As soon as we started the visit to the grounds of Quinta da Fortaleza, a property with almost 5 hectares that he inherited from his father, João Santana Marques leaves us a warning: “I am not trained as a farmer, I am an engineer.”
Texto de Tiago Pais
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As soon as we started the visit to the grounds of Quinta da Fortaleza, a property with almost 5 hectares that he inherited from his father, João Santana Marques leaves us a warning: “I am not trained as a farmer, I am an engineer.” Under normal conditions, the warning wouldn’t be necessary, because there is an old house in recovery, which will soon become a tourism accommodation. Except we are only there to see the plantation that makes this non-farmer the man with the best asparagus in this area of the Alentejo. And now?
João clarifies. The initial plan was that, once the land was owned, the children would become young farmers. Didn’t happen. “They are still just young, I became the farmer”, he jokes. So, he chose to plant asparagus on a hectare of the land after, as a good engineer, made some accounts on the cost-productivity relationship.
There was still no one in Portugal who had dedicated himself to this species “DePaoli”, raised in a Californian university, and which has, in addition to its excellent quality, adaptation to the soil and resistance to pests, the fact that it’s productive earlier than the others. “While producers in the North have from April to June, the season here runs from January to April. It's the trick.”
He produces about three tons a year and sells it almost exclusively for restaurants and small businesses. In 2020, it sold less because of the Covid-19 pandemic. But João does not seem very concerned: in this case of asparagus, it is enough to cut it back to being born, and that is how it is for 12 years, the average life of each plant. This farmer's life, after all, is not that hard.