food sovereignty

Starters of change (10) Contraptions

Somewhere in western Spain: the fruit trees on the foreground have clearly visible drip irrigation

Somewhere in western Spain: the fruit trees on the foreground have clearly visible drip irrigation

Time to widen the scope: in a moment in which the border between urban and rural gets fuzzier in terms of social demands, at least in Europe, some things can start change in both spheres.

European laws (and others, but those in Europe are closer to me) institute citizen’s rights without making differences between those in rural and urban areas; citizenship, despite its etymologic link to cities, applies to everyone. But in fact the burden of transportation and communications implied differences in the aspirations of the residents of rural areas, which often saw the access to some services as almost impossible, and this was commonly accepted. During recent decades residents in rural areas have grasped better chances to access more services, first through cars, then TV, and then the internet; this has meant an evolution in their view of the urban life. It is still different to live in a small hamlet with 250 residents, half of which are over 60, but some things are now felt as rights in the same way in both kinds of territory. And the consumption habits get closer as the rural populations loses overall weight.  This is catalyzer of change on a scale that goes beyond urban or metropolitan, either for good or for bad.

Saying that cultivation fields get technician by the aim for more production can only be accepted if you speak in terms of millennia; improving crop yields has always been a goal for farmers, despite the bucolic vision some urbans have. There is a constant buzz now around the “developed countries” concerning smart cities and the future introduction of sensors, but this is also becoming common in many rural areas through improved irrigation systems. The image of circles formed by pivot irrigation are known to most of us, but drip irrigation, albeit less impressive when seen from above, is quite efficient, and the chances to mechanize recollection in some cases change many things.

Sure, urbans are not getting fans of the farm machinery websites, but it is rather the way in which farmers exchange information about their working tools, almost as any urban professional. When farmers look for ways to hack the on-board computers on their combine harvesters, as a recent article on Wired showed, change is in the air. I’m not sure how/whether this will translate to architecture and landscape, but chances are there could be an impact. And this is in fact an essay, reduced but interesting, on what comes along with smart cities; managing irrigation water and its electricity use is a limited goal, but some smart city initiatives don’t go beyond the mere management of a limited set of services…

Biblio (73) Food and territory in Switzerland

Some months ago, this site had a series or posts on food sovereignty and several views on that issue. It was a success (when related to the general statistics of the site, which I must admit are humble…), and in a recent conversation with a new friend (Marta), I just saw that this is still an interesting issue for many people, and not just farmers.

To a certain degree, many countries have land laws that recognize that food is a vital social need that justifies restrictions to the use that can be allowed on highly productive agricultural areas. This seems at first glance a self- evident truth, but our fridges and powerful food logistic chains sometimes make us forget; agriculture has become one among many uses for land, and it is subject to market forces that try to maximize profit on a yearly basis (or simply to survive). It is often a legal paragraph, that has to be dealt with at the local planning scale, so it is far from being applied with a uniform, strategic approach over large territories, and its control is far from satisfying.

The Swiss, with their tradition of neutrality and the presence of powerful neighbours whose friendship has not always been guaranteed, have taken seriously the idea of food sovereignty for a number of reasons that include crisis; this does not mean that the country is independent in terms of food production, but rather that they care about agricultural land conservation. So they have defined a national plan to that end with a preventive approach: the land included is not bound to a compulsory cultivation scheme, but has restrictions on transformation. An interesting read, that can be complemented with a review of the first ten years of the plan and its effects when applied at the Canton level (state, remember Switzerland is a Confederation).


Some 200 km west from Shanghai, I have not chosen this village due to direct knowledge (I have visited Shanghai, but for a very short stay), but rather as it seems to illustrate a trend which is global, only faster in China these days. An interesting network of traditional hamlets seem to progressively leave the place for residential subdivisions or other things that seem oddly far from any logical location. Can a feasible and modern agriculture exist, producing money enough not to lose in an irreversible way the landscape and the environment?

Urban planning and food (13) Santa Caterina

Santa Caterina1The Santa Caterina market (Barcelona) is a good place to give yourself a treat, be it food-related or architectural. According to a logic close to that of Madrid’s gourmet markets, close to the Cathedral, the Miralles- Tagliabue architecture is a must.

Santa Caterina-4 Santa Caterina-3 Santa Caterina-2

Urban planning and food (12) Markets

A night view of the Mercado de San Miguel

A night view of the Mercado de San Miguel

The city of Madrid has historically had a set of public markets into buildings; up to the 1980s these markets asumed a large part of the fresh food supply to the population, but the increase in car ownership rates and the rise of peripheral big box supermarkets stopped the creation of new markets and set for a decline in their use. But some five years ago the city decided that it would create a new market for the first time in decades as to ensure some variety in the new Ensanche de Vallecas (a vast new growth area in which there were no street level stores), and that it would revive markets through a double strategy: introducing in some of them mid-sized supermarkets that could improve the appeal to consumers and, for the San Miguel and San Antón markets, a refurbishment as gourmet temples (which now have to cope with a crisis that can reduce the demand for such products), in which the concern for local food was not the central issue (altough local products are promoted).

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The Mercado de San Miguel is a building from 1916 with an iron structure, near the Plaza Mayor, which is developed on a single level. There is no large central space, as stalls are arranged along corridors, but the glass façades give a good view from the street of all things yummy to a steady flow of tourists visiting central Madrid.

Mercado de San Miguel

Mercado de San Miguel

The Mercado de San Anton was rebuilt, adopting a quite different approach: it is a multilevel market, with a floor allocated to food sales and the next ones used by theme restaurants around a central multilevel open space. If you visit, some of the most scenic are on the upper terrace, with views (albeit limited) over the Chueca roofs.

The gate to San Antón

The gate to San Antón

San Antón 2

The food sales floor, closed as the photo was taken out of the sales times

The food sales floor, closed as the photo was taken out of the sales times

The restaurants level at San Antón

The restaurants level at San Antón

Urban planning and food (11) Street markets


The open markets system in Paris is based on temporary ocupations of the public rights of way, mainly for food sales. The aim is to provide citizens with a choice of quality fresh food. There are 82 food markets in the city, with three bio markets. The opening times vary, and there are usually several markets open each day. According to studies by the  Institut d’Aménagement et Urbanisme de la Région Ile-de-France, there are more fishmongers and cheese sellers in the open air markets than in  conventional brick and mortar shops, as the products have better sales through this channel.

Markets are managed by firms that have concession contracts for six years terms, assuming the conduct of the business and renting sales positions to sellers, as well as basic services as electricity and water. They pay a right of use of public spaces to the city, as well as a quota to the municipal street cleaning service, an essential item for public hygiene and health.

Urban planning and food (10) Cows

vacas galicia0

The cow is a central animal in the traditional Galician country areas and for the identity of a region in which the rural areas are still relevant.

According to data from the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment, from January 2010 to December 2010 Galicians consumed 259,8 millions of kg of liquid milk. The official population as of January 1, 2010 was 2.797.653, so the average consumption was 92,6 kg of liquid milk by habitant and year.

The Galician Statitics Institute registrered 963.368 bovine cattle units, of which 326.596 were milk cows; their production that year was 32,64 million liters, so the yearly average was 99 liters by cow.

Milk’s density is 1,032 kg/litre

  • Each Galician would need nearly an entire cow for his yearly use (not taking into account cheese and other derivatives of milk).
  • The region imports milk, despite its traditional image of milk production hub.

It is impossible to draw precisely a foodshed as there are no  precise data on consumption traceability, but the liquid milk foodshed for the Coruña- Ferrol metropolitan area (close to half a million people) would have been the entire Galician region and a sizeable part of the Asturias region, that produced a similar amount of milk on that year.

Number of milk cows in the Galician municipalities in 2010. The two main metropolitan areas are outlined

Number of milk cows in the Galician municipalities in 2010. The two main metropolitan areas are outlined

Urban planning and food (9) Vegaviana

Vegaviana is from 2009 a municipality in the province of Cáceres, in Spain. The settlement was created in 1954 as a new planned agrarian settlement, as a part of the internal colonization movement developed under the Franco Regime; large irrigation projects (in this case, linked to the Borbollón reservoir) were linked to these new agrarian towns. In 1961 there were 3.131 colonists, but today population is 863, as the area is subject to the same demographic trends that mark most of rural Spain.

The architectural project, by Fernandez del Amo, was awarded, and as in most of these colonization settlements the humble architecture is well integrated in the landscape. It is usually the opposite to a golf course, as here productive land must be preserved as the reason for the urban tissue.



Urban planning and food (8) Lanzarote

The island of Lanzarote is a volcanic territory in the Atlantic ocean. A large series of eruption in the XVIIIth century destroyed relevant agricultural landscapes. The islanders developed agricultural systems that allowed food production even under such harsh conditions (strong winds, arid land, nearly no water at all). Today some of these productions have earned quality labels (as the wine), but food production is not able to feed the local population and the sizeable tourist presence, so the island imports oil for its water desalting plants (there are plans to substitute it for renewable energies) and food. Geria 1geria2lanzarote1