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Sady sv. Prokopa

Agriculture · Czech Republic

A social biofarm that inspires and drives change

There is a growing trend towards cultivating in an ecological manner and more “social farms” that hire youth from children’s homes or people with disabilities. But combining these two approaches is uncommon, and Sady St. Prokop (Orchards of St. Prokop), a business with its headquarters in the south of Bohemia, succeeds in doing just that.

Sady sv. Prokopa’s sustainable business approach was honoured by Generali Česká pojišťovna, which this year awarded the gardens second place in the local edition of the SME EnterPRIZE competition that supports sustainable businesses in the Czech Republic. “The Sady sv. Prokopa team impressed us with their energy and enthusiasm for the cause. They combined modern ecological production in orchards with social work to form a unique example of social agriculture in our country. Their business is clearly anchored in the region, yet they also have ambitious expansion plans. Additionally, they think about education and enlightenment, and their work definitely deserves to be commended,” explains the Head of the competition’s Jury, Helena Továrková.

Growing a passion project into a social cause

The restoration of an orchard on the outskirts of Temelín was the inspiration behind the founding of Sady sv. Prokopa. Jiří Netík’s family has been engaged in agriculture for three generations, so it is hardly surprising that he was drawn to the orchard’s barren trees. He devoted himself to the land for the first few years with the assistance of family and friends, and then the thought struck him to give the neighbourhood’s disabled residents a chance and adopt an ecological approach. The ambitious plan came to fruition; today, 35 hectares near Temelín are home to apple trees, pear trees, walnut trees, plums, cherries, and strawberries. They are cared for by people with disabilities. The result is 150 tons of organic fruit per year, 16 full-time employees, and a sales cooperative that brings together farmers from the surrounding area.

A modern approach that goes the extra mile

The ecological approach to soil and plants is not viewed by orchard agronomist Eng. Pavel Sucháček as a superstructure, but rather as a foundation that will preserve the quality of the soil and trees and ensure healthy harvests for many years. For him, being “organic” equates to a modern approach to horticulture. Instead of old varieties, newly bred trees, resistant to powdery mildew and scab, are planted. It goes without saying that the innovative approach also pertains to pest monitoring with pheromones, weather stations, drip irrigation, as well as the use of a vertical strip hoe, whose work essentially replaces herbicides. The biofarm follows the organic farming methodology used in Western countries, which is stricter than what is practiced in the Czech Republic. Whether it’s building birdhouses and perches, insect hotels, or mowing to avoid ecological traps in orchards, biodiversity is supported. Mowing on a certain date does not necessarily correspond to the developmental stages of insects and mammals, and may paradoxically contribute to their elimination. According to Sucháček, this is precisely one of the pitfalls of Czech organic agriculture.

A collective effort that considers all

The produce is processed in the orchards as well. About 80% of the harvest is sold directly, with the remainder being turned into ciders, fruit purées, preserves or hybrids. Thanks to this, waste is minimised and work is available for disabled employees even during the winter. Workers are also provided with psychosocial support, helping them resolve problems related to their families, housing or the workplace, for example.

The focus is on the local market, with 90% of produce sales occurring within the region. They also take the support of local producers as a matter of course – they joined the local sales cooperative Zelený košík, with whom they share storage space and production technology. After all, this is what the management of the orchards recommends to others; they regard joint sales as a step in the right direction.

The opportunity to share experience and inspire other farmers motivated the management of the orchards to apply to the SME EnterPRIZE competition. They sought to increase awareness of their “social biofarm” and demonstrate that it is a competitive model that is advantageous to both people and the landscape. This is also why, since 2021, the orchards have been a part of the Ministry of Agriculture’s demonstration farm project and offer seminars and consultations to other farmers. Over a hundred people were trained last year, and at least three hundred more will be this year. At the events, they offer people practical tips related to the field of organic farming and warn them against the most common mistakes they themselves made.

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Discover the other Sustainability Heroes of the 2022 edition