Thursday, February 25, 2016

Our Last Day

Thursday, February 25th

The ambitious SDARL class left Cordoba in the dark. Though it was tough on the sleepy bodies, it was well worth it to see the beautiful sunrise over the hills full of olive trees. The early start was also worthwhile because we received plenty of time at the COVAP cooperative.

This cooperative is the second largest in Europe and quite the site to see. Understand that the function of the cooperative is a bit different then what we are used to back home. This co-op was started by twenty-two dairy producers more than a half century ago with the goal of creating a place to process and market their product. Since those humble days, the co-op has really grown to over 15,000 members as well as a waiting list to gain membership.

They have expanded from dairy to feed supplier, beef, lamb, and pork. The brand is very visible in the major grocery stores here in Spain and is an example of the power farmers can gain with collaboration. The power this cooperative has is keeping a foreign corporation from coming in and controlling the area’s markets.

First we went to the dairy plant where they produce many boxes of milk using ‘Ultra High Temperature’ pasteurization. Let’s take a look at what this is. In the United States we go to the store and grab a carton or jug of milk out of the refrigerator just the way God intended. In Europe, you go to the store and buy a box of room temperature milk off the shelf and drink it warm. They can do this because of Ultra High Temperature (UHT) pasteurization. The milk stays good unopened at room temperature for up to six months! This is safe to do because the milk is pasteurized at a much higher temperature than here in the States.

The next COVAP enterprise to tour was the lamb feedlot. All the lambs were fed under roof to a kill weight of about eighty pounds. This seems to be significantly less that what is typically seen in the United States. We saw no tails docked and all bucks were intact. These different practices were based on what the European customer wanted.

And the last stop for the COVAP cooperative was the beef feedlot. This seemed similar to American feedlots. A couple things stood out like all the feeder bulls being intact. It is not common practice to castrate in Europe, and because of this, hormone implants are not used. The cattle looked much the same as our northern plains cattle we see back home. They feed them almost as heavy as is common in South Dakota.

Now I write this to you as I look out the window and watch the world whiz by at over 185 mph. This is done from the comfort of my roomy seat aboard the high speed bullet train on our way to Madrid. Our tour is almost complete!

Day 10 - February 24th

Granada to Cordoba

Another beautiful day of sunshine and mild temperatures greeted us this morning as we boarded our coach in Granada on our way to the beautiful and historic city of Cordoba.  But first, we had a stop at a dairy by the name of Los Pastoreros.  Milking 500 head, a few of the practices, feedstuffs and equipment reminded some of us of similarities to operations we are familiar with at home.  One of the feed sources, Chufa, was of particular interest.  It is harvested for its tuber, which is then pressed and used to create a sweet milk popular in this region.  We know Chufa in our state by the common name of Yellow Nutsedge. 

After this interesting visit we headed to the Agricola Noli equipment factory in Fernan Nunez. Here they manufacture, assemble and sell farm equipment to local farmers as well as international customers.  The average farm size in Europe is much smaller than in America and it showed by the small equipment that is in demand.  Cultivators, rollers, corn planters, deep tillage tools and olive harvesters were a few of the pieces that caught the eye of the group. The olive harvester, which clamps around the base of the tree and shakes it to capture the ripe olives, appeared to be the most expensive piece of equipment with a price tag of 95,000 Euros. 


We were then on to Cordoba for a short walking tour where we learned about some of the rich history of this fascinating city.   Still standing were various city walls dating back 1,000-2,000 years.  We walked to the doors of The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, or The Great Mosque Cathedral as it is often called. One thing noticed by the group in Cordoba was that it seemed to have more of an Arab influence then our previous stops.  The history around the alternating rule of this beautiful place of worship between Christians and Muslims was fascinating.


Tomorrow we are off to Madrid for the last full day for some of us as we edge closer and closer back to our wonderful families and co-workers covering for us at home.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Day 9 - February 23rd

From the Mediterranean to Granada

After a day of haze caused by airborne sand from the Sahara, we were rewarded by clear skies and a spectacular sunrise over the Mediterranean at Almunecar. Most of us took advantage of the clear skies to capture some memories for family and friends back home. One or two brave souls even ventured into the water for a very brisk dip.

After breakfast we boarded the bus and headed north to visit the winery of Senorio de Nevada near Granada. Wine production is extremely important to the ag economy on the Iberian Peninsula. Our host Fernando gave us the most extensive explanation of vineyard management and winemaking that we have heard so far on our trip.

Senorio de Nevada grows several varieties of grapes, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Tempranillo. He explained that their primary objective is not maximum yield of grapes. Instead they focus on optimizing the quality of the wine they produce and have designed their management practices in the vineyard with that goal in mind. Fernando explained that their soils and micro-climate provided two key advantages in producing high quality wine. Well drained soils promote deeper root growth and the hot, dry days combined with cool nights result in improved wine quality as well as minimizing fungal disease pressure.

They typically harvest their grapes in September. We were surprised to find out that one of their more serious pest problems came from birds. He told us that birds destroyed nearly all of their Tempranillo production last year, in spite of using many IPM techniques to deter birds from attacking their grapes.

After showing us the vineyards, Fernando explained the winemaking process to us. The grapes combined with yeast ferment for 14 days in large stainless steel vats. After that period nitrogen gas is used to exclude oxygen. In this winery, white wines are produced from white grapes that they grow. Red wines are fermented with the skins; to produce rose wines the skins are removed after four hours. They press the skins of the red wine to extract the remaining wine and flavors.
Some wines, particularly the rose blends, are intended to be served the year they are made. Those wines go directly to the bottle with no additional aging. Their red blends are aged for one year in oak barrels and for an additional 3 to 4 years in bottles. Aging wine in oak barrels introduced additional flavors and aromas to enhance the quality of the wine. Confirming what we had learned in the cork oak forests, high quality corks are also very important to prevent oxidation while in storage. For their highest quality wines requires an incredible time investment. The red wine blends they are currently selling came from the 2009 and 2010 crop years.

Finally, Fernando gave us a short lesson in wine tasting. He talked to us about using the senses of sight, smell, and taste to evaluate wine. We've had multiple opportunities to sample the various wine options in Portugal and Spain, so his advice should prove to be useful as we near the end of our stay. Fernando even graciously allowed the SDARL class to put our names on one of the barrels being aged now.

From there we traveled to visit La Alhambra in Granada. The Alhambra has been designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO and nearly every travel guide lists it as a must-see when visiting Spain. It is a palace and fortress complex built by the Moors during the 13th and 14th centuries. It includes extensive mosaics, arabesque designs, and gravity-fed flowing fountains.

These pictures barely do the palaces and gardens justice. The architecture and designs combined with the various gardens were simply incredible, and it was very difficult to effectively capture that with a camera. Our tour guides did an outstanding job of explaining the story behind the palaces and helping us to get a glimpse of what life was like then.

One of the aspects they showed us was that there were elements of Islamic, Jewish, and Christian peoples reflected in the design of the buildings and courtyards, and that in many cases they were living in close proximity to each other. We have often discussed as a class how different cultures view each other over the last ten days. We've had the chance to observe and make judgments about European culture and to get a glimpse of some of the stereotypes that other cultures have about Americans. We hope that this experience helps us realize that painting with broad strokes about another society is seldom completely accurate.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Day 8 - Feb. 22nd

Antequera to Motril to Adra to Almunecar

We traveled through several climate  and ecological zones today, with specialized agricultural production. We started the day at the edge of the mountains of Antequera in heavy olive production and traveled south through the mountains and dropped into fruit production.  Further to the east we entered the desert and vegetable production.  For a good analogy of the trip, we learned a family of 4 could make a living off 500 hectares of cereal grain, 50 hectares of olive oil trees, 5 hectares of fruit trees, or 2 hectares of green houses.

Spain is number one in production of olives and olive oil; therefore, fittingly, we toured one of several oil cooperatives in Antequera.  Oleoalgaidas Cooperatives produced 34 million kilos of olives in the 2014/2015 crop year, and 70% of the olives are from coop members. It takes 7 years until the first olive tree can be harvested.  The plant is state-of-the-art, mostly automated, and has a similar feel and organization to an ethanol plant at home.  Producers bring in their olives by the load throughout the day, land quick samples and weight, and off they go.  The SDARL group was interested in their farming practices and the impact on the environment with the aggressive tillage and slope.

San Ramon is a 35-acre fruit producer along the cliffs of the Mediterranean; it is heavily terraced and has an intelligent irrigation system.  The orchard produces mangos, avocado, pomelos, among many other specialty fruits.  It is currently managed as an organic system; however, the owner is considering returning to a traditional system because of the poorer production and added cost.  She educated the group on agricultural techniques of pomelo and avocado plants.  Some avocado varieties are able to stay stored on a tree without ripening for up to a year.  This has allowed many producers to market their crops more advantageously.  The land along Mediterranean is not naturally a high food production area; irrigation is essential and has been irrigated for 1200 years. An average producer only has a few acres of production.

Our hosts were also very gracious to serve a traditional paella seafood dish, several of their fruits, and sangria.

Fifty years ago the arid desert cliffs and valleys of the Mediterranean were goat and sheep pastures, but with the invention of plastic sheeting, the area has exploded into vegetable production.  The lack of frost, the many hours of sun, combined with the proximity to the European market have transformed the area into a plastic city of high tunnel green houses.  On any land that can support production, plastic sheeting covers the land, and terraces were constructed with topsoil hauled in from other areas. 

We toured Agroiris a large associate-owned distribution center for peppers, cucumbers, melons and assorted vegetables.  Agroiris handles 55 million kilos of California red peppers and 20 million kilos of melons.  A pepper can be picked, distributed, and delivered to Germany, their core market, in less than 2 or 3 days. 
Our hotel tonight overlooks the Mediterranean Sea.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Day 7, La Rambla

Today we boarded the SDARL bus, left the city of Seville and headed for the country. As we traveled the countryside in Spain, we first encountered the flat plains where cereal grains are grown and then through hill country where we could see vast fields of olive trees. Our destination was the village of La Rambla, which is noted for artisan ceramic pottery.

Our class was greeted by Master Ceramist Alfonso Alcaide and his daughter, Soledad. He and his family create and hand paint ceramic items for sale in his shop and around the world.

Alfonso demonstrated how to create pots from a block of clay and then asked if any SDARL class members would like to try molding a pot. 

A few classmates took the opportunity.  Here, Sara Berg creates a masterpiece!

After viewing the showroom and purchasing souvenirs, our class traveled to the Museo De Ceramica.  The museum highlights the history of ceramic pottery.  The ceramic pot was first developed 6500 years ago for the storage of grain.  The museum displays unique pieces of  pottery and also hosts an annual competition of ceramic pots made by Ceramists.  Alfonso and his sister, Cati, are recognized as the most awarded Ceramists in this competition.  Below, SDARL class member Warren Rusche photographs unique pieces.

The class enjoyed a traditional Spanish "tapas" lunch in a local restaurant.

We then traveled to the city of Antequera where we spent the night.

Day 6: Seville, Spain

Our group kicked off our first full day in Seville with a walking tour of the city center on Saturday morning. With a city rooted deep in history, the tour offered a glimpse into how their culture has transformed over the centuries. Seville was originally founded by the Romans, later taken by the Muslims, and eventually converted into a Christian Kingdom. In comparison to our own country where our history dates back to a relatively recent 1776, the thousands of years of history laid out at our feet in Seville was an overwhelming experience.

It would be impossible to tour Seville without mentioning Christopher Columbus. Located on a river close to the sea, Seville was a strategic location for exports and imports. It was from Seville that Christopher Columbus departed with his fleet of ships in search of a western route to India. As we all know, instead Columbus discovered the America’s, and this is something the city of Seville is very proud of.

One of the main highlights on the city tour was the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Sea. This gothic cathedral is the largest in Spain, and is the third largest church in the world. Dating back to 1434, the church boasts elaborate gothic architecture and also houses the remains and tomb of Christopher Columbus. It is also unique in the fact that it is still an active church offering a number of masses to Sevillans each day. Some of the class members even had the opportunity to attend mass on Saturday evening, which was an incredible experience for them.

After the tour, our class had some free time to explore the sights and sounds of Seville. Immersing ourselves into long European lunches and strolling the many side streets in the oldest parts of the city center, it was one of the best ways to truly experience the Spanish culture. Some toured the bull fighting arena, and a few of the class members were even able to score sold-out tickets to the local fĂștbol (soccer) match and witness one of Europe’s favorite past times.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Day 5

This morning we bid farewell to Beja, in South Central Portugal.  Last evening we were warmly welcomed to the city by the robust and endearing local residents.  They eagerly invited us into their late night restaurants to partake in their conversations and celebrations.  In this small city (10,000 residents) they were eager to converse with the visiting Americans.  A ruddy sort of folk with hands callused and minds engaged by their natural trades- farmers, doctors, builders, accountants, and shopkeepers all gathered without social class differentiation in the same establishments- and all had a keen interest in our presence.   Language was a barrier, sometimes crossed with broken words and sentences of part English and part Portuguese, othertimes by warm gestures and reciprocating smiles.

After sunrise we left from the outskirts of the city (maybe a village by European standards), and traversed through the remaining countryside of Southern Portugal on our way to Andalusia (the Southwestern part of Spain.  Rolling hills with Savanna type cork tree forest was intermittently broken by the occasional field of wheat or rye.  Cattle herds and sheep flocks looked on as our coach cut through the rural landscape.  As we ascended toward the border of Spain, the landscape looked a little harsher, a cross between the foothills of Appalachia and the high sagebrush desert of Idaho.  Then, crossing into Spain, the terrain softened and abruptly burst open to reveal a cornucopia of fruit and vegetable production- almonds, potatoes, olive trees, peas, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries.  Our farm visit would focus on strawberries, the principal crop of the area, referred to once by our guide as “red gold.”

Flor de Donana is a moderate sized strawberry producer in the area that was a giant in their niche, organic production.  Strawberries are a hard crop to farm organically, but Flor de Donana had been refining their practices for 16 years.  Solutions had been developed to replace chemical applications with beneficial predator insects, natural additives, and organic fertilizer.  From 100 acres of intense strawberry production, they annually market 4 million kilograms for produce, to all parts of Europe.  Berries were hand picked and placed in crates that would be offered to customers in grocery stores as far as 750 miles away within 24 hours of being plucked.  Nearly a hundred local workers pick the strawberries everyday of the production season- from December through June.  July through October the temporary hoop greenhouses are cover crops are planted in the production fields.  After that time, the rows are reshaped, the greenhouses are rebuilt around them, and the next year’s plants are placed- all plants used are annual varieties.  Interestingly, all strawberry plants need to be started in greenhouses in the North of Spain, where they must receive exposure to cold to be programmed correctly.  The whole system seemed to be managed very efficiently.  We were able to pick and sample some of the produce (all we wanted actually!) and the taste and freshness was excellent.

On our way to Seville, we stopped for lunch at the shrine of El Rocio.  This shrine is a major pilgrimage point for the local area and perhaps all of Spain, where once per year the devout pay their homage to the Virgin Mary.  Our arrival in Seville was just in time for a refreshing supper made by our host families.  There is much to explore in this ancient city.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Day 4

We started out the beautiful sunny day with a farm visit to Quinta da LaGoalva north of Lisbon about 40 miles.  This farm started in the 12th century run by a religious order, including a chapel that is only used currently for family events.  Later in the 18th century it was purchased and operated by the current family.  They operate a very diversified farm that includes, walnuts, cows, corn, peas, potatoes, wheat, lucitano horses (a native Portugal pure-bred horse breed), with emphasis on grapes and wine along with world-award-winning olive oil.  The scope of the farm includes 7,000 hecters and 30 employees.  They are trying to incorporate long lasting traditions with more modern technologies across their farm.

We enjoyed lunch at a local Coruche family restaurant. 

After our lunch we toured the local Coruche County museum that focused on the natural history of the area.  The museum houses the oldest bell found in Portugal from the 13th century. 

We traveled just a few blocks to the Coruche Cork Observatory, a hands on learning center about the cork industry.  Cork is the number one agricultural industry to Portugal, and in Coruche County, 50% of the land is covered by cork oak trees.  Cork continues to be the highest economic valued crops in the country. 

We traveled to Beja to spend the evening to start again tomorrow