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Sustainability Competences through Agroecology: A practical ECF4CLIM collaboration in Barcelona

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

Sometimes, sustainability is not an objective, but an inherent value in a concrete practice or activity. There, sustainability is not something that we look for, but the reason why a new project emerges. That’s right for L’Ortiga, a cooperative devoted to zero kilometer agriculture in the mountains of Collserola (Barcelona, Catalonia).

We’re writing about L’Ortiga thanks to a support collaboration that a partner of ECF4LCIM project – UAB (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) started doing in October 2023. The initiative had the aim to connect a UAB external organization to our research in sustainability competences.

While the collaboration is ongoing, it has already proven to be productive. ECF4CLIM has acquired a repository of knowledge pertaining to the effective implementation of sustainability practices within the realms of food systems and agroecology in education.

For L’Ortiga, we’re offering human support to do their multiple educational activities either in the lands they manage or outside. L’Ortiga works with environmental education with schools, high schools, occupational training courses, and social services, something possible thanks to their educational team.

In the process of accumulating educational knowledge and ideas, a significant inquiry arises regarding the formalization of agreements between universities, in our context, and external initiatives engaged in environmental education. We might think sometimes that big institutions such as universities are “too closed” into Academia and Research, and that there is an “endemic lack of practical education”.

This might be a quick analysis of an institution that has many connections to the economic, political and social world, however, we would like to emphasize the importance of really COLLABORATING. And that means, quite literally, putting our hands in the soil either in our campuses or outside.

Hence, we are highlighting a successful collaboration between an ECF4CLIM partner and an agroecological project. It's worth noting that in the Catalan language, "L’Ortiga" translates to nettle—an intriguing plant with significant applications in ecological agriculture, utilizing natural techniques like nettle slurry fertilizer to combat pests.

L’Ortiga centralises its activity nowadays in the mountain of Collserola, the wooded frontier that separates the city of Barcelona from other northwestern regions (Vallès Occidental). Collserola is a beautiful place for Barcelonians, who live in a city that lacks of green spaces.

Collserola would also be super interesting to study the human sustainability impacts among centuries of use. The anthropisation of this mountain went through land use for agriculture (with vineyard as an important crop) to leisure in the middle of the XIX century.

Collserola still has the remnants of this human-nature interaction, with a farming landscape merged with modernist old buildings in Les Planes or maBaixador de Vallvidrera. Can Monmany is part of this farming landscape, that was a bit lost when its owners abandoned their production, keeping the property of the house and land.

The founders of l’Ortiga, young people with activist experience in agroecology (among other backgrounds, for sure), arrived to Can Monmany years ago asking the owners “What about recovering your fields?”.

And that’s what happened!

The local government in the area paid for a percentage of the property, and L’Ortiga used it for the cooperative’s activity. Since then, they have created their own sustained economic activity, and its educational (and inspiring) project.

The collaboration with l’Ortiga is still in process, and we might be writing again soon about our learnings there, from the perspective of ECF4CLIM. Until now, at least, there’s a question that has emerged: should agroecology be part of the sustainability competence we’re working on? And more specifically, how can we teach university students the importance of growing ecological and km zero food when they’re significantly far from the primary sector activity?

When ECF4CLIM – UAB team concluded the first deliberative workshops with students, teachers and staff (first and second SCT and SCC) one of the issues that worried them was food: from food-waste in UAB’s canteens to the possibility of actually eating sustainable food in the campus. Where does the vegetables, meat and raw products come from?

We could also go far from this and criticize the tendering processes in university, that seems to benefit big chains that can do little to radically change the menus. For this reason, UAB people, shared the idea of elaborating a strategic food planning in the campus that considered canteens, the dining rooms, dispensers, and Food Sovereignty as a structural base for all these hypothetic changes.

Let’s see if we make this happen. We imagine that in a better and sustainable future, l’Ortiga, and food cooperatives like them, could be an example on how to do things better regarding food sustainability in UAB, and in other universities.

The path is opened, but we need many hands and brains thinking about all this agroecological transition, that aims university to think about the soil, trees, crops, and vegetables as part of its educational schemes.

Small piece of UAB fields in Bellaterra, Catalonia.

The picture was taken in October but pepper is still growing in Can Monmany

L’Ortiga bringing students from an occupational training course in Can Monmany to pick the last cherry tomatoes (this activity of gathering the last remnants of a crop, in Catalan language, receives the specific name of “espigolar”, which doesn’t have an equivalent translation into Spanish. Do you have this concept in your mother languages?.

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