Rio Negro, Chile, Dec 25 (EFE). Urbanites in southern Chile’s Los Lagos region are flocking to this remote town on weekends for the chance to pick their own produce at a farm run by a pair of Rio Negro natives who abandoned city life to raise their kids in the country.
“They are very fresh. You can see them, pick them yourself and try them,” one customer said while carrying baskets of strawberries.
On a rare dry, sunny morning, owner Lucy Albizu recounts that “more than 138 families” came to shop over the previous weekend.
The farm lies at the end of a stretch of unpaved road in Rio Negro, 90km (56mi) from Puerto Montt, the regional capital.
“People want to know where the things we’re consuming come from, that’s why we decided to open the way for the customer to come and see how it’s done,” Albizu told EFE about the vision behind the venture, which she and husband Moises Arimendi launched eight years ago.
Residents of Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas, 70km away, often bring their children, “who believe that produce is born on supermarket shelves,” Lucy says.
Albizu and Arimendi grew up in Rio Negro before moving away in search of opportunity, but they decided to return for the sake of their kids, now 16 and 8.
“We wanted to give our children healthy food,” Lucy says, stressing that she and her husband don’t use chemicals on their farm, which began as a subsistence operation.
Later, they started selling produce on the roadside until Arimendi suggested that they turn the farm into a Pick-Your-Own market of the kind found in Europe and in North America.
For the customers, the attraction goes beyond the food, Arimendi says.
“There are many who come for therapy, recommended by doctors, to do country things and disconnect from their jobs and stress,” he explains.
The couple, who started with a spread of 3 hectares (7.4 acres), later leased an additional 7 hectares and the farm now creates employment for eight other families.
Roughly 40 percent of the produce is consumed by the owners and the employers, while the remainder is harvested by customers.
The Albizu-Arimendi farm is one of roughly 1,200 Pick-Your-Own operations in Chile, according to data compiled by the Institute of Agricultural Development.
Until recently, agriculture in Los Lagos has been dominated by dairy farming and cattle ranching, but an increase in rainfall has made growing produce a viable enterprise, Albizu says.