On Wednesday night we popped into a seasonal tasting session to talk to some of the organisers - a group of organic producers, who work together to supply Birosta (the vegetarian bar that Patricia and others set up). The three producers also run a box scheme (Del Campo a Casa – From the Field to House), which they distribute through various drop of points (Birosta is one of them). Two of them pooled their land and the third is in the same area works closely with them.
The group have also recently become part of a network of producers in Catalunya, they buy (or exchange) fruit and veg from each other to put in their own boxes. There is no formal structure or agreement, although they have to both sell to and buy from the co-op and agree (verbally) to a set of principles that includes co-operation and organic production methods. I had a quick chat with two of them Joaquin and Felix about how the network works and the problems they are facing.
The role/cost of co-ordination:
Co-ordination of who grows and supplies what to who and the distribution, is done by a subgroup on a voluntary basis to keep the costs down. This is a massive job and those doing it are getting burnt out but the cost of a co-ordinator would add too much to the boxes.
Distribution is also a high cost for them as the distance between them is significant (Patricia told me that of the price of the boxes 5 euros paid for the vegetables and 10 for the transport!). This was a problem faced by one of the producers co-ops I spoke to in the UK (as part of my MSc). The aim is to avoid this with MVP by making sure the producers are close to Manchester, however it would be something we'd need to think about if we were to try and join up with other co-ops to supply things we don't grow.
Price based on the cost of production.
They highlighted a couple of problems with this. One is what happens if the cost of production is cheaper for one grower than another (due to e.g. scale or equipment). To deal with this they have tried agreeing on a middle price (between the lowest and the highest), but this has its problems as they don't want to pass additional costs on to their customers.
Another tricky issue is how much each producer decides is a sustainable salary – for one person it might be 500 euros a month for another it might be 1000, it depends on each persons cost (and desired standard) of living, and is it possible to say that there is a standard rate of pay per hour for each producer?
So some relevant issues for MVP to think about – though sadly no answers as yet! I didn't get a chance to have more of a detailed chat with them as they were running the event (and are really busy at the moment), but we are going to stay in email contact (and let each other know when we find a solution).
Finally when we were talking about other places I was thinking about visiting, Joaquin said that the public sector programme in the south near Cadiz has been a bit of a disaster. It was an amazing programme where all of the schools and nurseries were only buying from organic producers. But the additional costs were subsidised by the local authority (so that the schools/parents didn't have to pay extra for school meals), so when the administration changed, and there were huge cuts, the schools basically stopped sourcing organically over night. This not only left producers suddenly with no market, but some of them are still owed thousands of euros from previous deliveries.
The tasting was at Yacaranda - a shop selling fair-trade and local produce that puts profits into running workshops for families focused on health and art. The vegetable of the night was courgette and Birosta had cooked a range of yummy dishes including squash lasagne, squash and feta salad, and squash cake. Even the growers were surprised by how much you can do with a squash!