The family of Gonçalo Vaz Botelho has been producing pineapples since the 19th century. The mentor was José Bento Arruda Botelho, our host's great-great-grandfather, to use the fruit only as a decorative piece and only later did it become part of the meal. Today, Ananás do Paço is a biological product with a Protected Designation of Origin.
Sociedade Agrícola do Paço de Nossa Senhora da Vida
Ponta Garça, 4
9680-451 Vila Franca do Campo, Ilha de São Miguel
+351 918 975 104
Tiago Santos, Baco
Texto de Patrícia Serrado
Fotografias de Vânia Rodrigues
“My great-great-grandfather discovered that if he burned wood inside the greenhouses, the smoke released would make all the plants hatch at the same time.” The explanation is given by Gonçalo Vaz Botelho, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Fundação dos Botelhos de Nossa Senhora da Vida. It is the oldest Portuguese family foundation, which is also a Private Institution of Social Solidarity, founded in 1952 by his grandparents and recognized as a Collective Person of Public Utility since 1954, in which the Agricultural Society of Paço de Nossa Senhora da Vida is a part, located in Vila Franca do Campo, São Miguel, Azores.
“Our first greenhouses date back to the second half of the 19th century, as an alternative to orange cultivation, which was decimated by a plague between 1840 and 1860”, says Gonçalo Vaz Botelho. In 2015, he decided to have the 12 greenhouses rehabilitated – the first glass greenhouses in the Paço de Nossa Senhora da Vida, next to the oldest house in the Azores, dating from 1443 – and to build six new greenhouses, to boost production and gain scale. These include the assembly of four plastic greenhouses, to start the nursery activity. “We are the only certified organic pineapple nursery in the Azores”, he adds, in addition to the fact that what we produce also has a PDO certificate.
But how does the production process take place? After the pineapples are harvested, all their leaves are removed. The rhizome is left out. “Everything is taken advantage of.” It is from this rhizome that the cycle starts again, to produce new plants – the so-called sprouts. The placement of the rhizomes is done in parallel lines, in the plastic greenhouses. Already covered with soil and crushed firewood, to form a layer of organic matter rich in nutrients – hence the need for chemical fertilizers – and which simultaneously provides the storage of carbon in the soil, the plantations are watered at intervals of one or two weeks, with the water from the rainwater recovery tanks and which are close to the sets of greenhouses.
After five to eight months – depending on the time of year – the “sprouting” is transferred to the pineapple planting greenhouses, in the “willing plant” phase, during which it remains, on average, for six months. At the end of this time, “the plants with the weight and diameter of the 'neck' are obtained, to be transferred to the glass greenhouses. This is the final stage to obtain the desired PDO and Biological Ananás do Paço fruits”.
“The demand for quality control of the entire value chain in pineapple production”, leads Gonçalo Vaz Botelho “to design precision agriculture in greenhouses, by controlling temperature, soil pH and humidity; and, due to the importance of communication with the consumer, the website and the packaging are in a process of transformation”.
“In traditional glass greenhouses, some centenarians – a mandatory condition for obtaining the PDO certification – the plant remains, on average, between 12 and 18 months, depending mainly on the time of year. After approximately six months, it will be, depending on its vegetative state, in the ideal state, flowering being induced through the traditional method of applying smoke, with the placement of cans, with dry cryptomeria - an abundant tree in the Azorean landscape -, along with the glass greenhouses.” This traditional application is one of the mandatory requirements of the PDO rules and is carried out for at least nine consecutive days. After about 24 months, the pineapple is ready to be harvested.
This rigorous process of harvesting and quality control – “because the choice of the optimal harvest date is the primary factor in guaranteeing quality production” – is carried out plant by plant.
Pineapple cultivation is, therefore, a sustainable crop. It promotes good practices with the environment, as well as the circular economy. This organic production method, in addition to being aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals, anticipates those that are the new guidelines of the European Ecological Pact and the new Common Agricultural Policy.
“The organic pineapple is the smallest”, says Gil Vieira, manager of the Agricultural Society of Paço de Nossa Senhora da Vida, who has been following this procedure for about seven years. The weight is registered between 900g and 1,300kg. “This is the weight of first-rate pineapple.”
Annually, Ananás do Paço produces between 14 and 15 tons and is sold directly to hotels and speciality stores.
Gonçalo Vaz Botelho emphasizes that it is “a niche product”, aimed “for conscious consumers, critical of good production and concerned with their environmental and social responsibility”.