Turkish apples conserve Lake Egirdir
Turkish apples conserve Lake Egirdir
Turkey is geographically divided into seven areas or regions: Marmara region, Aegean region, Black Sea region, Central Anatolia Region, Mediterranean region, East and Southeast Anatolia. These regions greatly differ in terms of vegetation and weather conditions. In the north, especially on the Black Sea Coast, there are extensive coniferous forests and economically utilised hazelnut, corn and tea plantations, in the south there tend to be fruit and cotton plantations..
We obtain ripe, juicy Turkish figs and other fruits in various projects across all of Turkey, however mainly in Isparta, Basköy and Elbistan.
Our apples come from an organic farming project in Isparta near to Lake Egirdir. A lake which, due to its size, enjoys particular importance as a source of drinking water. In order to reduce environmental pollution from pesticides that are used in conventional farming, an organic cultivation project was launched in 1999 in collaboration with the Turkish government. Through “Yalvac-Egirdir”, a total area of approx 1,300ha was converted to organic farming and the water of Lake Egirdir became drinkable once again for the population.
500ha of the newly created area is being used for organic apple cultivation. The apples cultivated in this area are transported to the family-run processing facility MAVIDENIZ for further processing. MAVIDENIZ has been based in Isparta since 2007, directly in the heart of the Turkish cultivation area for apples. On an operational area of 20,000qm, only organic products are processed in line with the latest technical standards and stored. The apples are either processed into dried fruit or high quality apple juice concentrate on site, which is used in as a sweetener in some of MorgenLand’s products or is sold as “MorgenLand Apfelsüße” (MorgenLand Apple Sweetener) in a practical dispenser bottle as an alternative to household sugar.
In the small mountain village of Basköy, which is located approximately 85km away from Izmir, 40 organic farmers have been carrying out organic farming on an area of 95ha for many years. Turkish figs are cultivated there at high altitudes above 750m. The climatic conditions of low precipitation and average temperatures of 18 to 21°C are optimum for ripening these aromatic fruits. At the end of August, the fully ripened fruits are harvested by hand and transported to the drying areas where figs are laid out on grilles to dry in the sun. After approx. 5 to 10 days, the figs are hand-picked and transported to the collection point where they are checked, stored and packaged.
The cultivation areas for these apricots, which have been organically farmed since the 70s, are situated at high altitudes of the Taurus mountain in the Turkish region of Elbistan. The apricots which have grown in the clear mountain air have a distinctive aroma. At the end of July, the fruits have ripened and are picked by hand. After a few days drying in the sun, the apricots are pitted. They are then subject to a final drying process of three to four days – once again, in the sun. They are packed into crates and transported to the project’s internal processing facilities where their quality is checked and they are washed and sorted.
Things get started at five o’clock in the morning. The large metropolis of Izmir, affectionately known as the “Pearl of the Aegean” is still sleeping, under a dark, warm sky. The air is still. The goal of the journey is the home of the MorgenLand organic cherries: a small Anatolian village called Destigin near Konya. The route leads to the east, in the direction of the rising sun, to the expansive landscapes of Turkey. Individual farmers can be seen in fields; sometimes a shepherd with his herd of sheep.
This country has 2.3 times the surface area of Germany and borders on eight neighbouring countries. There are 98 inhabitants per square kilometre here, compared to 229 inhabitants per square kilometre in Germany. Turkey extends over two continents, Europe and Asia, which has the lion’s share with 98 per cent. The country is divided into seven regions, which differ greatly in terms of climate and vegetation. It is therefore not unusual to travel through two climatic zones when travelling through Turkey: from the Mediterranean Aegean region with its hot summers and mild winters through to the destination Anatolia with its continental climate which is characterised by hot, dry summers and cold, snowy winters.
Thanks to the good climatic and geographical situation, the farming conditions are ideal. Almost half of the country is used for agricultural purposes and the diversity is impressive. Compared to all other countries, Turkey is the most important producer of hazelnuts, figs, apricots and cherries. The country also exports spices, apples, strawberries, sultanas, melons, pistachios, walnuts, cucumbers, chickpeas, lentils and honey in considerable quantities.
Organic-quality nuts and dried fruits such as sultanas, apricots and figs are also amongst the main exports. In addition to cherries, these are the exact products which MorgenLand also cultivates there. Indeed, organic sultanas and figs were the first projects which MorgenLand launched in Turkey more than 30 years ago.
As his name hints, Orhan Yilmaz, MorgenLand’s founder, has close links to Turkey: he was born in the city of Antakya. He came to Germany at the age of 18 to study chemistry. While studying for his degree, he opened one of the first organic shops in Bremen, the “Sonnenblume” (the Sunflower). Soon, organic foods came to inspire Yilmaz more than chemical formulae and his father gave him a great deal of support with his new passion; he sent his son a large quantity of organic dried fruits which marked the start of the wholesale operation and MorganLand’s inception in 1979.
Back on the road, we continue in the direction of Anatolia. It is not only the climate that changes over the course of the journey from Izmir to Destigin. With each kilometre that we travel, we seem to be going back in time. A horse pulls a cart on a country road and is overtaken by an SUV. The route leads through villages which seem to be exclusively inhabited by men. From teenagers to old men, they sit at tables at tea stalls. An extreme contrast to Western urban life in the Aegean metropolis.
Why does Turkey seem so heterogenous in parts, split between tradition and modernity? A look into its history may reveal the answer: as a Republic, it is still very young. It was only in 1923 that Mustafa Kemal (“Atatürk”, which is Turkish for “father of Turks”) founded the new Turkish centralised state with the objective of making a radical break with the past of the Ottoman Empire and to modernise the country according to the Western image. He implemented both a strict separation between religion and the state as well as unrestricted public authority emanating from the people. The Gregorian calendar was introduced. The Caliphate and the Sharia were stripped of power, but religious belief is firmly imprinted on life and the traditions of people in rural areas are stronger than those in urban areas.
Ahmet Remzi Kizilcay grew up on a farm near Cay and has been in the organic business for 18 years now. Before becoming a self-employed organic farming consultant with a focus on apples and cherries, he was an organic inspector for a long time. Kizilcay advises farmers on all aspects of organic. farming and provides support in the process
of certification. For eight years now, he has been a very important partner for MorgenLand. Like all stone fruits, cherries are also very susceptible to damage, meaning that extensive expert knowledge is vital for outstanding quality. And that is what Kizilcay can provide. Bedirnam Yilmaz is a doctor and pharmacist. In her cell research studies, she worked on the nutritional and physiological effects of pomegranate oil. Yilmaz is an expert on the intrinsic value of cherries. Her surname is in fact not a coincidence – Bedirnam and Orhan Yilmaz are siblings. Macit Recepoglu is an industrial engineer and has been a project manager at MorgenLand for twelve years. He lays the foundations for farming, cultivation and export. Sometimes he acts as a translator too, like on this trip.
The area around Konya is characterised by its organic agriculture. That’s ideal, as it means that there is no contamination from conventional farming. The village of Destigin is 1,600 metres above sea level and is therefore also protected from insects and fungi. That’s because in very cold, snowy winters of minus 30 degrees Celsius, insects are hardly able to survive.
The bright red fruits in the cherry plantation can be seen glowing from a long way off. The cherries are cultivated in an area of 550 hectares. This produces a yield of 1,700 tonnes. Between the cherry trees, strawberries are also planted in rows.
Cherries have been cultivated here for many generations now. There has in fact always been organic farming here, the farm has been certified for twelve years now. Picking is done as a community: first the fruits are harvested from the fields of one farmer, then from the fields of the next. It is important to be careful when picking the fruit. Otherwise, the buds of the fruit can be damaged, meaning that no fruit will grow the next year. In October, farmers look after future tree growth. Young saplings are “propped up” on the thickly rooted lower trunk of an old tree. From the outside, the area is tightly bound, the branch and trunk grow together here. After around three years, the young cherry tree will bear fruit for the first time. The yield of fruit increases over the course of a tree’s life to approximately 200 kg per year. The “weeds” between trees are traditionally removed with a scythe and fed to the animals of a neighbouring organic cattle farm, which in turn provides manure for the cherry trees. Planting lupins improves the soil quality due to the nitrogen they provide. The water used to irrigate the cherry trees comes from the nearby artificial Beysehir lake. The deep blue water of the lake is surrounded by massive mountainous rocks and it consists exclusively of pure rainwater and water from melted snow.
All agricultural work is done considerately and in harmony with nature; human intervention always takes account of natural cycles. This is where tradition and modernity melt into one. This traditional agriculture which is closely bound to nature also corresponds to future-oriented organic agriculture. Farmers are supported by meetings, which are held regularly. Kizilcay explains: “Academics from the specialist departments at the university attend these meetings, as do representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture. Farmers therefore have the opportunity to further their training and to share knowledge. Representatives from the entire production chain are invited and there are experts who specialise in planting, parasite prevention and other topics. Everyone is able to profit from the dialogue. Everyone helps each other.”
“I have been working with MorgenLand for many years now and I am very grateful for this. MorganLand is creating great opportunities for the future: every year, new projects are created. It is a real partnership, a totally different form of teamwork. Right from the beginning, MorgenLand’s presence was very personal. The intensive exchange and support bore fruit in the truest sense of the word: since our cooperation with MorgenLand began, production has increased enormously.
At the beginning, we were producing 20 tonnes, now we produce 200 tonnes and the trend is on the up” said Kizilcay about the cooperation. For him, quality is particularly important to him and that’s another point which ties him so closely to MorgenLand. Here, cultivation is regularly monitored, documented and is thus transparent at any time. He adds earnestly: “We are responsible for the fruit we cultivate and process here. If we can improve year by year, that brings us satisfaction.”
When asked “What is the best thing about your work?” he responded: “It’s the moment when somebody telephones us to say: The cherries are of excellent quality and have top laboratory values” answers Kizilcay, with a smile.
The cherries are transported from Destigin to Torbali in the early hours of the morning. Here, they are processed into dried cherries or jarred cherries. The crucial factors when drying cherries are the climate, high temperatures of 38 degrees Celsius and above, and low precipitation. Since the beginning, the two-hectare farm has been expanded in successive stages and the plans for the next expansion have already been made.
At half past five in the morning, the delivery of cherries arrives. Each delivery is firstly subject to a strict quality check. In order to do this, MorgenLand works in collaboration with laboratories who check the cherries for their microbiological values and pesticide exposure. In the meantime, the fruits are stored at five degrees Celsius in a cold-storage room. If the cherries meet all the quality criteria, they will undergo further processing.
The cherries are washed, de-stalked, washed again, inspected and pitted. The pitting machine has 88 hollows into which the cherries slide from the conveyor belt. The pitting process takes seconds. The cherries are inspected again after this step: Have all the pits been removed? Is the quality high enough? If the cherries aren’t being jarred, the sun will do the rest of the work in a large open air storage area. In five to six days, the cherries will lose seven eighths of their moisture. When the cherries are dried, the workers will once again check the fruit and will remove the cherries which are not up to scratch. Finally, the cherries are packed into cardboard boxes. From that point onwards, they will keep for around three years.
To preserve cherries in jars, the fruits are placed into glasses which have been washed at high temperatures. Their own cherry juice is then added which was previously retained at the pitting machine stage. In a large sieve container, the closed jars are then treated with hot steam for 25 minutes to preserve them. After another quality inspection in Germany, the cherries are then packed and labelled by MorgenLand.