Meet the Snail Farmer – Ta’ Ġorġina Snail Farm

This week we are proud to share the story of Ta’ Ġorġina Snail Farm. Brought to you from one of its co-founders: Martin Saliba.

Where did you get the idea to start snail farming and when did you start?

It was in 2018 when I was talking to a friend who pointed out the idea of snail farming. Here in Malta, snails are highly consumed and are part of the Maltese culture. The idea kept buzzing in my head and gradually I started doing some research on the web and reading about the subject. Ta’ Ġorġina Snail Farm was put on paper in 2019 and I attended a course on the subject in Cyprus where I learned the basics so that I could put up a professional farm in Malta. We put up a partnership of 4 persons and together we started searching for a piece of land where to set up the farm.

Luckily, we found a 1000m² of land with a steel greenhouse structure on it, which was perfect for the project. This we transformed into a snail farm and in September of 2021 we got our first breeders from Agrofarma in Greece and the adventure started.

Snail farm in Malta

Where is your snail farm located and how big it is?

Our farm is located in Baħrijain the limits of Rabat, which is a village in Malta where a high percentage of open agricultural fields. Since this part of Malta is very rural, the air is very good and the humidity is higher than the rest of the island which is beneficial for the snail farm. As I already said above the farm has a footprint of 1000m² and we also have a small warehouse. In the future we would love to extend our farm. However, this all depends on how we will fair with the first batch which we will be selling on June next. Thus we will be opting for export and we are therefore seeking international buyers.

What are the most important things to consider when starting a snail farm?

I think that like all other things in life, when one commences in a new endeavor, he should have the time and commitment to make sure that the project is successful. Breeding and rearing snails is time consuming the reason being that one has to deal with livestock which can be subject to disease, etc. Therefore, one has to keep in mind that hygiene and intense care of the farm are of utmost importance.

How much time did your farm take to be built up and running?

Since we were the first snail farmers on the island to ask for permits with the agricultural and the animal rights departments on the island, the process took quite a long time. This because new legislations had to be put in place, while the veterinary department also had to issue permits regarding hygiene. The actual building of the farm took around a year since we are not a free-range farm but we use the curtain method.

In what form do you sell snails and where did you find your first buyers?

We sell our snails fresh and alive. After they are picked up by hand, washed and perched, they are put in breathable bags and weighed according to the customers’ specifications. Until now we sold only the December harvest and this was sold locally to individuals and restaurants. Snails are loved here in Malta and are cooked in several ways.

A snail in snail farming

What are the biggest obstacles in snail farming?

Every country has its own regulations, to which new farms have to abide by. In countries where snail farming is already present it is pretty easy to start but unfortunately here, in Malta we lost a lot of time waiting for permits and so forth, for simple the fact that we were the first farm, thus regulations and legislations needed to be put in place and that was the biggest obstacle. I think the main challenge to snail farming in the EU is the consumption of snails that come outside the EU, especially from north Africa where the EU hygiene standards might not be fully observed, and thus would be sold at low cost. Free collection of snails from nature might also hinder sales, apart from being a health hazard to consumers since one would not know what the snails might have eaten.

What does your typical day look like?

Taking care of a snail farm can be easy but it consumes a lot of time. There is cleaning, feeding and general maintenance to be done.

What personal traits does a person need to start this venture and be successful?

The most important thing is the passion and the enthusiasm of the individual. When we decided to start on this adventure, we had mixed reactions from people we discussed it with, some were simply fascinated with the idea others just mocked it and laughed. The thing is that if one believes in himself and the idea, he should always persist in making it happen. Hard work always pays off.

Where did you learn both the business and technical side of snail farming?

Having a carrier in selling chemicals, I honestly declare that I knew absolutely nothing about snail farms, their techniques and its daily running, as did my partners for they too are not in the agricultural sector. I never thought I would learn the difference between one type of snail and another, what needed to be done or the method to use. If at that time you asked us what a “Helix Aspersia Muller” was, we probably would have answered with a blank face. My partners and I felt like venturing into the unknown but we started studying and reading online about snail farming, taking hints from articles and building knowledge as we did so. In 2018, I attended a week’s course in a snail farm in Cyprus and there I had the chance to experience hands on what I had studied. This was highly helpful for understanding certain techniques. In 2019 we built a small-scale farm, in an area of1m² as an experiment, to see if we can actually manage a farm and this resulted in a very successful outcome. Today, after 4 years of studying, while we cannot consider ourselves as experts in the sector, we have what it takes to manage our farm. As in all things in life there will always be teething problems and even if one knows well what should be done, there will always be new things to learn. One should be humble enough to learn these things from those who know better so as to get good results.

Do you recommend any good restaurants serving escargots?

Here in Malta, snails are part of the cultural gastronomy and are loved and eaten in various ways. All restaurants that offer traditional Maltese food, generally offer snails in their menus. Bars also offer snails as appetizers along with your beers and drinks.

Do you have a favorite escargot recipe?

My mother, Ġorġina, (from where the name ‘Ta’ Ġorġina Snail Farm’ was derived), used to love snails and cooked them whenever possible, in the Maltese way (Bebbux bl-Arjoli)it’s not the only cooking method used here in Malta but I think it’s the most common.

Bebbux bl-Arjoli.

Ingredients:

150gr per person
2 medium sized chopped onions
Salt and pepper
3 cloves of minced garlic
2 chopped carrots
1 ¼ cup of white wine
1 chopped celery stick
1 deseeded and chopped green pepper
A can of tomato polpa
2 spoons of lemon juice
A pinch of marjoram, rosemary, thyme and basil
Worcestershire sauce (optional)

For the Arjoli

150gr tuna
350gr tomato paste
1 medium sized chopped onion
3 cloves of minced garlic
A handful of chopped mint and parsley
200gr breadcrumbs
4 spoons of capers and chopped olives
5 anchovy fillets or use anchovy paste
Olive oil

Bebbux Bl-Arjoi

Method:

First of all, rinse the snails well. Then put them in a large pot and fill it with more water than there are snails. Insert the celery and stick, pepper and carrots with them. Let everything cook for 20 minutes. Meanwhile fry the onions, garlic, lemon juice, wine and after a few minutes insert the polpa, a pinch of Worcestershire sauce and the herbs. Sprinkle also some salt and pepper. Now place the onion mixture

into the pot and let them simmer for 10 more minutes. In the meantime, prepare the Arjoli by mixing all its ingredients together, you can even use a blender if you prefer. Then you can place the snails in one plate and the Arjoli on another so everyone can take as much as they want. Facebook page: Ta Gorgina Snail Farm