Photo by Jordi Casañas
Xarxa Consum Solidari cooperative small
Preparing the fruit for delivery
It is Wednesday afternoon. Six or seven people are waiting at a Barcelona warehouse for a van full of vegetables, eggs and fruit to arrive. Once it’s there, the group starts to prepare the hundred baskets of food they will be distributing the following day to their clients. Clients like Jordi, who this week has ordered a loaf of bread, a kilogramme each of tomatoes and carrots and a bar of fair trade chocolate. It all goes into a basket with his name on it. Mariona needs two kilos of oranges, one kilo of aubergines, a package of cereals and three litres of soy milk. This is food shopping, but it is a long way from a supermarket. It is the Xarxa de Consum Solidari (XCS), a network of consumers’ cooperatives, which currently has more than 200 members in Barcelona.
Originally, this non-governmental organisation was formed to work on development aid. “We say our organisation stands on two legs: one relates us to poor countries by selling fair trade products, and the other is about consumers’ relations in Catalunya,” explained Alfredo Grafulla, responsible for consumers’ groups in XCS.
At the beginning, their strongest efforts related to that first leg until they realised it was also indispensable to change the way producers connect to customers in the northern hemisphere. “It works exactly like a funnel. Above, there are farmers growing their vegetables. Below, there are citizens who want to buy and eat these products. Their link are distributors, controlling prices and amounts, making business on behalf of others,” said Grafulla.
“XCS’s strategy is to create a direct relation between the top and the bottom of that funnel. First of all, we want to consume reliable food. We do not look for the cheapest, but for the best quality products that adhere to environmental and social criteria.”
In order to do that, XCS buys goods from producers they trust and know. For instance, Feixa Verda supplies fruit, vegetables and eggs. It is an ecologic cooperative with 12 hectares spread between Dosrius, Argentona, Mataró and Sant Andreu de Llavaneras. Bread comes from Fleca Tascó, a cooperative created in 1985 that produces natural baked goods. The packed and canned products XCS buys are all produced under fair trade agreements.
“We believe in transparency, which means agreeing on prices with cooperatives, adding an extra 30 percent to ensure feasibility to our project, and publishing them on our website,” explained Grafulla. “This extra percentage is to pay salaries of people working professionally in XCS and fuel for the van we use to pick up products. Ours are not the cheapest prices in market, but they are the fairest ones. Every single cent goes to the producer without any international firm acting as middleman.”
Xarxa de Consum Solidari created its first consumer group in 2004 in Ciutat Vella, which today has 75 members. The second group was born two years later in Eixample, now the biggest one, with 85 partners. Existing groups from Gràcia and Sant Antoni joined the network in April 2007. The most recently created group is the one in L’Hospitalet, where XCS has its warehouse. To join the Xarxa de Consum Solidari, users pay an annual fee of €60.
Lídia Puigdomènech enrolled in the Eixample consumer group a year ago. She was taking a course on development aid, and one of the lecturers introduced the class to the idea of social justice through food. “I realised it was simpler to change market laws in your own town rather than trying to do it in another country,” she said. “I guess the most difficult point to understand is that the Xarxa is more expensive than a supermarket. We are too used to buying food at the cheapest price, not even thinking why it is that cheap. Now, when cooking, we are sure our ingredients are reliable and that nobody has been exploited to produce them.”
Orders are made on the Internet once a week. “It’s as easy as ABC. Every partner has his own account. So they log in and add to their virtual basket what they want to buy. Oil, jams, pasta, cereals, coffee and we are always trying to increase the variety,” said Alfredo Grafulla.
Baked goods can be ordered until Sunday night and farmers’ products until Monday night, for preparation of the baskets on Wednesday and distribution on Thursday; in the afternoon and evening that day, members go to their neighbourhood centres to pick up their food.
Eleonora Bianco and Brunella Pesce are two Italians who have been collaborating with XCS for two months. “We did not know much about this kind of cooperative before coming to Spain, and it has been really interesting to discover a new way of consuming and understanding trade. We’ll implement this idea once back in Italy,” said Bianco.
XCS is growing little-by-little. An association of people from El Prat de Llobregat recently got in touch because they want to start a consumer group in their town. “If we know there is another cooperative in their area, we redirect them to it. For instance, a guy from Horta wanted to join XCS but we recommended he contact a cooperative already operating there. Our arrival in Gràcia is due to a peculiar situation in that neighbourhood. There were already four cooperatives—La Gleva, L’Aixada, Verduretes and Germinal-El Farró—but all of them had waiting lists. So a fifth one was needed,” said Alfredo Grafulla.
At least three times a year, partners of XCS visit Feixa Verda, the cooperative that provides them with fruit and vegetables. XCS also organises workshops and conferences on topics such as global hunger, agrarian reforms or food sovereignty. “These activities are to get into and extend our philosophy, so sometimes they are open to people considering the option to join us,” said Grafulla.
The concept of ‘food sovereignty’ is the organisation’s maxim, understood as the right of people to define their food and agriculture systems. Members of XCS see a future world where every single citizen is a responsible and critical consumer; they believe consumers’ cooperatives are laying the foundations for such a future, in which international market forces will no longer control the relationship between consumers and their food.
Ciutat Vella: Botiga XCS, Plaça Sant Agustí Vell 15, Tel. 93 268 2202
Eixample: Botiga XCS Racó de la Natura, Rosselló 42, baixos, Tel. 93 419 3562/691 326 991
L’Hospitalet: Magatzem XCS, Modern 53 (L’Hospitalet de Llobregat), Tel. 93 432 6182
Sant Antoni: Xarxa Comunitària de Sant Antoni, Viladomat 78 4a plant, Tel. 93 445 2292
Gràcia: Infoespai, Plaça del Sol 19-20, Tel. 93 390 7236