Spring Farm Visit to Covilli Brand Organics
By the time it was solar noon the Sonoran sun had melted away all obstacles in the now clear blue sky, fully saturating the fields and fruits below.
We stood in the comforting shade of the nursery, happy to escape the blinding sun of the Empalme Valley. This is the starting point, the simple birthplace of everything Covilli Brand Organics produces.
“We mix our compost and soil blend here,” said Ernesto Moreno, pointing into a large stainless steel tub with one side open revealing the corkscrew blade in the center. Ernesto, one of the partners at Covilli stands proudly in front of us with the sleeves of his western shirt rolled up to his elbows, eagerly anticipating any questions. His western shirt was tucked neatly into his blue jeans, revealing the large oval shaped, gold and silver belt buckle that rested at his mid point.
“After the soil is mixed properly we load it into these trays and send it down this conveyer belt,” Ernesto said as he motioned with his hands above the belt. The next stop was a small vacuum seeder that they soil trays would roll under to receive the seeds that were placed into the dark and nurturing soil. Covilli does not buy or source any outside seedlings or starters, so this is the powerful beginning of every plant on the farm, from soil and seed to flower and fruit…this is Covilli.
After clearing Mexican customs in the small yet efficient Hermosillo International Airport we walk down a bright hallway with glowing tiles floors. Alex Madrigal and Iris Montano-Madrigal stand happily before us, prepared to greet old friends as well as new.
Iris wearing a light colored sundress with her hair pulled high behind her head now stands beside Alex, both bearing cheerful smiles. Alex steps forward to greet us, wearing cargo shorts that end above his knee and sandals that are strapped on to his feet, I immediately think and now see that I am dressed too warm for this climate. Together, we walk out of the airport as the heat of the Mexican sun now rests upon our backs and shoulders. I notice as everyone now squinting, begins to shuffle around in their packs searching for sunglasses.
After a short walk from the sliding glass doors of the airport we load our bags into the deep purple minivan that Iris and Alex have driven. Comfortably, we all jump inside the van to begin the 1.5 hour drive south to Guaymas. As we begin to drive through the city streets of Hermosillo, before entering into the Sonoran desert, I feel a crunch under my feet. Shuffling my feet on the floor, I look down to find a small gathering of Cheerios left behind from a recent snack. I smile to myself as the term “Family Farm” comes to mind and settle in as the cactus and scrub bush dances outside my window.
After breakfast in Guaymas we traveled by truck on the back roads of the Empalme Valley before arriving in the fields of Covilli, early on Saturday morning. The sun had not yet gained total control over the day, allowing the farm workers to move with ease and grace through the plantings of zucchini and Brussels sprouts.
“We have found that planting green kale at the end of every row is helpful in controlling aphids in the Brussels,” Alex said as he pointed down each row of the vibrant brassica plantings.
Terry Poiriez, Alex’s father, moved into this valley in mid-90’s to begin farming organically. “This land was known as great watermelon growing country,” Alex says “this was one of the reasons why Terry ended up here.”
Other than a few spread out dairy operations, Covilli was one of the first and only vegetable farms in this area for the longest time.
“Over the course of the past year, more and more farms have begun to move in around us,” Alex says as he gazes over one of the fences at the end of a zucchini plot. “The farms moving into this area are mostly coming from the Hermosillo area,” Alex says, “they have recently started having issues with water there, forcing them to move.”
After walking the vibrant Brussels and zucchini fields, we hop back into the truck and drive over to the heartbeat of Covilli, the compost yard.
This is where organic production reveals itself, exposing and declaring its support for the earth below. Rows of brightly colored heirloom tomatoes and zucchini melt and decompose becoming part of the compost below.
“We do not bring in any outside compost, everything we use to fertilize the plants comes from here,” Alex says proudly as he gazes past the haze of the composting tomatoes. Ernesto has now joined up with us, as he stands next to the truck and says, “We have been developing this compost program for over 8 years, and it only continues to get better.”
Covilli’s composting program has become so successful that surrounding farms have begun to ask them if they can purchase some of their compost, but at this point they are only keeping up with their own demands.
This is the first year that Covilli is Fair Trade certified, now offering all vegetables organic and fair trade. Alex and Iris were more than accommodating when it came to arranging an opportunity for us to sit and speak with the farmworker committee of Covilli’s Farm. With Iris translating, we all sit together in the shade of Neem trees that were planted by Terry many years ago.
The boundaries of language seemed to disappear, like watching a captivating movie with subtitles, it had turned into a conversation amongst friends. It was interesting to hear and speak of the meaning of Fair Trade on both sides of the table, to share in our support of this program. I left knowing that I would soon return to see that projects that this program has helped to manifest, and the benefits that will come along with them.
“Let’s go and see the Heirlooms,” Alex says and Ernesto quickly responds “house 28,” and off we go into the maze of greenhouses.
Inside these houses reveal a world abuzz with vegetable life. Rows of heirloom tomatoes reach towards sky, with green vines happily supporting giant colorful fruits. Walking the rows between plantings reveal different varieties distinguished by modest wooden stakes that read “Cherokee” or “Zapote.”
The last stop on the farm for all Covilli products is the greatly organized and staffed packing shed, so it seemed suitable that we end there as well.
It was a beehive of activity as many farmworkers were making their way back to shed after lunch. Green plastic bins filled with zucchini, Brussels and cucumbers made their way to the shed via flatbed truck. They were then neatly stacked in the shade awaiting their chance to enter the cool water bath and ride into the shed where they would be packed in Covilli or Ciari boxes based on their grade and quality.
After the water bath, all products travel into the shed on a conveyer belt where they meet the hands of farmworkers ready to decide their fate. “Covilli or Ciari, fancy or extra fancy,” these decisions are so precise, yet made seemingly effortless by the men and women on the packing line.
“Everything except the heirloom tomatoes will make their way through this process,” Alex says as we walk through the shed, moving towards the coolers.
Stepping into the coolers, we feel the first great chill of the day, the sun immediately cleared from our minds as we look at the pallets of produce waiting to ship. All products go from the packing line, through the hydro cooler (if applicable) and into the Covilli cooler, this helps ensures product quality and temperature.
Covilli Farm does not simply grow and pack vegetables. There is a great sense of pride and care taken at every single step of the process. Every tomato and every zucchini that you eat is the result of this complex, nutrient dense and most of all FAIR process.
…from soil and seed to flower and fruit, this is Covilli.