Combating the food emergency through baskets of organic food

We visited the Alterbanc project this February, a project which distributes baskets of organic food in four of the city’s districts to families facing a food emergency.

24/02/2023 - 18:42 h - City Council Ajuntament de Barcelona

Neighbourhood support networks have become very well known in our city in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Networks that helped a lot of people at a given time. But they have always existed. Giving support, above all, to people with the most vulnerable profiles. And these networks, far from the concept of charities offering what they have in surplus, are fighting to sustain families in need, with full dignity. This is one of maxims of Carles, from the Casal Popular Tres Voltes Rebel, who argues “that as support networks we aren’t just filling people’s stomachs, we want to do it in the best conditions”.

This is what ’Alterbanc, an organic food bank, has achieved: a project that distributes farmers’ products to vulnerable people through various city neighbourhood, activity and other social centres. A project that from the outset wanted to link the food emergency to food sovereignty.

Alterbanc operates thanks to numerous individuals: first, the farmers, who supply fruit, vegetables and other fresh food produce from their farms; then the activists and volunteers involved in Barcelona’s neighbourhood, activity and social centres, who receive the farm products and prepare the baskets for the families; and, lastly, the families and individuals who receive those baskets.

At Casal Tres Voltes Rebel we meet Aziz: today he’s helping to unload boxes of cauliflowers and cabbages, and while he unloads them and prepares the baskets, he explains how he’s one of the recipients of these vegetables and yet helps out at the neighbourhood centre. The vegetables offer a supplement to the small pay he earns from the intermittent work he does whenever he can, while the neighbourhood centre has loads of social projects that keep him busy and connect him to the neighbourhood. The same goes for Josua, who is also collaborating with the Alterbanc project, having received considerable support from the neighbourhood centre. They both share the same view: receiving and giving, giving and receiving, are inextricably linked.

A change of paradigm in the food bank model

The Alterbanc project has a transformative understanding of the “food bank” concept:

While such banks traditionally fill shelves with products that individuals, organisations and companies don’t need, Alterbanc favours buying fresh produce directly from local organic producers and its rapid distribution through the mutual support groups already in place in Barcelona’s districts.

The second change of paradigm is that families receiving food are not passive players, as is usually the case with Rebosts Solidaris (solidarity larders) and the like. Once Alterbanc collects food from farmers and takes it to various distribution points, the families receiving food take delivery of the products and prepare the baskets themselves, with help of volunteers from the mutual support networks.

Another interesting aspect of this is it seeks to bring emergency food assistance for vulnerable families into contact with the organic circuits (which are usually seen as circuits for medium-to-high income families).

Alterbanc, a project funded by Impulsem el Que Fas

This is a pilot test for this new way of distributing food to vulnerable people, through mutual-support and direct-from-the- farm networks.

The initiative was launched this February in Eixample, Nou Barris, Les Corts and Sant Andreu, providing products every week to 60 individuals in each district, and it is expected to spread in the near future. And the project became a reality is thanks in part to the support received in the form of funding from the Impulsem el que fas programme.

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