Farming in the City's Backyard

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E ven long-time Barcelona residents may have never suspected that just on the rim of the city’s dense urban area, along the Llobregat River’s delta, lie fertile felds that have supplied the city with fresh fruits and vegetables for centuries. Just fve kilometres south of Barcelona, the rich soil— complemented by abundant sunshine, mild temperatures and the proximity of the Medi- terranean Sea—has long established the Llo- bregat valley as a farmer’s paradise. Farm- ing
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  E ven long-time Barcelona residentsmay have never suspected that just onthe rim o the city’s dense urban area,along the Llobregat River’s delta, lie ertileelds that have supplied the city with reshruits and vegetables or centuries. Just vekilometres south o Barcelona, the rich soil—complemented by abundant sunshine, mildtemperatures and the proximity o the Medi-terranean Sea—has long established the Llo-bregat valley as a armer’s paradise. Farm-ing began to evolve in this area some 6,000years ago, and by the 1800s three-quarters othe lands in the delta were being armed. Inthe Thirties, the ruit and vegetable harvestachieved its highest levels o export to therest o Europe.This idyllic landscape was so greatly a-ected by urban sprawl and industrial ex-pansion in the second hal o the last centu-ry, however, that the area’s ancient armingtradition was threatened with extinction. Inresponse, the Parc Agrari de Baix Llobregat(the lower Llobregat Agricultural Park) wascreated, in 1998, as a large-scale agro-en-vironmental project with a clear mandateto protect the agricultural tradition as acultural treasure. Now, more than a decadeater its establishment, Parc Agrari is re-garded globally as an impressive example osustainable ‘periurban’ arming.“We continue to have visitors rom all con-tinents,” Sonia Callau, the head o the Uni-tat d’Espais Agraris (Agrarian Spaces Unit)at the park told Metropolitan . “Experts romJapan, China and many other countries cometo learn rom our experience and apply it intheir own projects.”In a ground-breaking collaboration be-tween government, experts and armers, alarge consortium was created to manage thepark, with representatives rom armers’groups, ajuntaments and the Generalitat.The protection o the armlands rom urbanand industrial pressures were, by necessity,the park’s chie concerns. But in the ace oan increasingly globalised produce marketand nancial uncertainty, a central missionhas developed o providing armers withtools and strategies to remain competitive.Researchers and land experts have beenworking to introduce eco-riendly armingtechniques using less spraying and minimalamounts o pesticides, as well as modernis-ing existing irrigation channels and help-ing armers sell what they grow. As a result,instead o losing the armlands to an ever-growing city, the Baix Llobregat park areatoday encompasses nearly 3,000 hectares ocultivated land and continues year-round toput resh lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage,caulifower, and a prousion o ruits on Bar-celona’s tables.The king o the Llobregat valley is theartichoke. About 25 percent o the park’sarmed lands are covered by this crop. Ina joint research eort with the UniversitatPolitècnica de Catalunya, the Agrarian Parkis working to improve the quality o the arti-chokes. “It’s my avorite crop to grow,” saidJoan Ribas, a 55-year-old armer. “It hassuch a long cycle, it can be harvested romDecember until May.”Ribas is the heir o a amily with a longarming tradition, which has lived on theselands since the 1600s. Like his ancestors,he and his brothers have been working theelds since they were boys. He remembers These felds are closer to Barcelonathan you might guess. The city’sbackyard The Parc Agrari is the last local hold out o traditionalarming techniques. By Steana Serafna.Photos by Suzannah Larke.           20   |   M   |   City's backyard-4.indd 2222/1/09 14:22:39  a time about 30 years ago when he coulddrive his tractor loaded with resh producestraight to El Born, Barcelona’s old centralmarket. Now urban development has come tohis arm’s door. The landscape has changed:busy motorways cross Baix Llobregat’s arm-lands, the nearby airport sends planes fyingabove the orchards and industries have builttheir actories in the surrounding area, onceoccupied by marsh and wilderness. The high-speed rail line, taking passengers rom Barce-lona to Madrid, also passes through the park,damaging soil, crops and natural balance.For armers like Ribas, surviving in achanging environment has long been an eve-ryday task. “You never know what the nextday will bring. You depend on the weather,the wind and the rainall.”For Ribas, there’s no secret to armingother than learning to pay attention to the“language” o the land and the crops day-to-day. Like many other armers in this area, hehas been aced with water scarcity. The his-toric irrigation channels still do a great jobdistributing water rom the river, but it isn’tenough. A couple o years ago, the Catalangovernment and the EU invested in a newwater treatment plant. But the water recy-cled there proved too saline or the crops.This year, a smaller plant is being built toreduce salinity, but armers like Ribas stilldon’t nd the system truly eective.A new irrigation alternative is also be-ing explored: a drip irrigation system, usedcrop-to-crop, which could save a lot o water,irrigating only as much as is needed. Drip ir-rigation has already been put into practicein the park’s arboretum—a designated terri-tory where traditional ruit tree varieties arebeing preserved. The arboretum maintainsa collection o 62 rare varieties o apples,plums, grapes, olives, peaches, gs and otherruit trees traditionally cultivated in theselands and now under threat o extinction.The garden also serves as a demonstrationeld or applying eco-arming techniques orsoil disinection and ghting pests.While some o the produce grown on thepark’s lands is still being transported toFrance and Italy, most o it doesn’t go ur-ther than nearby Mercabarna, Barcelona’svast wholesale market. “The thing is, onceour produce gets mixed in with the rest onthe markets, buyers have no way o knowingwhich ruits and veggies came rom Chile,which rom Kenya and which rom just a ewkilometres away,” said Ribas.With that concern in mind, the park’smanagement has taken on another crucialinitiative: to promote its distinctive qualityand srcin brand, ‘Producte FRESC del ParcAgrari’. Some armers have already begun tolabel their produce with the brand’s logo, in-dicating that it was grown respecting naturalrhythms, resulting in tastier, more nutritionaland resher produce rom a nearby arm. As apart o the promotion eort, restaurants thatbuy produce rom the park are also beginningto use the logo on their menus, and a web-site has been set up to list all the locationsin Barcelona and its metropolitan area wherethe produce can be ound.In an attempt to urther encourage Bar-celona’s residents to choose resh and local,over other alternatives, the park’s manage-ment is designing tours to the park, whichwill educate visitors about the history othe ecosystem and allow them to see arm-ers at work. Each year, hundreds o studentsrom Barcelona’s metropolitan area are al-ready learning about crops, soil and plant-ing, thanks to the park’s educational youthprogrammes.  City   |   M   |   21 Farming began toevolve in this areasome 6,000 years ago...   A list of locations where produce from the park is soldcan be found on this website:  A range o vegetables, including tomatoes(above) are grown in the Parc, but the kingcrop is the artichoke (right). Are you managing? Today, more than ever, you need the essential skills and knowledge that our Professional Certificatein Management provides.A one year, flexible distance learning qualification which can also leadon to our globally accredited MBA. Information Session in Barcelona, 19 February, 18.00 – 20.00 (see website for details) More info:'s backyard-4.indd 2322/1/09 14:22:56
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