Spain: biodiversity protection relies on organic gardens

In Spain, the cultivation of GM crops has been legal for some time now, but numerous civil and community organizations are opposed to this type of agriculture, which puts local biodiversity at risk.

Prominent among these is Micorriza, a nonprofit association that seeks to conserve and protect not only the natural heritage but also local cultural and traditional values. Its president is Ossian De Leyva Briongos, an active member of the Slow Food Youth Network (SFYN) in Spain. Ossian has an ordinary degree in environmental sciences and a master’s degree in the ecosystem restoration from the University di Alcalà, Madrid Polytechnic and the Cumplutense University of Madrid. His encounters with the Slow Food network in 2014 and 2016 at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto merely confirmed what he already knew: namely that the defense of the planet relies on a form of agriculture that protects biodiversity and the work of small-scale farmers.

Ossian has always lived in Escalera, a small village in the Alto Tajo Protected Nature Park in the province of Guadalajara, where his parents Carmen and Chema, also members of Slow Food, run a holiday farm and live sustainably. More precisely, they grow a garden that, besides providing most of the food they serve on the farm, is also the hub of some of Micorriza’s educational activities.

Ossian De Leyva Briongos

‘One of the activities my folks are especially proud of is their Taste Workshop on tomatoes,’ says Ossian. ‘Every year they plant more than 60 varieties, all with different shapes, flavors and colors. To raise people’s awareness they have them taste local varieties and hybrid produce and ask them which they prefer. It’s obvious what the answer is, almost always! Another interesting project is Biodiversity on the Plate in which they compare local, national and foreign varieties, all strictly organic, explaining not only their gastronomic properties but also telling the stories behind them. Then they have guests taste the varieties at the holiday farm restaurant and thus introduce them to the values of Slow Food.’

Alongside Ossian, another eleven young members of the Micorriza Association devote special attention to little known heirloom varieties, such as bolos de Torete, a bean variety grown only in the Molina de Aragòn region and included on the Ark of Taste. They are grown by about a hundred families solely for personal consumption and risk disappearing for good due to the fact that they are being replaced by similar, more lucrative varieties from the provinces of Leòn and Cuenca.

Many traditional local varieties in the area are already extinct as a result of the emigration of a large percentage of the population to urban areas and the new generations’ loss of interest in them.

Education in action

To check this phenomenon, the association has resuscitated a number of abandoned gardens in the Molina de Aragon area, converting them into social gardens where children and adults can take part in educational workshops, learn to tend the plants, exchange seeds and learn about traditional local varieties.

One of the association’s main activities over the last ten years has been the recovery of local varieties. To do this it asks senior citizens to donate the traditional seeds they still have and coordinates a project for the reuse of local varieties at the Centro Nacional de Recursos Fitogenéticos, a state-run seed bank. After planting the seeds collected and letting them grow, they distribute them among more than a hundred local families who continue to cultivate them. The project is starting to work, with some of the seeds bringing virtually unknown traditional produce back to life, with success at the local markets.

‘Over the last few years, alas, a lot of subsidies to organic growers have been cut,’ concludes Ossian, ‘At the moment, it’s impossible for small producers to fight industrial agriculture and its national, imported and, above all, GM produce. Many farmers have had to leave the land though others are resisting. It is these courageous individuals who need all the support we can give them. And we’re here not only to set an example but also to fight by their side, so that many more small associations like Micorriza can thrive all over Spain.’

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