Cantabria is a region on the Atlantic coast of Spain, rich in vegetation, replete with lush pastures, and a humid oceanic climate. It’s part of the region known informally as “Green Spain”, and it should come as no surprise that it’s also home to a long-established and productive Slow Food community.
Their latest project, De Granja en Granja (From Farm to Farm) is a showcase for all the work being done by farmers across Cantabria to keep the rural community alive and healthy. It’s a communication initiative which aims to reinforce the sense of community among the producers working according to the principles of sustainability, and a message to the outside world, to show that strong, local networks based on short chains and transparency are possible.
I spoke to the President of Slow Food Cantabria, Jorge Mariscal, to get the full scoop.
How did this project start?
Cantabria has a strong social fabric connected to agriculture, livestock farming, and strong rural customs, but there’s no doubt the panorama is becoming increasingly complicated. People are getting older, land access is difficult, and there’s generational transmission of important practices and traditional knowledge is sadly insufficient. The consumer does not trust what they don’t understand, and consumption habits seem to be increasingly shaped by the rhythm of fashion. So we needed to do something; we wanted to start a project to build back that trust and confidence between farmers and consumers and to create a big family of farmers united by their passion for sustainability and the environment.
Since deciding to start this new project, how did it then take form?
It wasn’t an overnight process. It took us over three years to collectively create a set of guidelines, a manual that stipulated how we should organize ourselves, how we could visit and classify each node of the network with a multidisciplinary team and approach. We visited members of the “De ferme en ferme” project in France several times, and we decided to lay the foundations for our own project on this basis.
Was it difficult to unite all these producers into a network? Did they take much convincing?
The beginning was slow, although within a year we already had around twenty farmers join up. It’s not a network that aims to actively recruit its members; each farmers must join of their own accord, accepting it for what it is: a network of collaboration. There were some who waited, watching, wanting to see how we would work together before they were convinced of the project’s validity. But this isn’t a bad thing: it means the quality of the people in our group is excellent: everyone really believes in our common goals.
What are your goals? And has Covid-19 had any impact on them?
After a state of emergency was declared in Spain for Covid-19 we shifted our focus to online information dissemination, to help producers connect with consumers directly., with the help of various volunteers: Ana, who taught the farmers how to take photos of their products; Salena, who shared the nuritional information of the different foods; Laura, who reviewed the collective image of the network; and Antonio, who created fabulous cooking videos to help our viewers learn and discover the products grown by the farmers in our network.
What does it mean for you to be part of the wider Slow Food network?
Personally speaking, I’ve been a member of Slow Food for 17 years, and it gives me the feeling of belonging to something so transversal, something that connects every aspect of being human, and how we want to shape our future direction on the planet. Belonging to a global network with so many local projects gives you a sense of security, and allows you to replicate and share the good examples that the global network provides us with.
And finally, how are you thinking of participating in Terra Madre 2020?
We’ll do something for sure: every year we celebrate De Granja en Granja at Biotierruca, and this year, with even greater conviction we’ll be launching a rallying cry to society: this is what Terra Madre is, and must be.
by Jack Coulton