Franz is an organic child. His father Josef was a pioneer of organic farming and helped to establish the first organic associations and organic cooperatives in South Tyrol. At the end of the 80s, Franz felt first-hand that organic farmers were also viewed critically. "Little things, your organic apples," or "Your trees are full of aphids." Franz heard such sayings from his friends at school. These taunts were not pleasant, but they strengthened his conviction to continue on the family path.
Franz always liked being outdoors and was enthusiastic about farming. He trained to take over the farm at Laimburg and worked the family farm, Larchhof. With his father, he tended the organic apple meadows and vineyards in Terlan.
In addition, there was a farm on the mountain plateau in Mölten, where his father kept animals. The "Mair Larchs", as they are called in the village, still use the manure in agriculture today, thus closing the cycle. As a forward thinker, it was out of the question for Josef to chain the animals, and so even then it was normal for them to be free-range; something that’s seen as progressive today.
"If we don't try it, we'll never know if it works."
Franz liked the idea of direct marketing, so he added another string to the Larchhof’s bow. "We'll give it a try, if it works out great, if it doesn't, we've taken a chance." With this attitude, home-grown fruit and a set of scales on a trailer, Franz opened his "Standl" in the apple meadow at the entrance to the village for the first time. Since then, he has received direct feedback from his customers on Saturday mornings and has gradually expanded his range. In the meantime, Franz grows more than 30 types of vegetables: Potatoes, carrots, beetroot, celery, cabbage, lettuce, pumpkin, peppers, onions, tomatoes, courgettes, cucumbers—to name but a few. Plus apricots, plums, peaches, nectarines and pears.
Because one farm is in the valley and the other on the mountain plateau, the Mair Larchs can offer their customers a wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables. The farm on the mountain is now run by Verena, Franz's sister, and she also serves guests at the bush tavern Bergjosl.
While Verena keeps pigs, donkeys and horses, Franz has his cat Alfons, plus dogs and hens at the farm in the valley. He still relaxes too seldom on the shore of his farm pond, because he always has something to do.
From March to December, three employees have been living at the Larchhof for years. They work in the vegetable fields and apple orchards. Franz's alarm clock rings at 5 am from June to November. And that, although he is not actually an early riser: "Without coffee I am obnoxious in the morning." Because even before he goes out to the apple meadows, he supplies shops and restaurants with his organic vegetables.
At the moment, Gala, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Braeburn and Fuji apples are all ripening in his orchards. Soon, the scab-resistant variety Natyra and the early-ripening Gala Wildfire will be added.
Franz is breaking new ground not only in his choice of varieties, but also in the way he works the meadows. He steers the tractor through rows of organic apple trees with concentration. At the same time, he controls the blower of the defoliating machine with pinpoint accuracy. This shreds the foliage so that it slowly dries back and gently brings the apples more and more into the light. As a result, the apples colour better and without any chemicals. Franz also does this work for other farmers on request.
"Sometimes you have the feeling that you don't get much done. But if you overcome yourself and write down what you have achieved, it often opens your eyes."
Before Franz sits down with papers and forms, it takes a lot of persuasion or absolute necessity. In 2021, he overcame his inner mule and conscientiously filled out the questionnaire of the South Tyrolean Meadow Competition. The competition awards prizes to the most ecologically progressive farms, and surveys, for example, the ecological niches on the farm such as cyclopean walls, ponds, open roofs in the barn, insect hotels in the meadow. It is also about the cultivation of the meadows. For example, Franz alternately leaves out a tramline when mulching so that bees and insects feel comfortable in the taller grass and flowers. The mental effort it took to complete that questionnaire was worth it. Firstly, Franz became more acutely aware of how much attention is paid to the environment at Larchhof, and secondly, he won the competition.
When Franz is not pruning the apple trees in winter, he searches the internet for new ideas and lends a hand in the workshop. He makes sculptures like scorpions or birds out of old tools, wood, stones and horseshoes. And he thinks about new projects, like growing oyster mushrooms on the farm. Only one thing is certain: it is never boring at the Larchhof.