While the planes fly over the fields on their way to El Prat airport, about fifteen volunteers from the Espigoladors Foundation bend down to harvest, slowly but surely, a terrace of spinach in Gavà, inside the Baix Llobregat Agrarian Park, at gates of barcelona In the margin, Josep Raventós observes them with a severe pose, still accepting that at least this way these vegetables, which are in perfect condition, are not going to be thrown away. “They don’t buy them from me, the market is saturated,” says this farmer on a sunny Wednesday in early spring. The gleaners, most of them retired women, are busy preparing boxes full of bunches. Other volunteers will arrive shortly, those of the social entities that will distribute this food to people in vulnerable situations.
More than 160 years have passed, but the work of the Espigoladors Foundation does not differ much from what the protagonists of the gleaners, the painting that Jean-François Millet painted in 1857, where three women with long skirts and their heads covered gather the leftovers of a harvest, like ears of wheat. This image continues to be the reference for the entity that, in addition to going to the search for food rejected by the commercial circuit, has as another fundamental leg the Es im-perfect project, a workshop where jams, vegetable pates, creams, stir-fries and compotes with recovered fruits and vegetables.
The objective of Espigoladors is “to promote this activity as a strategy to reduce food losses and waste, facilitate access to adequate food for everyone and promote social transformation”, says Anna Gras, the foundation’s communication manager, who It was born in 2014 based on two premises: “There is food in very good condition that is thrown away every day”, while “there are people who are not well fed and go hungry”. It is the paradox of “an unsustainable food system that creates inequalities,” she laments. His work begins in the field, but he relies on his online store and 800 points of sale —neighborhood and proximity stores and the Catalan supermarket Bon Preu— so that people can buy his artisan preserves.
It is the first time that Raventós has donated its harvest to the foundation, but it already has 233 collaborating producers and 2,304 tons of products saved from garbage. In the Gavà field, when the first boxes are ready, a van from a social entity from Sant Boi de Llobregat, La Botiga Solidària, arrives. Chema Rojas has been behind the wheel of this vehicle for six years, and at 10:00 in the morning it has already passed other places, such as the Banc dels Aliments, where he has collected 900 kilos of fruit, and three nurseries, where they keep the leftover menus every day. Everything will be distributed among families in your municipality who live in poverty.
Maialen Urbina coordinates the gleanings in Baix Llobregat. “We have a database of volunteers (of 3,300 people in total, 70% of whom are women) and every day we make a call to go gleaning.” What they pick depends on the season, now a lot of chard, cabbage, broccoli or spinach. “They cannot be sold because there is a surplus or for aesthetic reasons,” she says. “I was amazed at the amount of food that was thrown away,” says Silvia Dopazo, a retiree who has been enrolled since November. Like her, Maite Grande, also retired, is the third time she has gone to an espigada and she says: “I wanted to do some social service, but without a daily commitment.” Among them is also Juliana Flores, who is studying a master’s degree in sustainability in Barcelona. “I see her as black,” she admits of her subject matter, “but hopefully things will change,” she adds.
The good news is that Espigoladors is growing. They already have a presence in another region, Maresme, where they glean in the Baja Tordera Agricultural Space, and also in Baix Camp, in the province of Tarragona. For a month, a person has been opening the way in Lleida, where they want to glean, especially in fruit trees. There the surpluses or defects also leave many foods out of the commercial circuit.
At the origin of this hopeful project are Mireia Barba, Jordi Bruna and Marina Pons, who started a pilot test nine years ago to glean the vegetables that the farmers could not sell. They opened the Es im-perfect workshop in 2018 and a couple of years ago it became a job placement company, which provides work for people at risk of exclusion from the Sant Cosme neighborhood, where it is located. Barba explains that it is “a tool to revitalize the neighborhood.” As they have become too small for a growing initiative, at the end of the year they will move it to a 1,000-square-meter industrial warehouse ceded by the Prat de Llobregat City Council. In 2022 they produced 400,000 cans of preserves, a figure that is far from the 89,000 cans of 2018.
On the same day that the volunteers collect spinach in the field, calçots have arrived at the workshop, where 23 people work, which are going to be turned into creams. Peeling onions there are four women. Carmen Agramunt, Halima Eddooukkali, Débora Miró and Kadidiatou Ba are shameful. Without leaving their hands to rest, they tell how they have gotten here after time without work or cleaning houses irregularly, and they are proud of having a permanent job with a contract. Marta Carreras is in charge of the workshop, which employs around 20 people. She says that in this case the calçots cream is for a producer from Vilafranca del Penedès who has had surpluses and has commissioned them to transform it into packaged cream with his label. She will surely put them in the baskets of direct products from the field that she sells in her environment.
Es im-perfect is an own brand that produces various preserves. They buy the raw material from producers who cannot sell it through the usual channels, but which is in perfect condition to consume and they make eleven ranges of jams, five types of vegetable pates, tomato sauce and two types of compote. It is an artisan product, without additives or preservatives. For example, the artichoke pâté has 95% of this vegetable and all the jams have a minimum of 70% fruit. They have also recently collaborated with the Barcelona City Council, collecting oranges from the trees in the city’s neighborhoods to make jams, under the name of La Marga.
Last March they reached the figure of 1,000 gleanings. In total, they say that they have recovered two million kilos of fruit and vegetables that, without their work, would have ended up rotting. They are clear that their objective is to reduce the problem of food losses and waste, but also to make visible the task of primary sector and sensitize the population about the value of food. This third leg of the project is carried out through consultancies, workshops or courses. For some time now they have been collaborating with school canteens with a program to quantify the food that is thrown away in a school canteen and the application of measures to avoid it. And at the legislative level, they advised the process of drafting Law 3/2020 on the prevention of food losses and waste, approved in March 2020 by the Parliament of Catalonia. As an entity, they managed to get the term ‘grazing’ to be included as an activity to be regulated. A very important step to promote the replication of this activity in an organized, regulated manner and hand in hand with the primary sector in other parts of the Catalan territory. An achievement that shows that gleaning by gleaning, it is possible to fight against food waste.