The Story of Our Blood Orange Farmer - Carmelo Laudani

For Carmelo Laudani, raised on his family farm in the shadow of Sicily's Mount Etna, fruit farming is a way of life. We sent James Beeson to catch up with the person behind Square Root's citrus supply to find out how they're modernising the family business.


Carmelo Laudani isn't your typical fruit farmer. He studied Mathematics and Pharmaceutical Science at university and being in his twenties, is far younger than the vast majority of rural farmers plying their trade on this Mediterranean island.

Since joining the family business in 2015, Carmelo has breathed new life into Laudani Farms, eventually taking charge of the 30-acre plot from his father in 2019. But it wasn't always going to be this way.

"I was born on the farm. I always helped with my dads with the work in the fields," Carmelo (henceforth referred to as Melo) tells me. "But being totally honest, when I was younger I thought I would go away from here and work in other places."
Blood Oranges being picked for Square Root at Laudani Farms
"Growing up, I came to realise I would miss this place so much, so I decided to come back and try to build something here. I really love this place, and what I am doing right now in my life, so I hope to go on like this and make it even bigger and better."

Using the knowledge acquired from his studies, combined with three generations of family farming knowledge, Melo has grown Laudani Farms' reach and reputation exponentially, ensuring the fruits of his labour can be enjoyed all across Italy and Europe. Square Root has been one such beneficiary, importing Laudani's blood oranges, plus lemons, pink grapefruits and bergamots sourced by the company from elsewhere in Italy - since 2016.

Laudani Farms hasn't always been synonymous with citrus fruit, however. When Nello (Melo's grandfather – also called Carmelo!) first planted on the land – rented from its owners at the time – watermelons were grown. Nowadays, the farm has become known for its sweet and juicy blood oranges, which grow perfectly in the area's volcanic soils.

"Where we are, near Mount Etna, is the perfect area for growing blood oranges," Melo explains. "The soil here is almost completely volcanic, which causes the fruit to start to blush and go red as it matures."
Laundani Farms Blood Orange for Square Root soda in Sicily
Another reason why citrus fruit grows so well in Catania is the climate. The large swing between daytime and night-time temperatures is also essential to aid the maturation of the fruit.

"In winter here we go from twenty degrees to maybe four, or even two degrees at night," Melo says. "It is this huge drop in temperature which helps the fruit to take on the colour as they become ripe. Of course, this means that when the gap in temperature is not so big between day and night, the fruit will not take on as much colour."

To combat this, Melo has used a technique known as grafting to propagate plants that produce new varieties of orange. These new varieties are less susceptible to changes in temperature (and variations in climate) and are also more resistant to disease (a necessary precaution after almost half their harvest was lost in 2009).

This new breeding programme is just one example of modernisation taking place at the farm under Melo's hands. Other improvements include new irrigation systems to reduce water waste, the introduction of renewable energy sources (by 2025 they hope to make the company 100% powered by solar energy), and changes to selling and distribution, allowing customers to purchase fruit online.
Laudani Farms Blood Orange in Square Root soda making factory in London
"Before, under my father, we were mostly selling to customers who would come here by boat and buy all the production or an entire field in one go," Melo says. "Now we are working with more regular customers like Square Root and dividing our lot up to pre-sell to different customers. It's a totally different way of working."

Despite these improvements, the actual fruit picking process at Laudani Farms remains mostly manual and unchanged from previous generations. Given the technological advances in agricultural farming, why does Melo remain insistent on picking by hand?

"It's just a matter of quality," Melo states matter-of-factly. "We've seen (and tasted) the results of a company that buys in fruit from elsewhere, treats it with machines and sells them. We compared that with fruit a small company that invests in its fruit and cares about its fruit and selects them by hand. The quality is so much better, and you can taste that in the fruit."

"If you use a machine to select the fruit, it becomes very hard to keep the leaves on the fruit," Carmelo adds. "We always try to leave the leaves on our fruits when we harvest them because, for us, this is a way to show that the product is fresh."
Laudani Farms Blood Oranges in Square Root's East London soda factory
Melo prefers to see his approach as a blend of the modern and the old – respecting the heritage of fruit picking passed down to them by their fathers and grandfather, while utilising new technologies where improvements can be made, but only those which add to the quality of the final fruit. Efficiency doesn't come into it unless it's about saving water or energy (sustainability is also high on his list of priorities).

"There are two ways of working in fruit farming," Melo says. "You can work in quantities, and sell loads of fruit and care only about the quantity that you sell. And the more you sell, the more you gain. The other way is getting about the quality. We obviously sell less than we could, but this is what we like to do. We get paid for the quality that we sell. And this is what we are happy with."

For the same reasons, Laudani Farms refuses to use chemicals or pesticides on its fruits – its fruit is always picked to order and shipped without the use of preservatives and waxes. Leaving off the wax and chemical spray means that companies like Square Root can use the whole fruit, zesting the rinds to use in recipes such as its Single Batch Bergamot Soda.

"We have had some contact with companies that asked us to send fruit using chemicals to preserve it, but we refuse to do it," Carmelo adds. "It's not in our in our philosophy."
Square Root's founder Robyn Simms in conversation with Carmelo Laundai from Laudani Farms
Because of this, it is imperative that the fruit is collected and shipped quickly once it's picked. A shipment from Laudani Farms that leaves on a Wednesday will arrive at Square Root by Sunday night, and the fruit is refrigerated for the entire five days of travel.

"If you care about the fruit and you want the quality to show the difference between your product and an industrial product, this is the way you have to work," Melo says. "When people taste our oranges in London, and they say I have never tasted or smelt anything like this, we are very happy and proud because it means we are doing our work the way it should be done."

With all this care and attention being taken in the production and picking of the fruit, it'd be a crying shame if the fruit ended up being turned into concentrate. Turning fresh juice into concentrate can be a handy way to store seasonal fruit, but the process can strip out the goodness and give the flavour a real kicking. This means the concentrate often needs to be fortified with extra vitamins and artificial flavourings prior to being used.

That's why Square Root insists that the fruit for its flavours, such as Citrus Crush, are processed only when the fruit itself is ripe and in season. This way, the hard work of Melo and Laudani Farms to produce quality fruit is reflected in the taste of the finished drink.
Square Root's Citrus Crush SodaHaving been in the family for 80 years and three generations, naturally there is a question to be answered about whether or not Melo's own children will one day take up the family business of running Laudani Farms. While remaining insistent that their offspring would be free to choose as they were, it is clear Melo would like nothing better.

"I hope that they will, but how can I know if my children will love the work in the same way that I do?" Melo says. "I just know that my grandad and my dad were able to give me the love for the land that we live in, and so I hope that I will be able to transmit that to my children."

"We were free to choose everything we wanted to do," Carmelo adds. "We learnt to love this work and the way we do it. So our children will be free the same, but if we can make them love the fields as we do, it would be fantastic."

In the meantime, however, Melo continues to enjoy the working life on the farm, growing and expanding Laudani Farms' reputation for the quality of its fruit.


Thanks for reading! Leave us a comment below if you enjoyed learning a little more about where our fruit comes from and let us know who you'd like to hear from next! If you'd like to try our Citrus Crush soda, made using blood oranges from Laudani Farms, then click here to add it to your next Pick N Mix Box!

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