There is a South Tyrolean saying: “You’re either born a farmer or you marry a woman from a farming family.” Othmar Malleier is the exception to the rule: He was a lithographic artist and definitely didn’t marry with a view to becoming a farmer. As technological progress meant printing machines increasingly took over his job, he found a new professional home in nature. Together with a friend, he established a market garden. He poured his time and energy into it. Days, hours, minutes were eaten up by it and too little remained for his family. Finally, he decided to sell the market garden and acquired a small piece of land a comfortable cycling distance from the family home. Othmar has now become a part-time farmer. On the side, he tends his garden and for ten years he has guided visitors around the gardens of Castle Trauttmansdorff in Meran.

But in 1995 everything changes in a heartbeat. His little daughter Magdalena is in the apple meadow playing with the branches that are scattered on the ground in a meadow that he has treated with conventional pesticides. The image etches itself like lightning into his brain. It completely alters Othmar’s way of thinking and his way of farming. His children should be able to play carefree in his meadow. He switches to organic cultivation methods.

Biosuedtirol Othmar Malleier 2 Biosuedtirol Othmar Malleier 1
“I dream of an event that implants the idea of organic farming deeper into the consciousness of people.”

His meadow is located next to a footpath. Passers-by are always asking him what makes an organic meadow so special. And there’s a lot to say about the apple trees, wild flowerbeds, hedges, woodpiles, cairns and brushwood. And if Othmar had time – after looking after his family, his job and the guests of his family’s holiday home, Aronia – he would be able to reply fully. But his lack of time gives him an idea: Othmar, one-time lithographic artist and born motivator, designs signs to provide explanations for his organic meadow. It doesn’t take long for his organic farming colleagues to start ordering similar signs from him for their own meadows. And Othmar starts thinking beyond the edging of the sign: “I dream of an event that implants the idea of organic farming deeper into the consciousness of people.”

Diversity is a principle that this multi-talented individual consumed with his mother’s milk. Just having apples in his meadow is not enough for him. His passion for gardening shows as he began introducing hollyhocks, sunflowers and other flowers. Hedges surround the orchard, which also contains ripening beans and even peaches. Only in the middle is there an open space – where a vegetable patch flourishes, which Othmar nourishes with a special herbal tea concoction. Apples and other fruit, vegetables and flowers – that’s how diverse commercially cultivated land can be.

Othmar explains why: “Ever since they started, our cooperatives have not just been apple cooperatives, but instead they are fruit cooperatives. It’s time to think about how to complement an apple monoculture.” He’s a man of clear words and tangible numbers: he’s thinking of 70-80% apples at his farm. And the rest? In addition to the varieties already mentioned, he also cultivates exotic fruits in his meadows, such as aronia berries and mini kiwis. Even though he knows he still has to gain a lot of farming knowledge to handle these cultures.

In spite of resistance to his ideas, in many conversations he tries to open the eyes of his organic farming colleagues to the benefits of diversity. A South Tyrolean landscape of valleys and mountainsides dominated solely by apple and wine cultivation doesn’t square with Othmar’s colourful palette of a world. It didn’t in the past, it doesn’t now and it won’t in the future. It doesn’t matter how others decide in the end: for him the future lies in the small-scale structures of organic agriculture, in the quality of the fruit and in the sustainability of the business. He lives out this philosophy, pouring his heart and soul into it so that the world will be at least a little bit more “grandchild-friendly”.