BAM members preparing the vegetable boxes for customers. / J. RHODES

An international organic collective with a clear vision

A group of growers in Nerja and Maro formed BAM at the beginning of the pandemic to support each other and help the local community

MARO.

Bio Agricultura Maro (BAM) is a collective of organic growers in Maro and Nerja which was born in 2020 when small-scale local farmers were left without an outlet to sell their products as the pandemic hit.

Previously relying on local markets as their main source of income, the individual farmers got together to form their own local collective and support each other. They also form part of Eco-Axarquía, which started in 2017 and is an association of organic growers and artisans covering the whole of the Axarquía area.

Since then, however, the group has organised itself and set up a range of different projects. One of the very first things they did was to contribute fresh fruit and vegetables to the local food banks.

"Around 25 per cent of the population of Nerja was reliant on the food banks early on in the lockdown. Bear in mind that this is a town which is heavily reliant on tourism and of course there was none for most of 2020," says Anna, a Dutch woman who has lived in the area for around eight years and is one of the local growers and founders of BAM.

"There is little or no fresh food included at the food banks. People tend to donate foods like rice, pasta and oil but fruit and vegetables are often not included," Anna goes on to say. In total the collective donated around 2,000 kilos of fresh fruit and vegetables to Nerja food banks in 2020.

Vege boxes

Something else the group started in spring of this year was a weekly vege box collection. Members can get a box of mixed, seasonal fruit and vegetables for 10 euros, or order what they want from the website.

The farmers bring their produce to the collection point at the Vega de Maro early in the morning and the boxes are ready to be picked up late morning. "All the produce is harvested to order, so there is no waste," explains Anna.

Not only is there seasonal fruit and veg, from pomegranates, mangoes, curly kale, sweet potato, squashes...the list goes on...but some farmers also bring dried fruit like figs, locally grown almonds and honey. Most come from the Nerja and Maro area but a few farmers from the Alpujarra in Granada have also recently come on board.

"It's also an opportunity to meet the growers themselves, which isn't something you can do if you buy your fruit and vegetables in a shop and certainly not in a supermarket," argues Anna.

This hive of activity is also very international; among the members there are Spanish, French, Italian, British, Dutch and German people. "We're like the United Nations of small organic farmers," smiles one of the farmers who has come with her produce.

Nobody uses machinery, so it's all handpicked and as such kinder to the soil. Fruit and vegetables are grown among wild flowers, which is important for biodiversity, which in turn is important for the soil and crops. They also organise themselves to buy seeds and baby plants in bulk to share the costs.

Certification

BAM has also come up with its own organic certification system and it's the members themselves who keep a check on each other's systems and working conditions. "The big certificates require growers to have a minimum size of land and our certificate includes working conditions. It can't be considered as sustainable if workers are being exploited," Anna says.

They have plans to expand their work into education and organising visits to the area for school children and want to teach people how to grow organically and also the importance of seasonality.

"We're so far removed from the concept of seasonality and people expect to find, for example, courgettes in winter," explains Anna. "We want to get local school children to come to see what we do and to teach them about the important of biodiversity and sustainability."

They're also using their collective skills and experience to increase their social media presence and help members with the 'PR' element of what they do. With some members having a professional background in fruit distribution and others who have experience with technology and social media, the collective is working hard to give itself a louder voice and identify how to grow; not only their produce, but as an organisation.

The group also organises regular clean-up events, both of local beaches and the surrounding countryside.

Now that local markets are mainly up and running again, members of BAM regularly sell at the markets in Trapiche on Tuesday mornings, La Raqueta tennis club in Nerja on every first Saturday and El Zoco in Nerja every third Saturday of the month.

They also plan to make their contribution of fresh produce to the local food banks a regular event. "They existed before the pandemic and are still in demand now and it feels great to be able to contribute to the local community," Anna concludes.

To find out more about BAM, ordering vege boxes, becoming a member and the community projects visit: www.bioagriculturamaro.wixsite.com or Facebook: Bio Agricultura Maro.