Farming for production and education – D’Onghia Estate S.A.S

D’Onghia Estate is a farm estate in a strategic location in Puglia, from where you can visit the Trulli (traditional round stone houses) of Alberobello, Gioia del Colle, Bari, Putignano. One element of it is an educational farm to introduce children to take care of animals. Cherry, apricots and almond trees are cultivated organically on the farm area.

The farm        

In 1964, the D’Onghia Estate was purchased by Gianvito D’Onghia, the grandfather of the current owners, who established a livestock farm specialized in the breeding of dairy cows and in the cultivation of fodder and wheat. In 2005, the current owner Nicola and his cousins modernized the business, focusing on organic farming and sustainable crop production. The farm covers an area of about 50 hectares, where a variety of fruit trees is cultivated:

  • Cherry trees with the Ferrovia, Bigarraux, Giorgia, Lapins, Sweet Heart, Staccato varieties
  • Two hectares of French apricots, of the Farbaly and Fartoly varieties
  • Two hectares of table grape vineyard of the Midnight Beauty black grape varieties, Scarlotta red grape and Sofia white grape.
  • Seven hectares of almond trees of the local Filippo Cea and Genco varieties,
  • Two hectares of pomegranate of Israeli varieties Wonderfull and Spanish Mollar 100
  • Fioroni, figs, pears, persimmons, mulberries

D’Onghia Estate has a homestead, consisting of three rooms and three apartments, where guests can spend their time on the farm, surrounded by nature or they can visit the characteristic territory of the Trulli of Alberobello, Putignano, Locorotondo. For children, there are educational paths on the farm and in the surrounding forest.

Along the surrounding forest runs a one-kilometre path, bordered by a fence and interspersed with eleven gymnastics stations, available to customers who want to exercise in direct contact with nature. All the gymnastic tools are illustrated in detail to the guests by information plaques. They are suitable for beginners as well as for professionals and can be selected according to the degree of difficulty. At the entrance of the forest, there is an area equipped with wooden playground equipment with tables and benches.

Development paths               

In 2005 Nicola started to diversify D’Onghia Estate away from its cherry monoculture. Nicola has diversified the variety of crops by planting seedless grapes, pomegranate, apricots and almonds. Diversification has not always been successful, for example, apricot and pomegranate will be eliminated in the near future. As a business development strategy, the owners were seeking activities outside of agricultural production. They decided to restructure the farm by starting an agritourist business. Through an analysis of the local touristic dynamics, it became obvious that the tourists appreciate outdoor activities and sports. Consequently, the first equipped path was set up. Subsequently, farm facilities were opened to schools and the educational farm was born. Teaching on the farm is more a social than an economic activity. , The teaching is based on the idea of showing the children respect for the forest as a habitat.

Business model                       

The main company profit is generated by productive activity. The opening of the agritourism allowed to diversify the economic income. Producing summer fruit, most of the income comes in autumn and winter, while the agritourism works mainly in spring and summer and guarantees immediate return. The company’s objective is to create a self-sufficient company, minimising purchases by a self-production of most of goods and energy that agritouristic and farm activities need. Currently D’Onghia Estate is producing energy with photovoltaic panels, are reducing plant protection treatments, improving the fertility of the soil through application of own cattle manure.  The introduction of new activities also allows creating innovation and social activities: days of self-harvesting in the company for disadvantaged people, yoga in the forest, etc.

Moreover, D’Onghia Estate is involved in regional projects on innovation in the organic agriculture sector (PSR-Rural development programme) and in PIF (Integrated supply chain Programme).

Innovative practices                                         

The farm D’Onghia Estate has chosen, since its beginning, to build its future on organic farming and on sustainable farming. It has two photovoltaic plants for its own consumption and it has adopted the permanent grassing technique in the fruit orchard in order to preserve the ecosystem and to improve the fertility of the soil. These choices have been made to offer and guarantee the consumers a better product, with a low impact on the surrounding environment.

Future                                        

The farm aims to increase the farmed area by renting or buying new land: small companies often face difficulties to stay in the market caused by high fixed costs and enlarging the farm may allow economies of scale. They also want to join business networks with other local companies in order to create short sales channels. Another objective for the future is to introduce new crops.

Tips for the learner                                           

The owner recommends to new entrant farmers to be very careful when it comes to the choice of crops and varieties that you want to cultivate. In particular, he suggests to conduct a thorough analysis in order to identify final markets and most demanded crops.

Anything else?                         

The farmer underlined the importance of being involved in a continuous process of training and updating, in order to be ready to implement innovation and adopt new tools. It is only possible to be successful in a dynamic market through continuous development.

Authors: Donatella Grasso, Annalisa De Boni, Rocco Roma