When the Tramin winegrowers cooperative started a group for organic farming in 2008, Leo, a member of the cooperative, was very enthusiastic about this idea. Increasingly he became convinced that he should switch the entire farm - both apple orchards and vineyards - to organic. He joined the Biosüdtirol cooperative and supplied them with organic apples three years after making the switch. Leo Vaja had found his calling as an organic farmer.
But this wasn’t the only change. Previously his fields had been divided into small, unconnected plots. So, he sold all that were not connected directly to the farm and bought one complete piece of land His organic island is well-protected by the neighbouring forest on one side and hedges on the other. And now Braeburn, Gala, Granny Smith, Pink Lady® and Kanzi® apples thrive in splendid style, happily growing in their very own ‘wellness zone’.
“It's all about developing as a person and a farmer, and taking pleasure in my work.”
Leo doesn’t fit a mould. He’s a very open individual and considers new approaches as well as tried and tested methods. His thoughtfulness leads him to consider life and farming - and sometimes to make unusual decisions. For example, he plants cereals and chamomile on a spare plot of land. Why chamomile? Two years ago he switched to biodynamic farming. This involves using preparations to strengthen the plants and chamomile is an ingredient in one of these preparations. Leo dries the flowers and shares them with his colleagues from the biodynamic farming cooperative.
He appreciates the scientific basis of biodynamic agriculture and its humanistic approach. Nature is treated as an organism and divided into soil, plant and animal. Between these parts there exist complex relationships, which need to be understood and fostered. Biodynamic agriculture is about developing the people and farm as a whole. This idea is never far from Leo’s thoughts.
Experimentation is part of his philosophy. And Leo experiments a lot in his farming. He has recently planted trees in which two fruit-bearing lines grow from the same rootstalk. This results in fewer trees being planted per hectare for a similar crop size. So, more light and air reach the fruit. This improves the colour of the apples and ensures that the trees dry faster, which reduces the risk of fungal infection.
He enriches the vineyard soil with alfalfa seeds and protects the apple orchards with extra attention to mulching height. So the high grass provides natural protection for helpful organisms. Leo sees these guests as valuable employees.
Leo believes that animals and scab-resistant apple varieties will play an even more important role in the future. He’s currently building a hen house and also wants sheep grazing in the orchards. Plus he wants to grow scab-resistant apple varieties such as Story® Inored and Ipador. These are inherently more resistant and require less spraying.
Because he’s not a massive fan of sitting on his tractor Leo sees these choices as crucial for the environment and himself. He prefers to work with his hands and come up with new ideas. So it doesn’t take long before he makes decisions that come from both the head and the heart.