Nestled in the hills of Mgarr overlooking the splendid Gnejna Bay is a group of fertile, terraced fields renowned for their delicious produce. They are closely linked to the people who have worked them for generations – the same folk whose descendants are now one of Malta’s last farming families.
The Tas-Salut orchard is tucked away behind a group of large boulders; boulders that have safeguarded the arable land from harsh weather conditions, and that provided a safe haven to the land’s proprietors during the tumultuous years of World War II.
What Happened Then?
A lot has changed since those days, but Benny, one of the children who sought refuge there, is now the proud patriarch of one of Malta’s last families to live off the land.
This has truly shaped Tas-Salut and, while many orchards abroad tend to yield one type of produce, this orchard has many pockets of land dedicated to growing oranges, apples, figs, pomegranates, sweet potatoes, marrows and a variety of herbs, among others things. It’s a real feat, especially considering the size of the orchard.
Benny is also one of the many local farmers who avoid the use of chemical pesticides when possible. For example, to grow his strawberries, Benny makes use of a method called ‘biological control’, which means using living organisms to naturally kill insects that are harmful to cultivated plants. This, however, cannot be carried out on all crops because certain pests that cannot be ‘removed’ by biological means.
How Is Merill Involved?
Benny has kindly opened the gates to his orchard to visitors, and Merill now provides tourists, locals and corporate groups with a variety of experiences at this wonderful venue, with breathtaking views that stretch all the way to Gozo’s majestic cliffs. There is so much to enjoy here, including:
Professional and Basic Olive Oil Tasting – where you can sample the dark-green goodness of cold-pressed, Maltese olive oil.
Wine & Maltese Cheeselet Tasting – where the beautiful notes of Maltese wine are enhanced by the tangy taste of fresh, plain or peppered Maltese ġbejniet, made from 100 per cent sheep’s milk.
Orchard Tours – where the history of the area and the orchard comes to life amid sweet-smelling strawberry plants, vines made heavy by abundant clusters of grapes and other fruits, and a sense of the traditional that has long been thought extinct.
How Are Merill and Benny working together?
They say that if you give a man a fish, he will eat for a day; but if you teach a man how to fish, he will never go hungry.
At Merill, we know that the farmers in our network are more than able to feed themselves and work the land they so dutifully look after. Yet agriculture is a field – no pun intended – that’s changing at an unprecedented rate; probably more so than it did during the Industrial Revolution.
That’s why, since March 2014, Benny, together with a few other members of the Merill Rural Network (located in the northwestern region of Malta), has been participating in a project funded by the EU programme LEADER, whereby investment has been made in marketing and training for the members and their families, and in the acquisition of equipment to improve farm and workshop visits.
Through this project, Tas-Salut’s owners have been provided with equipment and training in firefighting and risk-management practices, among others. Benny and his wife Tessie have also had training in hosting, ecotourism, food handling, first aid, and many other related topics. On top of this, during an educational trip to Sicily with various other members of the Merill network, they got to experience the similarities and differences between foreign and local farming.
written by WriteMeAnything.com