By Clea House
Madrid, Nov 18 (EFE).- Aitor Ruiz drives out to his allotment every morning to tend to a vibrant array of crops, from lettuce and spinach to more exotic varieties like Chinese cabbage and Japanese mustard leaf, but beyond seasonal bounties what matters to him most is happiness.
Aitor belongs to ATM, one of 10 ecological farming projects operating in Perales de Tajuña, located just 38 kilometers (24 miles) from Madrid but world’s away from the hustle and bustle of the Spanish capital.
The village and its outlying area is colloquially known as Madrid’s allotment, “but all the products that are consumed in the city come from hundreds of kilometers away now,” Aitor tells Efe.
As city sprawls swallow up rural areas, agroecological projects are championing locally-grown produce, forging tight-knit communities with deep connections to the land.
The model that has taken root in the village typically sees a small group of people coming together to work a smallholding.
Resources such as warehouses, equipment and vehicles are shared with other cooperatives in the area.
“We try to relate to each other in a different way, whereby not everything is based on competition, like the world we currently live in, instead we try to support each other,” Aitor added, who has been living in Perales for 15 years, says.
“The brushcutter I am using and all the production tools we use are collectivized. This tool belongs to, like, 10 different people and we take turns using it,” he said before cranking up the machine and tearing out weeds from a dusty patch in the field.
Aitor toils away for hours as the wind pours in off the plain, no match for the olive groves that flank the roughly one hectare of land.
Neat rows of chard, leek and bulbous radish brush shoulders with towering Oriental vegetables that are not only exposed to the elements above ground but to the local moles who patrol the soil below. The ground-dwellers recently ploughed through a clutch of spinach roots.
“We don’t have a greenhouse, the allotment is seasonal,” Aitor explains.
Aitor’s collective ATM aims to make vegetables accessible to all types of consumers.
“It is a fixed monthly fee. People don’t pay for each product but to keep the project going, what we call a fixed basket.”
This community-oriented approach to farming is, for the European Union, an essential part of a sustainable future.
The bloc’s Farm to Fork strategy, one of the key components of the European Green Deal, aims to replace lengthy, polluting supply chains with direct customer sales and boost organic farming to account for a quarter of agricultural land use by 2030.
On a national level, Spanish farming organization COAG backs community farming as a way to foster a circular and accessible economy that provides produce at an optimal state of seasonal ripeness and nutritional value.
“(The system) allows direct and stable relationships to be established between producers and consumers, improving transparency and trust, creating a social fabric and involving society in decision-making,” Andoni García, COAG Agricultural Markets manager, told Efe.