We are happy to present the snail entrepreneur Rami Salman from Lebanon who owns a snail farm Helix Lebanon. Read more about his story of pursuing an exciting path of becoming a snail farmer in this ever-growing niche industry!
Where did you get the idea to start snail farming?
I used to live in Abu Dhabi working as a business development consultant, and I decided to return to my home country of Lebanon. My father had heard of someone promoting snail farming, so after further study, and a trip to Italy, where I visited with Mr. Giovanni Avagnina of the International Institute of Heliciculture, I decided to venture into this industry.
Where is your snail farm located and how big is the farm?
My farm is in Aamiq, a wetlands village in the Beqaa Valley. The land used has an area of approximately 25,000 m2, and includes 67 breeding pens and 4,000 m2 of extra vegetation area to grow lettuce, cabbage, sunflower and carrots.
What are the most important things to consider when starting a snail farm?
Lebanon, although a very small country, has many different micro climates. I found that the location of the farm to be the most important consideration, especially since the farming method is free range and outdoors. The weather plays an important role in this method, so choosing a location with high humidity, moderate weather and rich in water, is critical.
When planting the pens, I found that the best crops to use are those that have already been used locally, with an emphasis on two seeds that have worked very well – Swiss Chard and Alfalfa.
Once the farm is built and the pens seeded, then the most crucial part remains the management of the farm, including pest control, irrigation and pen maintenance, and the dispensing of the extra vegetation. To maintain a continuous movement, snails like to eat different crops.
How much time did your farm take to be built up and running?
It took about six month to build the farm, including the perimeter fence, the pens, and seeding. We started in November and had to be ready by June to distribute the original breeder snails.
What are the biggest obstacles to successful snail farming?
The weather is by far the biggest challenge, and since the weather is not consistent, it is very important to remain vigilante and find quick solutions to protect the snails, maintain a healthy feeding ground and to keep mortality to a minimum.
Because our results are dependent on inconsistent and variable weather patterns, sometimes solutions can be costly, so access to additional funds is vital, and the costs of running the farm can vary greatly from year to year.
In what forms do you sell snails and where did you find your first buyers?
I started selling live snails locally. Fortunately the Lebanese culture has a tradition of picking snails during the early autumn when it first rains, and snails come out during the day. But as my production grew, and I started focusing my sales to restaurants and catering companies, I found that many buyers were only interested in ready cooked snails.
I decided to build a kitchen to cook and vacuum-pack snail meat. I sell Helix Aspersa Muller snails from my own farm, and from other farms in Lebanon, and I also purchase Helix Lucorum snails picked in the wild, which we are also trying to breed on a farm.
This is now my main business, and I have found considerable success with these products, which can be much more easily incorporated in different recipes. I sell to French restaurants for the traditional “escargots a la bourguignonne”, Lebanese restaurants which serve them with a sesame lemon sauce called taratour, as well as outlets that use the snail meat with pasta, pizza and other interesting recipes.
What does your typical day look like?
I rely on a farm manager to deal with the day to day running of the farm, considering my main focus is on the processing and selling. I do visit the farm once a week to discuss any issues with the manager, and try to find quick solutions if there are any major problems.
My time is mostly focused on finding new clients, pushing for more snail recipes with existing customers, and developing new products for the retail market.
Which personal traits does a person need to start this venture and be successful?
Patience. Snail farming is a very slow process. If done right, then the farm will be successful, but I have seen a few farms close because the farmers did not invest time into finding the right solutions.
Perseverance. I believe that if a farmer puts in the time and effort on the farm, the end result will be successful.
A sense of humour. Snail farming is new to Lebanon, so many people have found it to be a ridiculous adventure. The important thing is to be the last one laughing once the farm is successful and profitable.
Where did you learn both the business and technical side of snail farming?
The International Institute of Heliciculture in Cherasco, Italy., provided me with the basic knowledge about how to build the farm. But I found that the best advice was from local farmers, especially when it came to growing the right crops and controlling pests. There have been many times where the best and most efficient solutions are found on a trial and error basis.
Do you recommend any good restaurant serving escargots?
In Lebanon there are plenty of French restaurants that have very good “Escargots a la bourguignonne”, like Bergerac, Couqley and Le Petit Gris, but there are also Italian outlets like Pizzeria Del Vico and Gavi that offer escargots with pizza and pasta, and Lebanese eateries Mum & I and Les Caves de Dar Azar who use the snail meat in a variety of their dishes. I try to work with chefs in delivering new snail experiences to their customers.