THE LAND – AFTER RAIN

It is nice to see that after the recent heavy rains on the Maltese islands, the land is showing signs of breathing easier, of coming to life again after the long drought which in some cases made the trees start to show signs of stress and the land of totally drying out. As can be seen on the photos, and these I took around Victoria, there is still a lot of small area farming going on, vegetables and grains are grown small scale by part-time farmers.

According to Philip von Brockdorff, (Department of Economics at the University of Malta), there are several challenges of agriculture on Gozo. Full-time farmers are becoming fewer and fewer, it is the way like it seems to be in other countries too, farmers are becoming older and their children are less and less interested in farming as a means of living. On the other hand part-time farmers have been very much on the increase. To help with the future of agriculture on Gozo, reliance on EU subsidies is unavoidable and useful and should help a lot with rural development.

Dairy and vegetable growing, especially tomatoes which are used for processing, of ketchup and sauces which are exported to many European countries, UK and Ireland being the largest importers.
There is some local wine produced too, and of course lovely local honey. It is lovely to see cottage industries on the rise where foods are produced locally.
One of the problems with food production on Gozo is the lack of regular precipitation. When we arrived here in beginning of October it had not rained for many months and you could see it on the land, the farmers sure were praying for rain! And now they got some of it and the growing can continue. There is a lovely acre of potatoes growing vigorously close by here. The photos I took on one of our walks around the outskirts of Victoria, show lots of small but fertile plots of land being worked on and producing some sort of crop. It is good to see, and to see similar all over Gozo.

I’ve only loosely written down some of my own observations and thoughts about agriculture on Gozo and I read the article which Philip von Brockdorff wrote back in 2013 in the Times of Malta. I’ve a lot more to read and understand about agriculture on the Maltese islands and in particular on Gozo. One of the observations which I made very soon after we arrived is that you see none or very little cattle on the land here, coming from Ireland that is really a big difference. It means that the animals both for consumption and for dairy are never on lovely green grass and I think that would make a large difference in the quality of the end product, this also goes for the eggs and poultry production. I guess we are very spoiled in this regard, but then every country needs to have its own ways of dealing with particular problems, in this case it is the lack of lots of lush grass to feed the cattle, the lack of precipitation and the thin layer of topsoil which plays a role I think.

One development I would like to see on Gozo is more organic farms, but then I don’t know if a lot of pesticide and fertilizer are being used here, I asked a vegetable seller at a stall in Victoria about this and he said that some of the vegetables he sells are produced by what they call the ‘old way’ he indicated that this meant that no or very little chemicals were used in the growing of them. Well, who knows.

You see all the lovely terraced fields around Gozo and you think that in times past the place must have been totally self sufficient when it came to food production. Something for me to read up on I guess.
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ALL THE GOOD OF LAND AND SEA

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Today I did a spot of cooking, but first I took the bus to Victoria, only ten minutes away, and I searched for and found the Fish Shop where I bought one large steak of fresh tuna, and two fillets of ling, the man in the fish shop offered me a recipe for cooking the tuna, it’s a great recipe he said, you will need oregano and other items, and as he said it he added a bunch of fresh oregano to the bag of fish, all for only €7 which I thought was very reasonable.  I then visited a vegetable stall, in Victoria these stalls are at the large car park near the bus terminal, and they are there most days.  From what I can see the produce is very fresh.  A friendly man helped me to a number of vegetables, as well as lemon, parsley, and an orange that I needed for my recipe.  He added a bunch of free celery leaves to my other shopping free of charge, the herbs and vegetables smelled good.  I love cooking with fresh herbs, and that is why I am enjoying the cooking quite a bit here, fresh fragrant herbs, especially oregano, rosemary, mint, basil, and sage, as well as tomatoes, olive oil, lemon, garlic, broad beans, green beans, and fish.  I may add that the long type of onions also are delicious, I’ve been enjoying those here.  To finish the tuna story, I made the marinade as instructed and cooked the fish  according to the recipe, and it was really delicious.

The man at the vegetable stall also informed me that the local produce would be best if I was looking for organic, which of course I was and I told him that, and he was selling a lot of local produce which is very nice.  Why would one import foods when they can be grown at home.

I was in a sort of garden centre shop as well this morning as I wanted to check what the situation is in Gozo regarding the use of ’roundup’ seeing that now it has been recognised by the WHO that the Glyphosate contained in roundup is a cancer causing ingredient.  The nice girl that I was talking to did not know about these matters, she did say that yes they sold roundup and that it is needed as it is very hard to grow produce on Gozo, and this is the second person that tells me that.  Some people that I encountered in the last few days have also told me that it would be impossible to grow organically on Gozo because of the drought, I wonder if I am overlooking something, as I never realised that you need more water to grow organically than with using fertilizer/pesticides.  It is all very interesting to learn how other countries/people think about these matters.

The produce that we have enjoyed here a lot are the local honey.  Depending on what month of the year it is, the honey will taste different and come from different plants.  The prickly pear jam was something new to us, for me it is too sweet, but I just got to try new things, so we bought some.  The basmatic vinegar of Gozo is delicious, I love it in a tomato dish.  The capers, which are grown locally too, are lovely and add a kick to the mixture which all people of the Maltese islands love on toast.  Joso, a nice woman I got to know in Malta, a neighbour of ours there, gave me this recipe for a nice breakfast, she told me to cup up some nice tomatoes, or use tomato paste and put that on toast, then add capers and some basil, it does taste delicious.

Another woman in the shop the other day showed me how the Gozitans use their herbs, also mixed with tomatoes and olive oil, left for half an hour to soak it all up, and then served with capers and toasted bread.  I am sure that this food is all very healthy, it does taste nice that is for sure.

I still wanted to add some photos of what we were discussing in my last post, about the swales, because today I took some pics in the park which is in the middle of the town of Victoria.  A lovely and well kept place where it strikes you how much attention is given to each individual plant or tree.  I saw how they use the swales, and water harvesting.  They dig a ditch around the plant or tree individually, which then keeps any water near the roots and lets the plant utilize the water to the full.  They also make ditches along plants so that even more water is harvested.  Though these photos I took in a park, I am sure these methods are being practised in general.

Just a few examples above.  Below an example of terraced crop growing, where the water will not just run down the slope but will stay on the terrace watering the crops growing there, or in this case the crops that will be sown here.

Terraced small fields at Xlendi
Terraced small fields at Xlendi

I’m enjoying all this getting to know about the life here, so interesting, but also what it does to me is, it makes me think more, and ask more questions to how things are done back in Ireland, where things are on a far larger scale because of the size of the country and the larger population, but still comparisons may be made in certain areas.

One question I still have for Gozo, I still have not seen any cows, sheep, pigs, only three goats, and one chicken, where is all the smallholders livestock?  Are they really all inside like I am told?  And if so how are they fed.  It seems most unusual not to see cows or other livestock on the land.  I look forward to getting answers to those questions some day.