We are at the medieval estate Helmsdorf above Lana. Our view sweeps over the Adige Valley, from the city of Merano to the Passeier Valley. Toni Santer, the host, is beaming all over his face: "Since my youth I have been fascinated by agriculture and music has always been my passion".

Toni has the charm, the smile and the aura of a rousing entertainer. With his guitar and a friend with the Styrian harmonica, Toni is out and about at weddings, alpine huts and festivals. Together with his family he also entertains holiday guests at the Helmsdorf farm.

The medieval estate Helmsdorf above Lana

In his youth Toni finds his way to agriculture. One spring, when everything begins to sprout, Toni realises that he likes being a farmer. He then packs his things and follows his parents to Giavera del Montello near Treviso, where his father runs a farm. There he learns to run a fruit farm.

After a few years Toni comes back to Helmsdorf. The ancestral farm has been owned by his family for over 250 years. The meadows are situated at an altitude of 450 to 600 metres above sea level and border the forest in several places. At the lowest point the grapes ripen, a chestnut grove marks the following apple orchards. When Toni returns to the place of his childhood, he brings back many experiences and sees the farm with new eyes.

Apple meadows in hillside
"We adapt our way of working to nature and not the other way around."

How do I manage the farm with its hillside location most effectively? This question keeps him busy until he finds the answer for himself: flatten out only as much as necessary, but adapt the work processes and machines to the slope. Toni plants the apple trees on the slope and not on the edges of the tramlines. This makes the paths narrower, the interventions in nature gentler and the trees are easier to reach by hand.

He drives through the meadows with small tractors instead of heavy tractors. Where the tramlines are too narrow or too steep for the tractors, Toni uses even smaller machines. In the narrowest rows of trees, he and his team work with ladders. Toni has adapted the length of the ladder feet to the different gradients.

Organic apple meadows in Foiana Adapted ladder feet

Organic farming has interested Toni for decades. Two neighbours have been organic since the mid-1990s. During this time he attends events, obtains information from consulting organisations and visits organic apple farms in the vicinity. Just the final push to make the switch was missing. This came by chance at the turn of the millennium. In the village Toni met two farming colleagues, Bernhard Lösch and Bernhard Zuegg. All three have the same idea: organic farming. After the conversation they all decided to convert their farms to organic, Toni hasn’t regretted it to this day.

"For me, farming is as much about creating the right atmosphere as music.”
happy and convinced of the organic cultivation

"My parents ran the farm in Giavera del Montello, already close to nature. It was no surprise to them that we in Helmsdorf farm organically," says Toni. The conversion is running almost smoothly, every year he understands nature a little better. And it's the same with music: "When you make music you acclimatise at the beginning and build up a relationship with the audience. Often an energy is created and you find the flow". Gala, Golden Delicious and Bonita: The apples at Helmsdorf show that Toni has a feeling for organic farming.

organic farming means working with nature

Deer and their fawns travel from the neighbouring forest in search of food. As ruminants, the deer contribute to the fertility of the soil. Toni does not want to be a danger to the fawns in the higher grass when driving his tractor, that’s why he has built a siren on the bonnet. The whistle of the deer warning system sometimes disturbs the peace of the farm. But somehow the sound fits here, because it protects nature. It is in harmony with Toni's philosophy of life, just like the apples, wine and chestnuts. All organic, of course.

tractor with deer warning system