It’s a hot day, too hot to be in a car, even at the relatively early hour of 9.30. I’m with Colleen and we’re following the winding, uphill ribbon of road that takes us from El Médano, down here on the coast to Granadilla de Abona, the municipal seat (kind of like the county seat in other countries).
We have instructions on how to find a new finca (market garden), which has recently opened, with the idea that people can wander the field and choose their own produce, fresh from Mother Earth. The directions don’t seem to pan out, and twice we get right into Granadilla, only to turn around and descend again. The final time we stop to ask someone if they know where the rehab center is, as the finca is sited just behind it. They describe how to find it, and we’re off again. We drive slowly, and this time we spot the turn off. No surprise that we’ve missed it before, it’s a narrow lane, barely discernable from the main road, which rapidly becomes a dirt track. We can see that the road doesn’t continue much further. We spot a tree and decide to park in its shade and explore on foot.
The next instruction is that on coming to the dirt road we will see a espantapájaros and a red blouse. Stupidly, I’d forgotten to check on that word, espantapájaros, but I know that a pájaro is a bird, but why would there be a red blouse, does the word blouse have another meaning I’ve never come across? But I figure that whatever it is will become obvious. Something to do with birds, right? Ever one for winging it! (Ouch no pun intended there!)
We spot some fat pigeons sunning themselves on a roof, but they’re not saying anything. We see a building which looks like an oversized birdhouse to me, (it has small windows and looks as if the ground floor is missing, as it’s on legs) but Colleen wisely points out that it’s a grain store on legs in order to keep out pests.
Then I spot a flash of red – a scarecrow with a red shirt and a straw hat, straight out of Oz!!! An espantapájaros is a scarecrow! By this time, however, Colleen is talking with José, whose phone number we were given, and I see a man striding across the field with a cellphone to his ear. I figure it’s him, and it is.
I introduce myself. A mutual friend, Ana, had sent me the directions and details about this venture, and José leads us down to cultivated field, picking up a couple of baskets on the way, and collecting a lady to help him with the harvesting of our choice.
It reminds me of a outsize allotment, with a huge variety of vegetables and herbs growing in neat rows, and we revel in choosing exactly what we want, although we take advice on the ripeness of different things. Watermelon, for instance, are tapped or knocked with the knuckles. If they sound hollow then they are ready to eat. Dare I try that in the supermarket? But, having been here, will I ever go to the supermarket again?
Aromas of cilantro and basil hang in the hot air. Shiny, deep purple aubergines peek from under leaves, and squash and watermelon lie idly on the hot earth, waiting their fates. I wonder how pests are coped with, given that my attempts to grow herbs over the last, few years have resulted only in caterpillar fodder, and José explains that this is one of the reasons that I see such a wide variety of produce side-by-side, the pests which like one vegetable aren’t the same as the ones which like the next one, and, in fact, often feed on the other pest, so there is a lot of natural control. There certainly aren’t any nibbled leaves or other signs of pests.
For me this is turning into a nostalgia trip. Even though I grew up in a climate so totally different to this one, I lived on a market garden, and there are more similarities than differences in the things I see and smell. It’s high summer, and the mountains and foothills which form the backdrop to the finca shimmer in a mix of calima and filmy, grey cloud. It was never like that on Marton Moss, true, but there are tomatoes and potatoes, and the earthy smell of freshly-pulled carrots, which my grandfather grew, and in winter there will be cabbage, mushrooms and cauliflower and other stuff more familiar to northerners. Granadilla sits at around 700 meters, with stunning views in clear weather down to the ocean. Even in today’s clag we can see the surf rolling onto the beaches around El Médano. In Winter it will be another story. Night time temperatures, José explains will sink to something like 9ºC. I can even remember a couple of years in the last 23 when snow has come as far down as Granadilla.
Having chosen aubergines, courgettes, squash, watermelon, green beans, basil, cilantro, spring onions, celery, tomatoes and carrots, having watched them being pulled gently from the earth, and the dirt shaken from them, we move on to a covered area, where we find peppers and parsley, and marrows.
We choose again, and move into what will be the shop, where we add some of the famous Canarian potatoes to our haul, and everything is totted up. Including the free, cotton bag which you get the first time you go (we’d taken our own bags, obviously there wasn’t going to be any plastic involved in this transaction!), my mighty haul comes to an amazing €10. Even at the Farmers’ Market it would have been more expensive.
The enterprise is a kind of work experience exercise, according to the information on the bag, backed by the EU as well as local and autonomous governments. People training there are paid a small wage, but also are fully trained, so that when they leave they can find employment in the industry. (In fact, the first work Austin had on leaving school was a similar scheme, establishing fish farming off the coast of Arona). So not only are you buying pesticide-free and fresh produce (and how much fresher can you get?), but you are supporting an enterprise aimed at helping people ride out this recession and retrain for work afterwards, and, of course, you’re saving money. The other advantage is that you can choose the exact quantity you need, so you aren’t buying pre-packaged goods aimed at the “typical” family of four. You can buy as much or as little as you require.
We come away not only with a boodle of luscious, fresh-smelling goodies, but with that sense of serenity which comes from being in the countryside, from feeling at one with everything, and knowing that nature provides, if we let her.
This doesn’t mean the end of the Farmers’ Market for me, because there will still be cheese and bread, wines, fruits and baked goods to buy there, and I suppose the odd time when I will need something José can’t supply, but I do think it’s pretty much the end of supermarket greengrocery, which also means less plastic.
Directions for Locals
Footnote for locals: Ok – now you know when you find the scarecrow with the red shirt, you’ve found the finca, but how to find that “hidden lane”? Basically, as you drive up to Granadilla from San Isidro, there is a turning off to the left for Charco del Pino, and it’s the next turning on the left after that. However, it’s badly angled, and you do need to drive past to where you can turn around, go back towards San Isidro, and then you can easily turn right into the lane, from the opposite carriageway, (not to mention that making a left turn just there (close to a bend) might be suicidal). On the corner of the lane, where it meets the main road, there is a small picnic area, with tables and chairs – not the larger one, with barbeques further along the road. The building there on that corner is the rehab center, and the finca lies just behind – look out for the scarecrow! Anyone who wants a guide is welcome to come with me sometime when I go!
And For Non-Locals
If you are visiting Tenerife and staying in an apartment and cooking for yourself, what better way to see something real, something other than “made for tourists” than to come buy your produce this way? José speaks English so no need to worry about being understood if you’re reading this then you speak English too.