The case of the Camargo: organic production, rural tourism and roots in San Rafael
26 May 2020
The closure of a plant and a fly to life. The family history of the Camargo, planting illusions, making artisan wines, incorporating rural tourism, and daydreaming.
We always talk about the countryside, the rural worker, entrepreneurs, current affairs, and so many other things that happen in our beloved agribusiness. But rarely do we have the time to stop to know what is behind it all. A story, a life, a dream, a glass castle.
Today, in a global context of pandemic, of COVID-19, of preventive and mandatory quarantine, perhaps we will find that space, that moment to read a life story. Not just any, but one rooted, one that is born from the ground and grows like a tree, taking root.
For this reason, from Infocampo we decided to create our “Country bread” category, dedicated to the stories of lives that made and make the agricultural path. Those who never stopped believing, trying. Those who never looked for the easy solution, and put him forward without looking back. To those, our respect and space.
The first case is about the Camargo family and it all begins with the closing of a plant, and with a certain unemployed Carlos. But before starting the story, we thank the Confederation of Organizations of Family Producers of the Expanded Mercosur (COPROFAM), and the Argentine Agrarian Federation (FAA) who kindly and disinterestedly tell us and allow us to spread these stories.
In 1998, Carlos Camargo was 46 years old and had a family made up of his wife, Beatriz Vázquez, and their two children, Leticia and Carlos. He worked at the Resero winery, as one of those responsible for connecting with grape producers to buy raw materials in the San Rafael area (Mendoza). Everything changed after the decision of the Cartellone company, who after acquiring Resero decided to stop producing in the area and closed the plant. Carlos, along with 400 other workers, became unemployed and looking for new opportunities.
Carlos’s wife, Beatriz, came from a family of farmers and had lived until he married, at age 22, in Goudge, San Rafael. With Carlos they prospered and moved to the city center, but she always expressed to her husband the desire to return to live on a farm. His employment situation, plus her desire conjugated a new story: they sold their home and acquired 6 hectares in Las Paredes.
“With the difference of the change that we had left, we planted vines. Since I came from the field and my wife was from a family of producers, we decided to produce grapes and maintain the plants and structure of the farm, which is 102 years old, as it was built by Italians in 1916, when they arrived here after escaping the war. , in his country of origin, ”says Carlos.
Rural change with organic taste
In those days, he was linked to the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA), and in parallel, the then Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Food of the Ministry of Economy of Argentina had launched the “Federal program of productive reconversion for the small and medium-sized agricultural company ”, better known as Cambio Rural (CR), which sought to“ promote and facilitate the productive intensification and reconversion of rural small and medium-sized companies ”.
“We were able to establish ourselves as a Rural Change group, which helped us see that we had to add value and that we could better sell our products if we were linked to the tourism that came to the area. I had associated with a winemaker, a former colleague at Resero, and little by little we started to produce wines with our grapes, ”he recalls.
Back then they had vines on 4 hectares and produced around 40,000 kilos of varietals. They made their own wine and delivered the remaining grape to a winery in the area.
“My wife always believed that we had to have organic production, that we should be friendly to the environment, and she insisted that we certify the farm,” explains Carlos.
But Beatriz is not far behind and goes deeper: “I always had these ideas. When I was a girl, the few chemicals used on the farm kept very far from us and I incorporated it that way. On top of that, I read about Findhorm gardens in a book that made me want to produce healthier and more organically. And in 2000 we managed to get the vin ‘Organizacion Internacional Agropecuaria’ to certify the farm. In the first year, taking advantage of a corral with horse guano that was on the farm, I planted some tomatoes that I fertilized with that material, without chemicals. I sold a lot and made myself known in the area, unintentionally, because I just wanted to eat healthy and live as my family had. ”
Both entrepreneurs agree that certification was a very important step for entrepreneurship, as it provided great added value to the products and helped them to spread the farm nationally and internationally. “We are one of the oldest certified producers in San Rafael,” they explain.
Crisis, wines and Federation
Everything was going well until … The Argentina of the economic ups and downs complicated them a bit. The 2001 crisis found them indebted to Banco Nación.
“In 1998 we had asked for thirty thousand pesos to plant the grapes. With that crisis, the debt that was in dollars was pesified. We started to have to cancel 170,000 pesos, which forced us to sell two hectares of our farm to get ahead “, they say and add:” But we were able to do it. “
“We made a strategic association with the winemaker: he put the technique and I the wisdom of the vineyard. We worked several years together until he was able to do his own venture in 2007, so we changed technicians. Then we learned how to make sparkling wines. In addition, we always planted vegetables for family consumption. We also had peaches, plums and apricots, which we used to eat and make preserves, “the Camargo explain happily as they look back.
In 2000 they were already linked to the Argentine Agrarian Federation, and created the subsidiary in that locality.
In 2010, Carlos was invited to travel to Italy through the Fosel program, implemented between the province of Mendoza and the Italian Cooperation Organization. Program that promotes equitable local development processes to improve the social and economic conditions of cities in that province, Santa Fe, Córdoba and Buenos Aires.
“I was always at FAA and I am also a member of the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce, so both institutions asked me to be one of those who traveled to that country to learn how to make olive oil,” says Carlos.
The Camargos were not yet olive growers, but they knew that wine is always linked to balsamic vinegar and oil. On his trip he became acquainted with the techniques that have been used in Italy for many years to produce top quality oil, “I learned to put my hand in the pasta, as they say,” he recalls smiling. But not only that. He returned with the plans to build the machines necessary to produce the oil, so in 2011 they launched the olive oil factory.
“Also, I brought a bigger vision of what rural tourism is. Since we lived on the farm we have always shown it to tourists. We do guided tours for tourists and schools. We visit the vineyards, the winery, the elaboration of wines and oils, we show them how we produce in an organic and sustainable way. And the trip also taught me that small and medium producers have to find ways to link our productions with local, national and international tourists, show how we do what we do, because it is something that is attractive and brings great added value to our products”.
In these years, the Camargo family had to update the farm’s infrastructure so that it complied with current regulations to receive tourists. “We had to manage authorizations in the Municipality, in the entity of Tourism and a specific insurance. And we were achieving it, which means that a small producer can also, because our family was always able to do it, ”he says.
Son-in-law and daughter-in-law the order of the day
Their son-in-law, Walter, is the one who helps them with the farm. And since 2012 they added Miguel, the only employee of the venture. “For a small producer, it is very difficult to maintain an employee, because the labor cost is very high. These ventures take a lot of labor: you have to work in the vineyard, in the winery, in the olive trees, in the fruit trees, make and maintain the infrastructure. But here we do everything ourselves. We only hire other people a few days a year for the harvest. The rest of the time, we have the motto ‘do a little bit every day’, and it works for us, ”they say.
But it’s not just that. Marcela, her daughter-in-law, works in systems and helps them with the communication of the farm. He put together an institutional video that allows them to publicize what they do. In addition, Zoe (one of her granddaughters) when she was twelve years old already became interested in marketing and she accompanies them to fairs. For his part, his other grandson Alejo (11 years old) helps in what he can because he likes to share with his grandparents.
At the same time, they are constantly looking for alternatives to recover production costs and add value to their products.
“For the apricot or peach, the producers pay us almost nothing. But the plants are there and, if they are maintained, they produce every year. So we have managed to make a friend make organic sweets, with the 2,000 kilos that the 10 apricot plants have. We will offer canned food to tourists and we will both benefit: they because they are going to pay low prices for organic and artisan products, and we because we will have been able to sell our production ”, they are enthusiastic.
A great little success
To date, the farm produces approximately 8,000 kg of grapes per year, from which some 6,000 bottles are obtained that make 4,500 liters of wine and sell for $ 100 a bottle; They also produce 2,000 liters of olive oil, which they sell at $ 200 per liter. From what they get for the venture, they pay the employee’s salary and then distribute what is left between Beatriz, Carlos and Walter. To that income are added the retirements that both collect as a product of their years of work.
“In these almost twenty years we have been able to be in family, with a good quality of life, we, our children and in-laws, and now our four grandchildren too: Zoe, Ignacio, Alejo and Emilia. We hope that the contribution of our experience in the management of the orchard, the olive oil factory, the winery and the attention to tourists will allow them to follow in our footsteps, with the advantage of having an armed venture. For us the most important thing is to have managed to make this undertaking coincide with our project of having the whole family together, living on the farm, “say the Camargos when they are asked to take stock of their experience.
Inflating the chest, generating roots, contributing to the local and national community, the history of the Camargo can be defined by some of their own productions: sweet and organic.
“For us that is very valuable. Our visitors agree on this, as they are reflected in the messages they leave us in our guestbook, on our social networks and on the Tripadvisor tourism page, through which they get to know us many times. That makes us very happy. Being able to be here, where we want, doing what we like and showing it to our visitors is a great joy. The crisis gave us an opportunity. And we have managed to take advantage of it ”, they conclude with a smile.
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