In the hills above the turreted, North African splendour of the Abama Golf and Spa Resort, a father and son team are getting their hands dirty trying to bring about a quiet, agricultural revolution.
Since the middle of the last century, Tenerife has given herself heart, body and soul to the voracious appetites of a sun-starved, northern European tourism market, losing more and more of her rugged south west coast to new hotel builds. A mere ten years ago, Costa Adeje was little more than a couple of luxury hotels and a re-branding campaign for the much maligned resort of Playa de Las Américas. Today the ‘new’ kid on the block marches inexorably ever further westwards, consuming coastline and traditional fishing villages in its quest to create a seamless Xanadu fit for Dior sandals and Gucci shoes.
High above the manicured beaches, beneath white plastic hothouses, Tino Álvarez and his father Faustino (email: firstname.lastname@example.org; (0034) 607 981 832) are emulating the move to a more high end consumer market. Flying in the face of mass production, they are substituting quantity for quality in their vegetable production methods.
Walking between the various plots that Tino and his dad manage, volcanic cones linked by deep barrancos pepper the landscape like a partially completed dot to dot puzzle. Carpeted in low lying spurges and scorched from months of rain-bereft summer, this is an expansive landscape and one that it’s tough to irrigate.
“We can’t continue exploiting the land the way we do,” says Tino. “For generations we have planted tomatoes and bananas, fed them fertilizers and used pesticides to constantly try to improve yields. Those days are gone. The earth cannot sustain that way of farming.”
Losing out to cheap crops from North Africa and hit by pests, the tomato trade in Tenerife is on its knees and with EU subsidies disappearing, the banana trade is looking at a similar future. Facing ever lower yields and reduced profits, Tino and Faustino took a huge gamble and turned their farming methods and their philosophy upside down. Consigning pesticides and fertilizers to the past, the affable duo are blazing a trail for high quality, low quantity, organic vegetables and have cultivated a new market in miniature designer vegetables.
Planting, weeding and harvesting everything by hand, crops are left to grow naturally and are harvested when they are small, flavoursome and perfect. Moving between rows of rocket, snow peas, aubergines, carrots, courgettes, pumpkins and radishes, Tino shows me handful after handful of perfectly formed, miniature vegetables.
“When we harvest the plants we throw the roots away and plant afresh,” says Tino. “It’s expensive but it’s the only way to ensure we maintain the perfect shape and colouring of each vegetable, each leaf of rocket.”
Vegetables are priced individually and are sold to the restaurants of Tenerife’s top chefs like El Rincón de Juan Carlos in Los Gigantes and the Michelin starred restaurants of the Abama where quality and taste are paramount.
The kitchens of Costa Adeje’s luxury hotels have spawned a burgeoning gourmet scene on Tenerife and the miniature vegetables from Las Higueritas are an organic spin-off. Let’s just hope that when developers emerge from the crisis and contemplate their next moves they’ll take a leaf from Tino and Faustino. Raising the standard of Tenerife’s hotels, image, and by association visitors is a good thing and I applaud it but they really need to stop building more and more developments and realise that less is more and the best things come in small parcels.
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+