Based just outside of Lagos, Quinta do Pincho blueberry farm will be returning for their fifth season of gracing the Algarve with their blueberries.
Now is the time to be investing our cash back into the local economy. One of the best ways to do this is to eat local, get to know local farmers, and discover local produce, such as the wonderful blueberries from Quinta do Pincho.
Chris Wells, an unconventional man and retired doctor, landed in the Algarve back in 1998. He stumbled across a large piece of land about 20 minutes north of Lagos. With one lake, some trees, and a huge amount of weeds, Chris pondered over what to do with the land. Little did he know he was about to embark on his new role as the Algarve’s resident “blueberry man” and he would be so in demand for his berries.
After speaking with local experts, he was advised to start growing blueberries (mirtilos in Portuguese).
This would have been the first blueberry farm in the Algarve, so he was entering into completely uncharted territory.
Overall, Chris owns around 40 hectares (around 100 acres) of beautiful, tranquil countryside. Quinta do Pincho makes up 25 hectares of rolling hills with the bushes planted on the last hill over seven terraces. He planted 3,000 bushes here initially with four varieties: Camellia (900), Suziblue (800), Powder Blue (600), and Ochlockone (900). Excitingly this year, they have planted several more Legacy bushes from Monchique to keep up with demand.
The bushes were planted in 2012 and took three to four years to mature. “It’s harder than you think,’’ Chris often repeats. “We have many disheartened, green-fingered visitors who have tried and failed to grow blueberries here.” So, what’s the secret? They require acidic soil, and the bushes don’t like their roots in water, but they die if they are too dry. “We have a sophisticated drip-through irrigation system using natural rainwater from our lake, all monitored by our farm staff.”
Pincho had their first crop in 2017. They first sold to local health food stores and fruit stalls. Then, they opened the farm to visitors for a ‘Pick Your Own’ experience which was quite the hit. Soon, the people who knew of it were raving about the Pincho Berries.
After a significant increase in their Facebook following in 2019, their popularity shot through the roof.
They have now established several ‘pick-up points’ which are announced in local groups on social media every week. These will usually be in Burgau, Luz, and Lagos. Last year, upon the success of their initial ‘pick-up points’, they formed another in Alvor where they sold a remarkable 60 kilos in just under an hour.
Some local markets also sell the berries. These are often shared with other local, artisanal products.
Chris is always eager to form new partnerships within the community.
Another arrangement he has is with local businesses such as The Pilates Room in Lagos, Fit 2 Love Life in Burgau, and Parque da Floresta Golf Club in Budens. After classes or games, a “blueberry representative” will pitch up to sell. More recently, restaurants and cafés such as A Fábrica in Luz and PlantBased Burgau have gone a step further to use these berries and turn them into delicious desserts and smoothies.
Arguably though, their customers’ favourite (and cheapest) way to get their hands on Pincho berries is to visit the farm and pick some themselves. Many families and friends go up each year, by pre-arranged appointment, to enjoy the sunshine, fresh air, and peaceful surroundings whilst picking to their heart’s content. Afterwards, customers can even sit by the scenic lake and enjoy a picnic.
Chris talks of a lovely girl who, a few years back, was encouraged to try and eat the berries as she picked. “Obviously aware that this would deprive us of revenue at the weigh-out – like in a sweet shop – she earnestly asked if she had to be weighed at the end to calculate the berries she’d eaten.”
Luckily, blueberries are extremely healthy, and these are no exception. They are completely free of pesticides and are organically grown. With Chris’s deep-rooted medical background, he’s done a lot of research into the countless health benefits of blueberries.
“Several studies have shown that blueberries can protect against DNA damage, a leading driver of aging and cancer,” he explains. “The antioxidants in blueberries have been shown to protect LDL lipoproteins (the ‘bad’ cholesterol) from oxidative damage, a crucial step in the pathway towards heart disease.”
He goes on to inform that “like cranberries, blueberries contain substances that can prevent certain bacteria from binding to the wall of the urinary bladder. This may be useful in preventing urinary tract infections”.
Pincho berries are always freshly picked and can last “up to four weeks in the fridge”. Customers are always surprised to know that they are great to freeze too. Chris has big plans for the farm this year and more connections in the pipeline, such as Quinta Bougainvillea, another farm located in Silves, that sells clementines, physalis, cape gooseberries, roses, eggs, papaya, and more. Chris hopes to share platforms and introduce his customers to even more local treasures.
Each year, the team increases their efforts to be as ‘green’ as possible. This year marks the first year of 100% no plastic for the farm as they are now packaging everything in cardboard boxes. When visitors arrive for Pick Your Own, they will be required to bring their own container to take the berries home.
And regular buyers will be encouraged to reuse their packaging when purchasing another batch.
Quinta do Pincho is a true small business success story, and their berries are second to none. But to begin with, a lot of the berries did end up wasted as they had far too many to pick. Yet last year, every single berry was picked and sold. Their efforts to partner and connect with residents, farmers, and other local businesses are truly commendable. And, during these unprecedented times, these sweet berries really bring joy to families and friends, tourists, and locals.
By ALEX BRENNAN
Photos: PHAZE PHOTOGRAPHY