GITH Magazine Delves Into The Treasures, Trials And Tribulations Of Ta Mena.
Once upon a time…
....there was a rather special lady called Carmena and like many others, she had some land on Gozo. Back then everyone had a piece of land to tend but hers was far away from the main happenings on the island. It was quiet yet vast. Carmena listened to the land and the earth was happy. Crops were aplenty and her work continued. She grew tomatoes, pears, apples, olives, lemons, capers and more. There was so much to go around, too many for her family to eat so she started to make pastes and jams to avoid waste and give to her friends. But her bounty was overflowing so she had an idea. Carmena decided to open a shop in her field. A shop? In a field? The rest of the island thought she had gone mad, but to Carmena, it was simple. She tends, she grows, she sells, and the people are full and happy and there is no waste. Carmena was clever. She knew tourism was starting. She got chickens and other animals and grew the farm and in turn produce and the people started to come. They were interested in her work and fell in love with Camena's wares. People wanted to know how she made her jams and pastes and buy them to take home to foreign lands. Ta Mena was born.
However partisan this tale has become over the years, all is forgiven when you hang out with Joseph. In fact, I challenge you to spend just ten minutes in his company before this slight, spirited gentleman will no doubt touch your hearts. Joseph is the son of Carmena, and he has embodied every part of his mother’s dream and made it his life mission to work with and tend the land producing local, organic produce to serve his community. GITH first met Joseph in his shop in Xewkija. We had a tour of the vast background workings of what was at that time, bitterly silent and lifeless due to Covid19.
The meeting lasted quite some time and was full of surprises. After the tour of the factory, it had become painstakingly obvious how COVID had affected not only the business but him as a person. Having recently fully recovered from a life-threatening illness he was fit and ready to be back doing what he does best, but the universe had other plans. All of a sudden, Joe wasn’t doing his daily rounds on the estate, tending the land, serving friendly faces with his wife Margaret in the shop in Xaghra. He found himself at a loss, and so instinctively he poured his efforts into cultivating something quite different.
the Lockdown ARTIST
‘Follow me’, Joseph remarked, and we duly followed him up the stairs to a room that resembled that of a professional artist. It was brimming with paintings, easels, paints, cloths and canvasses and the room carried a certain energy that I can only describe as electric. Whilst Joseph had been made ‘Ta Mena-redundant’, he reignited a childhood hobby and started to paint and once he started, he just could not stop!
‘I loved to paint at school.’ Joseph smiled. I saw a glint in his eye that I’d not picked up on until now. He picked up a painting of a classic Gozitan landscape. “I started this particular painting in 1975, I finished it 45 years later.” A jolt of astonishment ran through me as I gazed at the countless canvases dotted around the room. He had been truly busy! There were landscapes upon landscapes, landmarks and abstracts. He had even made a small bed under the table – complete evidence he was in the zone. This room was fuelled with love and if this isn’t testament to a man who is utterly dedicated to creating and finishing what he started, I do not know what is.
Ta Mena Estate
Our next encounter was at Ta Mena Estate itself. We walked the land with Joseph and everything fell into place. GITH were treated to experience first-hand; the vast 24 hectares of agricultural land and their mission became crystal clear. Just like Joe’s mother who knew tourism was coming – way back when, similarly Joe has understood that a huge part of the future of tourism on the Maltese islands, is agritourism. It is without a doubt, his calling, to continue the way of the land, produce delicious home-grown products and offer guests a culture-rich experience whilst they undergo a treat for all five senses.
As you’re taken through the winding vineyards and fields you understand fully the natural cycles of vegetables, crops and fruit trees, how products are traditionally processed and you can actually feel how much love goes into all of it. We learned there were over 2000 trees across the estate, 700 of which are olive trees. There are 1500 fruit trees in the Orange Grove consisting of pears, apples, figs, olives, melons, carobs, peaches and citrus fruits and more and we were not surprised that Ta Mena provides some of the best local restaurants with fundamental ingredients for their menus.
Joseph is the perfect tour guide. Passion and purpose personified. All mixed in with a cracking sense of humour. But there’s a darker side to the story.
There is underlying turmoil and he is lacking support in all directions. This year there has been no rain, which might take its toll on harvesting the wine, but he will harvest it all the same. Unlike many others, who seem to just abandon their fields and watch them dry up over the summer months. There is, of course, a long list of things that Joseph needs to utilize the space effectively. From funding to landscaping and finding capable workers able to tackle the difficult and taxing tasks of a working farm. Quite frankly he is starting to lose hope. “People think it’s easy to harvest grapes, for example, believe me, it’s not,” he declares, “it’s one thing doing it for fun, the next as work.”
Perhaps most importantly, and something that lies firmly in the belly of GITH Magazine’s values, there is a lack of local support for Joseph and the other farmers on the island. The ‘shopping local’ ethos is still not fiercely in the hearts of the locals and buying decisions are made purely on cost. I personally don’t understand why people would prefer to save a euro or two, buy imported products that have a low shelf-life and give their money to a big supermarket chain over buying from a local farmer? This simply has to change.
We need to see more conscious buying behaviour on the island. We need people to realise that they honour themselves by buying from local farmers.
TIME FOR DRASTIC CHANGE
Ta Mena is steeped in Gozo history and culture and Joseph is an integral part of the agricultural stratosphere on this island. He is wise to the land and armed with a foolproof and long-term vision to continue his important work building a sustainable business model that should be part of Gozo’s future legacy and lead the way for others.
“The farmer is the person who can take care of the environment. He can produce the best food, so he needs to be sustained …and we are not being helped.” Says Joe. Yes. This is about sustainability, the future, It’s about preserving not just the treasures of Ta Mena – but Gozo.
This sustainable business model is fail safe. One thing (the agriculture) sustains the other (tourism.) And Joseph is completely right – an ever-growing number of tourists are wanting much more from their visits abroad. More than just hot weather, sand and sea. People want to get under the skin of their destination. To do what the locals do. Eat how the locals eat and know they are giving back in some way. Isn’t that part of the circle of life?
We need Joseph to succeed. We need him to light the torch for generations to come. Otherwise – we will be looking at a very different world. It’s about the environment and climate change and protecting things for the future. It’s his legacy and his mission is for the greater good.
Joe Says Do These Things Right Now;
- Shop local. Local Genuine Fresh.
- Reduce Waste & Avoid Rubbish.
- Respect Nature.
I believe we are on this earth to strive for the truest alignment. Which involves doing something we love whilst serving others, and if life is evaluated this way, then Josephs life so far has been a rip-roaring success. Let’s get territorial and emotional about protecting the likes of Joseph Spiteri. It’s now or never.
Watch Our Interview with Joseph Spiteri At Ta Mena Here.
Pop into Ta’ Mena Estate Shop on Rabat Road, Xaghra for all your local produce.