When sustainability becomes a family matter

The Horoszczuk family has undergone many changes since they began to walk a path of continual improvement in 2012, but their main achievement has been to turn sustainability into a habit.

Carlos arrived in Dos de Mayo, a small town in east northern Argentina, in ‘98. His family is made up of Irma, his wife, and their three children: Cristian, Alex, and Nahiara. Their farm has 24 hectares, which is considered a small property in the context of Argentina.

“The first steps were the hardest,” admits Carlos, who had to build his home and his farm from scratch. Like many other small farmers, the Horoszczuk family diversifies their production to mitigate economic risks. If a crop goes wrong one year, there are other items to provide a complementary income. They grow yerba mate, commonly grown in the region, and tea, which they sell to the cooperative they are part of. They also do a little logging, have an animal paddock and maintain a hectare and a half of native forest.

Their farm is located in what is known as the Atlantic Forest, a tropical forest home to the Iguazú Falls that contains the vast majority of Argentina’s biodiversity.

Carlos’s family has been participating in the Solidaridad tea program since 2012. Today his property has become a model farm where other producers can see the long-term impact of an intervention in good practices.

“What motivated me to join was access to markets and caring for the environment,” explains Carlos “because when high-density crops are grown, springs of water and the environment are not taken into account.”

Improved life quality

Carlos perceives the benefits on both economic and environmental levels.

Since I came here the changes have been many; we can produce more with lesser costs, because we use less herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers, since there is a green cover. And if there are more volumes, there is more money.” – Carlos Horoszczuk

Housing was another leap in the family’s quality of life: “What I produce allows me to meet the installments of my 30-year loan. It is the only way a small farmer like me can access a masonry home. Before we had a wooden house and when it was cold outside, it was cold inside. When it was hot outside, it was hot inside. Now we have a septic chamber, the nascent is cared for. It is another life.”

Change of habits

“I take part in all the training sessions of the Cooperative. You learn a lot in training, you learn more and more. The hardest thing to deal with was water, putting drinking troughs for the animals, so that they wouldn’t enter the streams and protected areas, where the springs and the wetlands are.” In fact, in the area there is no potable water network, families drink water from the surrounding streams. If animals access water sources they may pollute them, risking not only the farm’s family, but the rest of the neighbors downstream.

At first, it was an adjustment having to patrol the farm daily to verify that the cows had not entered the wetlands, but now it has become a routine. If he doesn’t go, his son Alex goes. In order to protect the quality of the water, they also keep the fringes of vegetation bordering their stream, and “where there is no shade, we implant native species. If possible, native fruit trees for the birds to reproduce.”

Another change for the family was how weeds are viewed. In Misiones province, the rainfall regime causes the surface layer of the soil, the one that is richest in nutrients, to be easily eroded if lacking a protective vegetation cover. But the community’s common sense regarded the presence of weeds in the farm roads as a sign of neglect and disorder. “When I saw a weed in the grass I would immediately apply a herbicide,” says Carlos. The consequences were not only harmful to the environment but, mainly, to his business. “Before, when I applied fertilizer, the rain would wash it out. If the sun rose for 3 or 4 days, the earth would dry up at once because there was no cover on it. Today I realize that we must keep a certain amount of weed to produce,” he admits.

Their increasing awareness of the interdependence between the environment and long-term business also became evident in relation to the management of agrochemicals. “We learned we shouldn’t grab our equipment and apply chemicals whenever we want to. I use the minimum amount possible, only if necessary, after monitoring and getting advice from my cooperative’s technician.”

Both Carlos and his oldest son, Cristian, also mention the greater attention they now pay to safety and health. “In training we were introduced to what the protective equipment was, the different peaks and the backpack to apply chemicals, and we participated in many demonstrations,” explains Carlos, and his son adds: “what we gained at family level was increased personal care. Now we do more regular check-ups, and we use protective equipment, things that were not done before due to lack of knowledge.”

Sustainability as family heritage

Irma Horoszczuk with Jill Alexander from S&D Coffee & Tea

“We help each other, be it at home or at the farm, we work together side by side with my wife,” says Carlos. “I take place in everything except when applying agrochemicals,” adds Irma. “I get up, tend to the animals, the family orchard, the plants. And each one of my children knows his obligations.”

Almost a decade has passed since Solidaridad’s field officers first met the Horocszuck family, and they have seen their three children grow up accompanying their parents to trainings.

Cristian, the oldest of Irma and Carlos’ children, is already 25 years old. He graduated from an agro-technical school, began working as a technician for the cooperative his family is member of, and ended up as a field technician in the producer support project that Solidaridad carried out with S&D Coffee & Tea to export Rainforest Alliance certified tea to the US.

 “I acquired technical knowledge at
school and brought some of those ideas to the farm. I talked to my father about what we could implement and how to do it, always keeping in mind we wanted to protect the environment while producing as much as possible. A couple of years later, the certification programme was launched and, since we were already handling some concepts, we set sails.” When asked about the future, he does not hesitate: “I’m passionate about farming. Currently, besides helping with the family business, I work for the cooperative, but I work more in the field, and I like the contact with the farms. Whenever I can, I come home and help. What I’m passionate about is producing the land.”

Alex, the middle brother, is 18 years old. He alternates three weeks in the same agro technical school his older brother attended, and one at home. When he is at home, and not busy with homework, he helps Irma in the orchard, with the animals, and housework. Little by little he is also taking up crop growing tasks. “My idea is to continue in the field, follow in the footsteps of my brother and my father and try to improve day by day, seeing if I can get myself into the technical workforce.”

“The idea is that they continue and take care of what we did,” Carlos completes, “because for us the farm is all, we gave everything for the farm, starting from scratch was not easy. In 20, 30 years, I imagine my children will follow what we did, because I am teaching them, I take them to trainings. It’s about keeping everything as it is from 2012 until now.” In line with this, any decisions about the farm are taken within the family group, during nap time or in the evenings.

“We don’t just focus on performance, but also on general care. We look to the future,” says Cristian. “With technical support, you go along and improve day by day, but when it ends, it’s not the end,  learning remains. If you lived your experience and realized that it yielded, that what you did was productive for you, you are not going to throw it overboard and continue as you did before, without caring. Even more if you realize that by doing things well, the yield is greater, the profitability is greater, and you always continue to win,” adds Alex.

“If I had to advise my neighbors, I would tell them to do it, because it is the only way to save the planet, the environment and that children continue to listen to a bird sing,” concludes Carlos while a bird makes itself heard.

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