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Photo by Yan Pekar
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Photo by Yan Pekar
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Photo by Yan Pekar
The organic food industry is looking healthy indeed. And it’s hardly surprising when a quick trip to the supermarket reveals not only that most food products are chemically enhanced for flavour, texture or a longer shelf life, but that there is often no clue as to where anything is actually from. The desire for health and transparency, along with a growing awareness of the effects of mass farming on the planet, have led the developed world to turn, in ever-growing numbers, to organic food. Those numbers speak for themselves. In 2012, the global organic food and drink market was worth $63 billion USD and, in the next eight years, it’s predicted to more than triple, reaching $211 billion USD by 2020.
The main difference between organic and non-organic food lies in the substances used during production. In order to certify as organic, certain methods, pesticides and other chemical substances are strictly limited. In the case of animals, this means that they must be raised on organic feed, without the use of antibiotics and growth-enhancing substances.
At first glance, Spain doesn’t seem to be an obvious heavyweight on the world’s organic scene. Although Barcelona is packed with fresh fruit and vegetable shops and is home to many wonderful markets, if you’re after organic (ecológico in Spanish) produce, you’ll have to make a little more effort. It may come as a surprise then to know that Spain is the biggest producer of organic food products in Europe and the sixth largest in the world.
The country’s rise as an organic producer has been meteoric. In just 13 years, from 2000 to 2013, the number of organic producers in Spain increased from 13,394 to 33,700, and land used for organic farming now occupies 1,610,129 hectares. Almost half of this land is dedicated to meat, followed by olives, cereals, dried fruits and wines. According to the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Environment (MAGRAMA), the total value of Spain’s organic market now stands at over €1 billion.
Within Spain, Catalunya leads the way in organic farming. Although Andalusia has the most land dedicated to organic farming—over 50 percent of the total—Catalunya is home to 27.5 percent of the country’s producers. According to the Department of Agriculture, between 2012 and 2013 the land in Catalunya dedicated to organic farming increased by 18.68 percent and the region’s annual turnover in 2013 was €152 million, an increase of 14 percent on the previous year.
Yet, despite Spain being one of Europe’s organic powerhouses, the domestic market is lackluster, and 75 percent of the country’s production is exported. Local consumption of organic products represents less than two percent of general consumption or, in other words, just €20 per person per year. And, although many studies indicate that the average Spaniard would happily eat more organic food, the reality is that it is both expensive and hard to find. According to research carried out by MAGRAMA, most local consumers are high-income earners, with an average age of 43.7. With unemployment high and incomes low, it’s not surprising that many people just don’t have the budget to eat organically.
But what about all those lovely markets and fruit and veg shops? Well, unfortunately, very little of the produce sold in these establishments is organic. The majority of the produce will have been bought from Mercabarna, the vast wholesale food distribution centre located in the Zona Franca, which supplies fruit, vegetables and fish to shops and markets throughout Catalunya. What you buy is likely to be national at least, as nearly 70 percent of the produce comes from within Spain, including nine percent from Barcelona. However, it almost certainly won’t be pesticide-free. It may also not be as fresh as it looks. Modern cold storage facilities can maintain fruit and vegetables for up to three years.
One popular chain that doesn’t buy from Mercabarna and promotes eating locally grown food is Casa Ametller. Started by two brothers in 2001, the company has enjoyed rapid growth and now owns 56 shops in Catalunya. Their slogan is ‘del campo a la botiga’ (from the field to the shop), and their success reflects people’s growing desire to buy good quality, local produce. Products are either grown on Casa Ametller’s own land or sourced directly from local producers, who work according to the company’s production quality standards. The fruit and vegetables aren’t organic, but they do stock some pre-prepared organic products, such as vegetable burgers and tofu.
So how can you tell if your purchases are organic? All organic products should have the label to prove it. According to a study by the Spanish Federation of Companies with Organic Products (FEPECO), only one third of Spaniards recognise the label for organic products. It can get confusing: products can either carry the European label or the label of the local autonomous region. In 2009, and as a result of many companies taking advantage of the new-found desire for eco-produce, regulations were introduced by the European Court that prevent any non-organic products from being labelled with the word ‘bio’.
Photo by Yan Pekar
For eco-conscious locals there’s plenty to be optimistic about, however. And if you’re happy to make a little effort, you’ll find plenty of places to stock up on organics. Besides the main larger shops (see sidebox for details), the city is filled with small organisations making an effort to get the products to consumers. Temps de Terra have two shops in Barcelona, in Sant Gervasi and Sarrià, where the Franch family sell the produce grown on their farm in Amposta. Other new additions to the organic scene in the last couple of years include Feeld Organic on Av. Diagonal, which combines a shop, restaurant and takeaway service, and Obbio on Muntaner, an organic store, cafe and bookshop, which also hosts workshops and talks. Also on Muntaner, you can find I Love Food, an organic shop that opened in 2013 and only sells products from local farms.
Another option is to order a vegetable box and receive your produce fresh from the producers in the comfort of your own home. Several companies offer this service, such as Recapte and Doctor Veg. Once you’ve registered, you let them know your weekly preferences and look forward to receiving your box. If you like surprises, just leave the choice to them and you’ll find yourself discovering all sorts of new seasonal fruit and veg. A five kilogramme box of vegetables costs around €22.
Part of the reason that organic food comes with a heftier price tag is that it is simply more expensive to produce. Organic producers are often smallhold farms. Not only is organic farming more labour intensive, but these smallholdings are unable to benefit from economies of scale. Once the middle man is also factored in, it’s easy to see why it’s more expensive to buy organic.
Not content to accept that eating organic food and taking care of the environment is only for the wealthy, Barcelona is home to a growing number of cooperatives that work to keep prices down and encourage ethical consumerism. These are non-profit associations in which each member typically pays a one-off joining fee, then a weekly or monthly sum, in exchange for a box of fresh produce. The produce is bought directly from producers and farmers, ensuring fair prices for them, and fresh food and a good deal for the cooperative members. Cooperative members are usually expected to play an active role in the organisation, and work in a specific area, such as marketing, contacting producers, or gathering members’ produce orders. There is a cooperative in most areas of Barcelona and their rising popularity means that some have a waiting list.
Nationally, it seems the forecast is good for lovers of non-chemically enhanced food. In 2014, the government launched a strategic six-year plan to further support organic farming. The plan, which includes an annual investment of €150 million, aims to improve both commercialisation of exports and to increase the level of consumption within Spain. And while improvements may be slow to show in the marketplace, you can, for now, rely on grassroots organisations and small local companies to ensure that you’re not missing out on your organic five-a-day.
- Veritas Pg de Sant Joan 144, Còrsega 302, Gran Via de Carles III 55
- Biospace València 186
- El Mana Valencia 432
- Obbio Muntaner 177
- I Love Food Muntaner 476
- Temps de Terra Camp 51
- WOKI Astúries 22, Ronda Universitat 20, Pg Marítim de la Barceloneta 1, Pg de Sant Joan 110.
- AMALTEA Diputació 164
- El Raco Ecologic Bruc 86
- Flax Kale Tallers 74 B
- OHBO Dr. Fleming 15
- WOKI (see above)
- GOVINDA Pl. Vila de Madrid 4-5