Malta- a Mediterranean Introduction

Grain ,field,

A small strip, freshly cut

Malta is my introduction to Mediterranean culture. I am interested in the popularity and health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, as an example of what terroir or identity of place can offer society, from a pride of growing to consuming foods like locally grown vegetables and typical Mediterranean food, such as capers, olives, sundried tomatoes and cheese from sheep and goats.

LimestoneI headed to the smaller island of Gozo, where the pace is slower and more rural. The pastoral countryside is mainly terraced, as most of the island is hilly limestone with layer upon layer of coral material. The yellow limestone is seen everywhere, from being carved away by the sea into cliffs to the bricks in all their buildings. They continue to build their traditional stone buildings. Gozitans are renown for their skills as stone masons. What really amazed me was how no space was wasted. They often carved into the limestone to create living spaces.012008
Like everywhere it seems, Malta is also concerned about loss of local food, the small farm and culture. One website had the banner: Is Malta steering away from the self-sufficiency of traditional farming? This is one reason why I am here. From what I gather, Maltese have held on to their craft from lace making to local food, to sustain themselves, not to ‘get rich’. Perhaps subsistence living is enough? Malta also looks to tourism to help the local economy, as do many rural areas, to value add to the agricultural /rural economy. And so, the second question I explore here is, Can agri-tourism save small scale farming? There are benefits for sustaining our small farms as it offers a way to reconnect with how our food is produced, and provide a rural life experience and a way to connect with the local people. Agritourism, done well, brings benefits to small-scale farmers across the globe and strengthens rural economic development.

Small plot vinesThe biggest opportunity for agri-tourism farmers is that it brings people to them saving them shipping and distribution costs. This can help save the small farm, and visitors get the benefit of an authentic on-farm experience. Its win-win.

One guide book claims that Gozo in particular, has deeper, more tasty vegetables since traditional farming practices are used. Vegetables are sold at the side of the road off the back of farmers’ vans, and towns still have butchers, bakeries and fishermen selling their fresh caught fish.Vegetable Truck

The island is so small that you can walk almost anywhere. The first ‘agriculture’ I witnessed were the salt pans, carved into the limestone for harvesting sea salt. This labour intensive endeavour is now only used for selling local salt in the many touristy local food shops.

Next, I was photographing rows of vegetables and fruit trees in well tended plots. There is little land flat enough to get to field size, so the rototiller is the biggest piece of equipment used. A lot of labour is involved and so it seems that organic production is the way to go, to compete with all the imports from the rest of the EU, and to support the direction of agri-tourism here in offering local food along with local fish in many restaurants.

A desperate cry for help is what I hear here in Gozo, not unlike home in Ontario. Millions of dollars are being spent to add agri-tourism, but working within EU regulations is hard. Although the talk is good for local food, farming and agri-tourism, policy is not enabling. It can take up to 10 years to get permits, and despite the talk, government doesn’t seem to care that not supporting these enterprises, means that Gozo could look like a desert, if farming is abandoned for cheap food imports.

terracingI also found some dairy operations. Squeezed into tight spaces, I found them in rugged places or hilltops, where there was space enough for a barn, concrete structures that looked more like an overpass go me. Farming is definitely a hard go here.

Dairy barn

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About Kaytlyn Dale

#nuffield13 scholar passionate about sacred agriculture and holding space for transforming ourselves so that we can help regenerate the land, soil, Earth and our food system. Pursuing an MA that brings spirituality and agriculture together in the conversation.
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4 Responses to Malta- a Mediterranean Introduction

  1. s o m m e r pauli says:

    Hi Gayl

    I’m wondering if you can detect any tension between the farming sector and the tourism sector? Is farm land allowed to be used in a ‘strip mining’ fashion so as to maximize production or are there still generous windbreaks and woodlots?
    Are people who are living there and involved in the tourism aspect segregated to areas and made to feel less than welcome or have they managed to integrate the two sectors without a sense of dominance/competition?

    • Hi Pauli! Challenging questions! I would say that the farming and agri-tourism sectors operate separetely. Most farming operates at a `CSA`scale here, since the land available is terrace by terrace – a couple of acres at a time. Livestock operations are segragated in an area all their own, and like another sector entirely, it seems. They are hidden away. Animals can`t go outside anymore; from what I hear they eat the rare plant species.

      There is barely a tree on the island. Terraces are divided by rock walls that hold them there. That would be the closest thing to a fence line. Strip mining does not occur as we would see it in North America. There is not the space for it. Agri-tourism is in its infancy and not getting the support it needs to take off. It needs to develop as small terrace is not viable and the next generation is likely not going to be interested. Not too different from Canada really.

  2. Wally Doerksen says:

    Gayl, you speculate whether subsistence farming is the way to go. We know that it is a sustainable way for agriculture, something that extensive, mostly mono-culture, fertilizer based agriculture has not yet proved it can do. Perhaps it will be the intensive based systems that will provide clues for how agriculture can be sustainable in the long haul.

    • I question whether subsistence living is an option for better quality of life, rather than subsistence agriculture. In North America, we work long hours to pay for excessive mortgages and bigger cars (and pickup trucks). Do we really need all this stuff? Does it make us happy? Do farms need to be so big, so that farmers can have big houses and fancy trucks? I suggest that to be sustainable in agriculture, perhaps we need to focus more on quality of life, rather than more and bigger stuff. In Transylvania, most farmers are practicing subsistence agriculture and therefore, many more people have work and a good lifestyle. They own their homes, and have plenty to eat. In 2010, Romania reported the highest number of farms in the European Union (EU), nearly 4M, accounting for a third of the EU’s total number, while the average size of 3.4 hectares, is almost the smallest (Malta and Cyprus are the lowest). This means that if 2-3 family members on each farm are engaged in farming, 10 million -12 million of 21 million Romanians are engaged in primary agriculture. Maybe my real question is the sustainability of the human species, rather than the sustainability of agriculture!

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