At Vall de Cabiscol, animals graze freely in the farm while natural, seasonal farming practices are used. They grow several varieties of the typical Mediterranean trees in order to extend the growing periods. In addition, they try to adjust the prices so their products are accessible to as many people as possible. “Everyone has the right to eat well,” says Carles. Along with his father, they have started this project together.
We interviewed Carles to understand his thoughts, values and ideas behind La Vall de Cabiscol.
Please tell us about La Vall de Cabiscol. How did it start?
My father is a very special person. He has been an entrepreneur since he was very young, and he always reinvested his money in more companies or purchasing more land. Some years ago, he grew some olive trees and he started making Cocons olive oil. The business was doing well so one day he bought La Vall de Cabiscol farm. His initial idea was to use the farmhouse for tourism and continue planting olive trees for making more olive oil.
Why did you change the direction of the initial idea?
We started working on the farm and we quickly realized how rich the land was for farming. It was a shame to destroy everything in order to plant olive trees. We opted to maintain what was there and plant all kinds of Mediterranean trees with the idea of naturally extending the growing seasons. At the same time, since there was a big forest, we started buying animals and allowed them to graze freely around the farm.
How was the restoration work of La Vall de Cabiscol?
We decided to restore the farmhouse while maintaining the original structure. We worked by hand as much as possible. We found similarities between the Italian region of Tuscany and our area since similar vegetation grows in both places. So we used their rural style farms as an inspiration for building ours. We didn’t bring anything from outside. We built everything from the materials we found there. It was a beautiful project that took about four years. It was the best time of my life.
You talk about natural cycle and integrated and self-sufficient agriculture. Could you please explain La Vall de Cabiscol farming philosophy?
At the beginning, we wanted our entire production to be organic. Then, we realized it was not the path we wanted to follow. We decided to complement natural practices that farmers have always followed with today’s technology. For instance, we combine homeopathy in order to strengthen the cultivation and make it more resistant to pests and diseases, with biological control. We also let all kinds of weeds to grow and fulfill their role in the ecosystem. It is a great mixture of tradition and science.
You opened two shops in Barcelona instead of selling to distributors. Why have you opted for vertical integration of your business?
When we started production we began selling to our neighboring towns. My father however, wanted to sell our products in Barcelona. His vision was to fill the shops in Barcelona with our products and then the people would visit our farm on the weekends. He came to Barcelona and spent one full day in a taxi looking for a perfect location for his store. He believes that taxi drivers know the city better than anyone, so he shared his business concept with his driver and asked him to drive through the different neighborhoods until he found the perfect space. And he did. It is where we currently have one of our stores.
What are the advantages of the vertical integration?
Integration is key to making our project work. It allows us the freedom to pick the fruit when it’s tastiest, which is at its ripest point. Most of the farmers who sell to distributors need pick their fruit when it’s not yet ripe in order to ensure their entire production will be sold. Another advantage for us is that if the fruit is damaged and we cannot sell it, we can simply give it to our hens instead of throwing it away. When you pick fruit at its ripest point you are exposed to some risks such as the fruit being bitten by a bird or a small worm may have gotten inside the fruit or vegetable. A supermarket will never buy fruit that is not in perfect condition. Since we do not need to sell to them, we do not have to stress about this issue. We can take this risk because we are our own clients.
What have been some key decisions for making the shop running so well?
We have been building the shop slowly, always being true to our values. In the beginning we had such small amounts of fruits and vegetables available we needed to supplement our product offerings. People actually came in and asked if we were selling furniture. Staying true to our values, we started selling products from other artisan producers from the Delta area, such as rice or wine. We continue to sell those products today. When we started producing larger quantities, we arranged delivery to the store three days per week: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Customers already know about this and they organize themselves accordingly. Since the production of certain products (i.e. eggs) is limited, customers will reserve their requests in advance.
Besides the shop, you have a restaurant where you offer a simple and honest cuisine. What is your background as a cook and what is the concept of the restaurant?
We decided to offer home cooked meals and people liked it. I had cooked at home but never in a restaurant setting. At the beginning, I used to call my grandma and my mother everyday. As the success of the meals grew, we started placing more tables. Today, I am pleased to say that we are serving lunch and dinner practically every day of the week.
“Not everyone can do everything, but everyone can do at least one thing really well.”
You have created a very nice environment in your shop. The people who work here are all very friendly and casual. You seem like one big family. How have you created this environment?
We are a team of young people from the Ebro Delta area. They are people I knew from before and that helped to create such friendly and casual atmosphere. We want to deal with customers in a very natural way and we want them to feel at home.
At the same time, I like to give a lot of responsibility to my team. I set their goals and let them achieve them by themselves. I believe it is positive to give responsibility to the people you work with. They feel like they are part of a team and they are more committed. I think managing teams has a lot to do with seeing the virtues and attributes in each person. Not everyone can do everything, but everyone can do at least one thing really well.
How was the change from living in the countryside to living in the city?
I grew up in the countryside in the middle of olive and carob trees. At the beginning, it took me a while to get used to the life in the city. I missed the countryside so much. But then I started seeing it from a different perspective. I realized that we are showcasing our land, defending the Ebro Delta philosophy, our products and our people. Knowing this, I am no longer homesick. It has given me a great sense of fulfillment and happiness.