Why Elsanta and the like love Val Venosta
Delicious Val Venosta strawberries from the Schleidhof farm
If you go on an exploratory tour and immerse yourself into the world of garden strawberries, you will soon get enchanted by the pleasant sound of their names – long before you have tried them: Elvira, Julietta, Elsanta, Korona, Primera, Senga Sengana, Donna, Lambada, Sonata, Salsa… A clearly female domain as far as the names of these sweet delicacies are concerned. But this is not all. When it comes to harvesters, the world of strawberries is clearly female as well.
„More than 95% of my harvesters are women. They handle the fruits with more care and attention,“ confirms Reinhard Staffler, president of MEG. Reinhard runs the Schleidhof farm in Tablà near Naturno together with his wife Marika. His “snack garden” with firm and tasty strawberries of about three hectares is situated on steep slopes around his farm. The strong strawberry aroma of his main variety, Elsanta, is particularly seducing. Fruits of this variety are very firm and red with a white core inside.
„Both taste and appearance are perfect and the yield is also very good.“ Elsanta originally comes from the Netherlands. Who would have thought that such a variety would grow so well high above in Val Venosta’s side valleys? Intensive crops such as strawberries always require much diligence. Reinhard protects his plants with a foil tunnel from before the ripening until after the harvest. It keeps rain and hail away from the plants and guarantees a harvest without any interruptions caused by the weather. What looks like a greenhouse for a layperson is, in fact, a large strawberry patch under a simple protective cover that is removed after the harvest. „The foil tunnel is open on all sides. So it never becomes too hot under it because strawberries don’t want it too hot. The heat admittedly confers the fruits a nice red color very quickly but avoids proper growth.“
In summer, strawberries grow best with temperatures that are warm but not too hot, whereas the plant needs much snow in winter, which protects strawberries like Elsanta from the cold wind and thus from desiccation. „This is a very important aspect. During the winter months Val Venosta offers best conditions for the production of strawberries in Val Martello and in other strawberry cultivation areas. The high mountainsides largely keep away the wind and there still is enough snowfall to protect them from the remaining wind. Snow falls soon enough and becomes some kind of igloo above the sensitive plants. When the outside temperature reaches -15°C, there are „pleasant“ -3°C near the plant under the snow.“ Thanks to this natural protection from desiccation plants can winter without any harm until spring. When the snow melts, the leaves below are still green. Val Venosta’s special microclimate also naturally inhibits the emergence of many pests that cause problems in other production areas and require the use of pesticides.
Everything is still OK in Val Venosta, but Reinhard is concerned about worldwide climate change as well. Sometimes absent snowfall at the beginning of winter or no longer reliable snowfall perplex him. There is the risk of dehydration without any snow. It’s a horrible idea that fortunately has never resulted in a worst case scenario so far. Val Venosta still is a promised land for these vitamin C bombs. Reinhard has 25-35 diligent harvesters for the harvest in midsummer. They harvest in the same strawberry field every second or third day and directly put the sensitive fruits into the cardboard boxes for sale. A strawberry field is only completely harvested after some 10–15 pickings in squatting position. Because an intensive crop is very intensive, as the name already suggests.
In 2017, the Staffler family received the Mountain Farmer Award of the South Tyrolean Raiffeisen banks. The Staffler family got 106 extra points due to the steep position of the Schleidhof farm at an altitude of 1,000 meters above sea level.
Reinhard’s wife Marika works at the farm and is an ambassador for farm products in schools as well. Reinhard and Marika also cultivate cherries and apricots. A calmer time awaits the Staffler family after the harvest. At least as far as strawberries are concerned. The family also lives on dairy farming. Reinhard has 20 Braunvieh cows. The cow’s milk is daily delivered to the Meraner Milchhof milk cooperative where „frozen yogurt“ currently is a bestseller and tastes especially good with fresh strawberries from the Schleidhof farm above Naturno. But Reinhard’s favorite is a homemade specialty: strawberry champagne prepared by his wife Marika. The correct and secret dosage of champagne and very fine strawberry puree develops special aromas and appeals to taste buds that are activated by the strawberry aroma of Elsanta and the like.
Either way, strawberries from Val Venosta are worth an exploratory tour. But please be careful. They are addictive!