‘I was born under a tomato plant,’ smiles Lola Gómez Ferrón, the matriarch of Clisol, one of 15,000 farms in Spain’s warm, arid, yet fertile Almeria area. ‘I grow with the plants,’ she continues touching her crops lovingly, gesturing that not only did she grow up as child on the farm, but that she feels for them in the present tense too.
When I visited this sunshine foodie land I was touched by Lola’s love for her land and crops. I do believe that knowing and loving the land that grows our food is key to loving and caring for our bodies too.Working with her husband and six workers, the 2.5 hectares of farmland produces tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, melons and watermelons. You’ll find them in M&S (as well as supermarkets in Sweden and other European countries).
What you won’t find on the labels are the details of the eco farming methods used on this farm (and others in the area). It might not be labelled organic or eco, but much of what we buy that is exported from Southern Spain is grown with next to no chemicals and using ecologically sustainable methods.
Instead of pesticides for example they use good bugs to eat the bad bugs, as well as nets to stop the bag bugs flying in. The natural greenhouse method that began to develop 50 years ago in the area provides a natural heating system that makes it possible to grow vegetables in the winter. There’s also a natural irrigation system.
Lola describes herself as second generation greenhouse. The first generation had no education and grappled with survival. ‘My first salary when I was 12 years old was three Euros working for growers.’
One eco method for growing tomatoes that Lola herself developed involves combing trays of small tomato plants every day to create cuts and injuries in the plants. ‘The plant learns to change its priority,’ explains Lola, ‘so that instead of competing for light [with fellow tomato plants] and as a result growing tall and thin, it grows slow and strong.’
‘This technique is education, it is not bad treatment,’ continues Lola. ‘I am a mother and I have twins –and thousands of plant children.’
Lola’s simple Spanish touches for sunshine vegetables:
Add a little honey (the best honey you can buy) to slices of cucumber and peppers
Make jam from courgettes
Tomatoes need nothing but a sprinkle of sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil –three sunshine ingredients