 33 to be exact, the family formed by the married couple Nicolau Forns and Margarida Viciana, and their children, Bru and Pol, develop a life project directly linked to organic farming. In this sense it is an exemplary estate, firstly because it is a pioneer in this type of agricultural exploitation, and secondly, because in these more than 30 years of working the land, the people of Mas Titot have never applied any type of phytosanitary treatment, nor those permitted by the CCPAE, an organism that in Catalonia grants the certificates of ecological agricultural production.
All the eco-agricultural projects that have been activated over the years in Mas Titot, have been developed almost without the use of machinery and always giving an integrated treatment to the environment. Taking advantage of the adventitious and respecting the natural balances, both in flora and fauna, they have managed to produce a product 100% ecological and of exceptional quality.
On behalf of Mas Titot, Bru Forns, with whom we have collaborated in some projects, has given us an interview in which he tells us from the lived experience, the motivations and the attitude, sometimes very counter-current, that are needed to take forward an agricultural property of ecological production. He also gives us his vision of how the world of organic farming in general is, and a few tips that will surely be very useful to us.
Yours is a pioneering farm in applying ecological production systems. What motivated, in those days when the ecological issue was residual, that you chose not to follow the criteria of conventional agriculture?
My parents moved from the city to live in a rural environment 33 years ago, there was no agricultural background in the family to encourage this change, but there was a clear conviction of social change that implied not dependence on conventional structures in which society moved at the time.
Within that non-dependence was the intention to produce its own food, and in this case, organic farming was the appropriate response, as well as the clearest within the changes in personal and family structure that produced this evolution from an urban to a rural environment.
On the other hand, now that ecology is so much on the agenda, how do you see the big picture, is everything really as ecological as it is sold to us?
The outlook has been changing gradually, especially since the rise of awareness for the food we consume, and the fact that now the ecological is a business option. There have been many intermediate steps until arriving at the current situation, now it is big businessmen who have seen the business option in it, taking away from the market the ecological farmers of all life. The initial idea of organic farming and its initial precepts have been swallowed up by the monster being fought against.
We small farmers have had no choice but to specialise, by quality, variety, or simply by proximity to the consumer being able to offer a fresh product and proximity. Our survival is more complex now than a few years ago.
Regarding the issue of whether a Dutch tomato or a “cor de bou” from my home is more organic… well, if it has the ecological seal, it is organic. We should think so, although obviously they are not the same, nor do they have the same implications, nor do they have the same social and environmental impact as each other. This is a subject that we could talk about for hours.
During those years in Mas Titot you have generated a lot of projects, how about a little of them?
Apart from the family garden that works from the beginning, we started growing chickpeas and old cereals. It didn’t go very well, people didn’t understand the price or the product and they didn’t find their place in the market, especially the old cereals that weren’t as appreciated as they are now.
Later we started with a larger orchard, to sell in the market, plus some products to sell to wholesalers. That’s where our tomato seed bank started, we made our own seedlings because at that time nobody produced organic seedlings.
The aromatic and medicinal plant was our next step because my mother is a herbalist. The project was adapted like a glove to our farm and to us, but after learning almost everything about aromatic cultivation, we realized that in reality all the aromatic and medicinal plant came from outside, from other places within the EU, at very low prices, and that in any case to make medicinal plant you have to work under laboratory contract and be able to guarantee stability in components of the plant, in quality … and all this at unviable costs for our dimensions.
After this, I went to Barcelona to study industrial design and, almost immediately afterwards, Traditional Chinese Medicine. My father spent a few years managing the Gerona Communal Gardens in Sta Eugenia, where he began to develop the project of design and maintenance of ecological gardens to private homes. Both from the Huertas de Sta Eugenia and from the private gardens, we learned a lot, we saw a thousand ways of doing things and we deepened the idea of the social-educational from many different perspectives.
With the onset of the crisis, the project declined and we dedicated ourselves to baskets of organic fruit and vegetables. Here we did a good job of introducing varieties and products hitherto unknown. We learned a lot about vegetable production and this project also served to link directly with the culminating project of all our experience: Hinomaki – Original Fruits. It is a project for the production of French-style strawberries and forest fruits to produce with the best quality, both organoleptically and in terms of respect for the environment and the land.
In these times of change of social and economic paradigm makes many people consider a change to a rural area, and within that change intend to live off the land, what advice could you give them?
Hard to give just a few! There are three vocations to be discovered; that of your land, yours and that of your social and commercial environment.
Discovering the vocation of the land you work necessarily implies direct observation, and the work of solving the agricultural problems that arise and that will gradually understand the functioning of the soil, the climate, the rhythms of your farm. Undoubtedly, facing these problems will lead to knowing that you can or cannot cultivate.
In the process of discovering our farm’s vocation, we will inevitably discover what we like to grow and what we do best. Maybe I like and am good at growing fruit trees instead of vegetables.
Discovering the vocation of your social and commercial environment is of vital importance, and is often the last factor explored, I know from experience. We must explore and understand the environment, trying to find out the real possibilities that the product we offer will have. I think it is very important to get our local environment involved and committed to our way of doing things and our product.
Those of us who are lucky enough to have tasted Mas Titot’s organic strawberries know about their excellent taste, and as you say, they are probably the best strawberries in the world. What makes these strawberries so tasty and special?
As I mentioned before, our Hinomaki-Original Fruits project is the culmination of our experiences, both in terms of cultivation and vocational discovery. Throughout the learning and knowledge process of our farm, we have discovered how to treat the environment as a whole, taking advantage of the adventitious and learning to act while respecting the maximum balance of flora and fauna at all levels, even empowering them.
It must be said that an important part of the culmination of this project is due to the careful selection and testing of varieties suitable for our purpose. But without the correct treatment of the soil and the environment, strawberries would not be like that, without a doubt it is the main factor to obtain a good fruit.
About the projects that you mentioned before, the company that you set up with your parents, design, implementation and maintenance of organic gardens in private homes, was great until the crisis came. Do you think that now has returned a renewed interest in everything that is to cultivate at home?
Undoubtedly yes, it is a moment in which the conditions are met, not only for the re-ruralization but also for a wide and significant introduction of the garden in the urban environment.
With the re-ruralization not only are appearing multitude of small agricultural producers but people, without commercial interests, are rushing to cultivate a garden for family consumption by the desire to eat healthily.
Exactly the same thing is happening in urban areas. Today, there are very evolved, accessible and simple urban cultivation systems that allow us to produce a good part of our vegetables.
Just remember that there are still a few thousand square metres of flat roofs, terraces and unused plots in absolutely unused cities, and undervalued, could be enormously profitable not only with orchards but also with small trees, ornamental crops, etc…
Give us three basic tips to keep in mind when setting up an urban garden
Bearing in mind that the urban orchard is a closed cultivation system, not connected to the ground and isolated from it:
The first advice would be to choose very well the substrate, fertilizers and fertilization, because there is no possibility of generating fertility, as can be given in the field, through the decomposition of organic matter by the action of the flora and fauna of the soil and the action of climatic factors.
The water is of the same importance because in the city, and also in the rural environment, the drinking water has to be chlorinated. Chlorine blocks the absorption of several nutrients of vital importance for plants. So if we use tap water, we should aerate it with an air pump for a few hours to evaporate the chlorine and treat it by correcting the acidity. The best solution, if possible, is to collect and store clean rainwater.
It is also very important to say that just because there is no stable ecosystem around the urban orchard that controls pests, we must solve the incidents with phytosanitary products, obviously ecological.
And three reasons why these urban orchards should be organically grown
First, for health, we cannot tolerate eating unhealthy things. Second for ideology, because living in the city should not restrict our freedom to be as food sovereign as possible. And thirdly, and just as important as the previous ones, out of respect for the environment and for our fellow citizens.
To conclude, the next projects in Mas Titot’s mind?
For us, every new project comes from a learning process resulting from the previous project, from observations, errors, incidents, etc. Now we are in the gestation of the design of a self-consumption garden that is simple, productive, easy to carry and adapted to our climate. The concept that we have coined as “Directed wild collection” sums up very well our current approach to agriculture.
We also want to retransform our productive system of berries and wild fruits to a higher level, towards polyculture, close to Edible Forests or Oasis. Both edible forests and oases are systems of cultivation in which everything cohabits symbiotically: palms that shade, give organic matter, give structure to the soil, then there are other lower trees, then shrubs and then orchards.
We have projects in mind about educational gardens for children of school age as well as for groups of young people in social risk or behavioural problems, gardens to foster transgenerational relationships. We are increasingly determined to continue and expand our educational and informative action of the garden, and its importance at all levels as a source of social balance, personal, environmental, and even as a political action.
Thank you very much, Bru, thank you for sharing with us your experience of cultivation and life. From Horticultor.es we will always be supporting initiatives such as yours in Mas Titot, initiatives with common sense, which apart from looking for the good of the land seek the balance between business and exploitation of the land, paralleling the quality of the cultivated product and the different forms of rational cultivation that are used to obtain it.