Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting with Jorge Hernandez, the president of Cerai Zaragoza (Centre of Rural Studies and International Agriculture). Cerai are an amazing organisation, working on a range of themes including raising awareness (both locally and internationally) about agro-ecology and the importance of the loss of food sovereignty, empowering small producers to become self organised and have more control over what they do, technical assistance and training for farmers in organic production methods and lots more.
Jorge told me a bit about what the organisation does in Zaragoza. They run an organic production course for urban and peri-urban growers (which has become a lot more popular with the crisis). They started the local fortnightly organic market (like our farmers markets but completely organic – like Growing Communities in London).
In 2006 they began working with 4 local organic producers and now they have more than 30. When I asked how he thought this had happened and what support Cerai had provided, he said that really the farmers wanted to farm organically, the two main obstacles for them were that they didn't know where to sell it and were worried there wouldn't be a market and concerns about how to deal with pests and diseases with organic farming methods. So this is the support that Cerai are providing. Jorge suggested that I also talk to the person in Cerai who supports the producers.
The programme that I went to talk to them about is called the 'mensa civica', and is focused on getting sustainable food into schools and hospitals and creating a more sustainable menu. Jorge explained that at the moment the programme is just a proposal. Cerai Zaragoza have someone dedicated to work on this and will be starting a 2 month campaign on the 1st November.
Jorge agreed that there are various examples in the south of Spain, Catalunya and the Basque country of schools sourcing in a more sustainable way and working with farmers co-ops, and they are really interesting and positive (he's given me some great contacts that hopefully I will get to visit). However he says they are quite individual projects and his hope for the Mensa Civica is to have a more co-ordinated strategic approach which he believes will have a bigger impact (he says hospitals are the way to go if you want the biggest impact - and told me to look up noharm.org, and of course loves Mike Duckett and the Royal Bromptom - who wouldn't?!).
The slightly bonkers thing is that the whole idea, Jorge said originated in, wait for it....England, inspired by, you guessed it - Sustain and Food for Life! Watch this space for more info about how they are putting it into action....
Cerai's work has mostly been on a voluntary basis but that they are beginning to get more funding now in recognition of what they do and the weight they have in regards to these issues. It was a great meeting, where we went on to talk for hours putting the world to rights and discussing our own countries - our history, our activism and the pros and cons of each - so all good stuff, another friend here and loads to learn.