Buying direct

from the field to the table
Buying 'from the tree'. Guadalhorce farmers give their customers the chance to pick their own fruit and vegetables.
Buying 'from the tree'. Guadalhorce farmers give their customers the chance to pick their own fruit and vegetables. / Daniel Maldonado
  • More and more people seek to cut out the middle-man when it comes to buying vegetables. Freshly picked produce can be found in the province of Malaga

The traceability of food is one of the great battles in a global world, where multinational companies move anything from eggs to potatoes and vegetables from one end of the planet to the other. "Knowing what you eat, where it comes from and how it has been grown is a luxury," explains Sebastián Pavón, a member of a long line of farmers and of the generation that has returned to the countryside with new ideas. He shares the family business, a small farm in Coín, with his father. Citrus and avocado trees predominate, although there are also fruit trees and various vegetables depending on the season.

Sebastián, who combines agriculture with his job as an English teacher, is passionate about dietetics; and is a believer in "we are what we eat". He also, among other things, grows ancient, forgotten medicinal plants in his experimental garden, and eats only produce that is in season. "I've noticed that tomatoes in winter, even though they were frozen during the summer, make me feel unwell, because in winter my body needs other nutrients, those which the ground is producing at that time."

Most of his produce, grown using the knowledge passed down to him by his elders, is bought by a prestigious Marbella establishment, and the rest is sold through a system created by the infallible chemistry between ingenuity and necessity: The need to preserve the scarce profit margin. He has done this by eliminating intermediaries, and by the ingenious system of encouraging visitors to his farm so that they can walk around the trees and crops, collecting what they want and then getting it weighed before paying.

For groups, especially in winter, (its the main season for the citrus crop), the family organise an introductory talk on the varieties of citrus fruits grown in the Guadalhorce and their uses, and includes breakfast.

A similar system is used by the Hevilla family for direct sales, one of the most recognised families of small farmers in Spain, not only for being a pioneer in the introduction of organic farming in the province of Malaga, but also for introducing marketing systems without intermediaries. The Hevilla brothers developed various direct sales systems. All their customers receive a weekly email with a list of what is available with a range of purchase choices. They offer a variety of seasonal baskets of different weights or the possibility of buying individual items. To receive the merchandise they can choose to go to the garden on a specific days for collection, or collect from the nearest delivery point in Malaga capital, Guadalhorce or the Costa del Sol. Customers can also opt to receive the goods at home by paying a supplement, or by picking up their produce from the organic markets that the Guadalhorce Ecological Association holds every week in different parts of the province. These markets are attended by many farmers and certified producers who sell directly to the public.

In a region where horticulture is as ingrained as in Coín, the tradition of direct sales from farmer to consumer has recovered in the last decade thanks to the local association of producers. During the recent years of the crisis, many of the farms that were almost abandoned came alive again in order to boost family finances, and on Sunday mornings a unique market started up where visitors could buy freshly picked fruit and vegetables.

Three years ago, the provincial council completed the construction of the Mercado Agroalimentario del Valle del Guadalhorce-Sabor a Málaga which is currently the venue of this open-air market every Sunday morning from 9am to 3pm. It has become a very busy market where there are farmers, cheesemakers, bakers, sellers of honey and cold meats etc.

Being able to obtain agricultural produce with the guarantee of knowing who produces it is a luxury available to those who value it enough to make the effort to look for a supplier.

In many areas around the centre of Malaga and in towns and cities along the coast, consumer groups have been set up whose function is to collectively purchase and organise distribution of fresh produce. The number of farmers who sell their products direct to the public, including online, is also growing.

This is the case of many farms specialising in citrus fruits such as El Cerrajón, in Cártama, where Pablo and Isabel Farfán and Salva Marina sell their organic oranges and tangerines throughout Spain. They also have a network of local customers who buy their ecological fruit and vegetables.

They belong to the Slow Food movement and every year they take and train students from the Gastronomic Sciences University of Pollenzo (Italy). The importance of local varieties and above all, who grows them and how, is becoming paramount in gastronomy.