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Fátima Torres | Quinta Seis Marias

Forty-six-year-old Fátima Torres is an organic farmer at Quinta Seis Marias. This year, she is celebrating its 10th anniversary with her four employees and one trainee; the farm stands on six hectares of land in Sargaçal near Lagos. ECO123 visited her and interviewed her there.

After studying business administration, you should really be managing a company in Lisbon. But you became a tax adviser and then a farmer. Why?

When my father died, I took over the conventional farm and converted it to organic farming. I put my heart and soul into running it and I can’t count the hours that I work here, generally from six in the morning to midnight. Our Quinta das Seis Marias is and will remain a family business.

What are you cultivating at present?

Many nice vegetables, salads, fruit. There are now 80 different products. Every basket contains at least ten different vegetables and fruits, both in winter and summer. Ten kilos of different things for 15 euros, or six kilos for 10 euros.

How are your sales distributed? 

The baskets for the direct clients account for about five percent of my sales, direct sales in the farm shop for about ten percent. The organic shops from Lagos to Loulé account for 20 percent, and I sell about another 20 percent at the market in Lagos. Then there are organic shops in Lisbon and the north; I supply directly once a week.

But that must make your ecological footprint several times bigger.

I sell 70 to 80 percent of my agricultural produce in the Algarve. Every time I deliver to the north – our family originally comes from Aveiro – I bring products back to the south from there, for example sweet potatoes, or something that we are not growing in that season in the Algarve. This week, there is a shortage of chickpeas and beans in the Algarve; instead we have tomatoes and paprika. In the early summer, we are still harvesting strawberries, peas, oranges and lemons every day, as well as cucumbers, onions, garlic, cherry tomatoes, radishes, leeks, cauliflower, rocket, different types of lettuce, avocados and potatoes. The loquats are already finished, next there will be apricots and peaches, and then grapes and figs. Mid-summer is the time for tomatoes, peppers and summer vegetables. At the end of the summer, we have pumpkins again, and through the winter more cabbage and broccoli. I try to keep the footprint as small as possible, but transport requires a lot of energy, and money too.

Although 8.1% of Portugal’s farmland* is used for ecological farming, it could be better. How could this be done?

I am looking for skilled, trained staff and cannot find them. We have additional staff maybe twice a week for four hours each day, and they do weeding and help with the harvest. In return, they each take a basket full of produce home with them. But they don’t want to be employed. What I find unjust is that large-scale conventional farms receive all the subsidies and we small organic farms get nothing. In the ten years we have been running, I haven’t received a single subsidy, and I fight every day to harvest good, healthy produce and to get it quickly to the consumer. What we keep having problems with is the perfect organisation of harvesting, washing, packing and punctual delivery. Because it is very important, for example, that the lettuces reach the client on the same day that they were harvested in the morning. The clients’ consumption patterns are also difficult. For example, in the spring I have to buy apples from Italy or South Africa. Clients demand apples although the harvest, as everyone knows, is in the autumn. It’s completely mad. You should only buy what comes out of the ground each season.

You’re not allowed to use pesticides etc. What do you use instead?

Only in extreme cases, neem oil and copper sulphate. But generally I use nothing as the plants and herbs I grow are selected and arranged in such a way that they complement and harmonise with each other.

If you wanted to give a young person who would like to become a farmer a tip to help them on their way, what would it be?

To study business alongside agriculture and then, on the one hand, to think very carefully about what the consumer needs. The products have to be sold, otherwise they’re thrown away. Here in the Algarve, there are no peaches for example, or the traditional sorts of apple, and there is also a shortage of the craft of processing our traditional produce such as figs, olives, carob and others. On the other hand, we must also preserve the variety of seeds and products that nature gives us.

Many thanks for talking to us.

*In 2013, exactly 271,532 hectares of land were used for ecological farming in Portugal. That is twice the area that is used for organic farming in the whole of Russia.

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