Scaling Up Ecological Cultivation: An Interview with Richard Charity of Fazenda da Toca

Scaling Up Ecological Cultivation: An Interview with Richard Charity of Fazenda da Toca

Founded in 2009 by supermarket chain heir and former Formula 1 race car driver Pedro Paulo Diniz, Fazenda da Toca is a large-scale family-owned organic farm in Brazil’s São Paulo state that is changing the future of ecological agriculture. By “harmonizing production and preservation,” Diniz has transformed his family’s land into one of Brazil’s leading producers of organic eggs, dairy, and fruit while honoring his environmental conscience. Moreover, Fazenda de Toca works to revolutionize agriculture in Brazil and around the world by educating others in sustainable cultivation at its on-farm learning center, Instituto Toca.

Recently, Food Tank had the pleasure of speaking with Richard Charity, Sustainability Manager at Fazenda da Toca, about the success of the farm and the history behind it.

Food Tank (FT): Describe the philosophy of Fazenda da Toca.

Richard Charity (RC): Fazenda da Toca believes that through the large-scale organic and biodynamic production of healthy plant and animal products, our farm will become a catalyst for sound rural development and environmental regeneration in Brazil.

Our farm fosters true ecological awareness from the direct community involved, and provides eco-education to younger generations, its engaged consumer base, and the public in general. We find that the interactions between the soil, plants, animals, and people at the farm combine in such a way as to form a “living farm organism.”

At Fazenda da Toca, we’re developing sound soil and water usage methods and new agroforestry biotechnologies to enable the regeneration of surrounding nature- all while making the best organic products.

FT: What led to the conversion of Fazenda da Toca from a conventional farm to organic in 2009?

RC: Pedro Paulo Diniz, Fazenda da Toca’s owner and CEO, decided to make a drastic change in lifestyle after years of experiencing the glamour--and dangers-- of Formula 1 car racing. His growing awareness of an environmentally threatened, changing world prompted him to settle on his family-owned farm in Itirapina, São Paulo State, with his wife, Tatiane, and his two children. He made it his mission to fully dedicate his time and efforts to create a new company: one that had a soul, one that produced delightful artisan-style products, and one that would compel consumers to join in preserving and regenerating our troubled planet.

Now, five years later, Fazenda da Toca is fully certified organic and provides livelihoods for nearly 140 fixed workers and their families.  

FT: How have you been able to produce ecologically on a large scale?

RC: Producing organics on a large scale is a challenge that Fazenda da Toca has embraced from its start. We believe that a positive impact to the planet will only be achieved if large-scale producers and the enterprises behind them succeed in finding the formula that harmonizes production and preservation.

In the last three years significant steps have been made in this direction, and we now have 2,200 hectares under organic cultivation. But, mind you, nothing can be accomplished without a large dose of patience and perseverance!

FT: How feasible is it to replicate your methods so that ecological farming can be scaled up at other farms around the world?

RC: This is indeed the whole challenge! Discovering the most beneficial combinations and planting successions of tree elements, grasses, and crops, developing the right machinery and equipment to handle them in large scale, and doing all this within economical reason is the core of the idea. Fazenda da Toca uses agroforestry methods to make use of a variety of trees, which play a distinct role in maintaining the balance between required biomass production and the nutritional needs of crops and animals.

The next two years will be integral in creating a new and feasible technological model that can be replicated elsewhere. We hope to ensure that these principles can be replicated in other climates and situations, for small and large-scale farmers alike. Fortunately, there are farms and groups of farmers that have also started in this direction worldwide.

FT: What is the Instituto Toca, and what makes it special?

RC: Instituto Toca is a non-profit school and research initiative located in the heart of Fazenda da Toca. With a mission to “educate to transform,” it provides direct instruction to students in the municipality of Itirapina.

Tatiane Floresti, director of Instituto Toca, leads her team through uncountable programs and activities inspired by a wide array of educational theories. Currently, Instituto Toca hosts a primary education school, an after-school program of extracurricular activities, a continuing education training facility, events and study groups open to the community, and eco-teaching experiences for private schools and groups.

Instituto Toca continually pursues research and innovation in the field of Education for Sustainability. Students engage in activities like gardening, composting, arts and crafts, and acting, just to mention a few. It provides students with a solid background in eco-literacy and contributes to a future generation of conscious and environmentally active citizens in our area.