An experience that feeds thousands of people
Landare is one of the Spanish State’s pioneer consumer associations. Founded in 1991 by individuals involved in antimilitarist and anarchist groups, Landare has since evolved alongside social change and unrest. Today, 2600 families from Pamplona (Iruña) meet and acquire foodstuffs in Landare’s two premises which employ 25 workers. Landare can, without doubt, make many contributions to the debate on alternative marketing and its promotion of change.
Photo by Landare
“In some respects, Landare is the sum of all those people who have, over time, become members of the association, the sum of all their ideas, values, perceptions... and this sum total means that at times we have advanced in a given direction and at other times we have retreated. We are always debating this, that or the other issue and are given to debating. And we are not afraid to admit when we make mistakes.” Our chat with David Garnatxo, greengrocer and worker in Landare and Valero Casanovas, member of Landare’s Board of Directors, begins with this statement.
“At the moment, 2600 families belong to Landare in a city of 200.000”, says David. “This is a little scary because if we multiply 2600 by 4, the average number of people in a family, it means that over 5% of the people living in Pamplona buy at least one product in Landare”. Landare is, in fact, one of the few initiatives aiming at change in consumer habits in the Spanish State that has managed to successfully cross the barriers posed by size and the ability to reconsider principles and accept contradictions whilst maintaining, and even strengthening, basic values. Most such initiatives never manage to cross these barriers or, if they do, maintain their original values. “We were obviously worried by change. We were quite happy as we were, around 100 of us, but confident in each other. But what many social movements lack is precisely confidence and a readiness to make mistakes”.
YES TO GROWTH.... BUT HOW AND IN WHICH DIRECTION?
As in the case of many such initiatives, Landare arose from the needs of a group of people who became aware of the importance of healthy eating and caring for Nature. Their message evolved naturally towards local food consumption and the concept of proximity. “We decided that proximity could be defined for our purposes as up to 150 km from Pamplona but that we could also understand it to be more than just physical distance” explains David. “Proximity also refers to people with similar ideological views who are also open to debate, as in Landare. We feel closer to those groups that try to maintain the rural population and those people with change in mind even though they may be further away in physical terms. There may be projects nearby that are far away from us in ideological terms. Cooperation amongst many is more important than just one individual and, as such, the network and mutual support are more important than anything else”.
Landare gave up advertising as they didn’t want to pressurize anyone. People get to know Landare by word of mouth, which can also be risky. “When there were 200 of us, all ecologists, the social range of the group was quite small. Now there are so many and such diverse families we never know who they are telling about Landare. One of our major challenges is adapting to the constant influx of new members, making sure there are no queues, no lack of produce or that our marketing system hasn’t deteriorated just because more people have joined us”.
In 2008, there was a very important debate in Landare about their growing membership and they decided to become professional. “There is given very militant group of people who join Landare to satisfy very fundamental aims but many other people join to fulfill more practical objectives and if our association does not pay proper attention to the latter they will not become members. We accepted that in order to transform society in general we would have to change its mainstream elements. And little by little we are seeing change in some characteristics of the people who come to Landare. We would never have imagined that some of these people could possibly belong to Landare and, yet, here they are. This is to do with becoming professional”.
However, Landare does not see itself as a professional organization as such but rather as a collective and this inevitably implies strategic debates about the limits to which the association is prepared to go. “We cannot forget that we are in the market, that the marketplace is aggressive and that we offer different values and a certain lure. If we are not capable of making this an interesting option, people won’t come” Valero adds.
FROM PRACTICE TO POLITICAL AWARENESS
When people join Landare they understand that they must attend a talk about the association and how it works. “Although most people already know because someone else has already told them, we feel it is important that they understand what they are changing through what they are going to eat and the reasons behind these changes”. Whether a good thing or not, Landare is still an association: “there are no customers here, only sub paying members, which creates a special link with what we are all doing”.
At one point Landare ran a magazine. Now, however, the main link with members is via E-mails in which new projects, the challenges facing social movements, campaigns and the like are explained. There is currently a debate on how to improve communication with members, whether through leaflets, Facebook or other means.
Valero explains what prompted him to become a Board Member in Landare: “My background is related to discussing ideas and I realized that as a member of the association I was not receiving all the information I considered to be important and so I joined the Board to try and change the situation.... although as a Board member I think I have done many things but not perhaps that” says Valero with a smile. “I have, however, pondered the value of words in relation to alternative forms of speech. It can actually be better not to speak. So what if our website hasn’t worked for a year? Landare’s members communicate amongst themselves which we consider to be better than having a fixed set of ideas to stick to as many people would leave if we had a statute-like set up. There are moments of ideological blockage, there are people who join Landare but who would not share a fixed set of ideals because they are not at that particular moment in life. ‘Neither one word too many nor one person too few’ is my way of looking at it. We need to think more about how to draw people to us and less about verbal persuasion”.
Landare’s commitment with producers and their concept of fidelity is related to both the way agreements are reached and how these are put into practice.
PEOPLE ARE ALSO MAKING A STATEMENT WHEN THEY GET TO OUR TILL
«Campaigning and official discourse are not enough to guarantee change which is why Landare hopes to offer and be a true alternative. We have to recover the marketing space hijacked by capitalist businesses. For example, we sell about 500 kilos of tomatoes a week in the summer and we decided not to give up selling tomatoes in winter, although such tomatoes are obviously supplied by a cooperative akin to Landare, located, in fact, in Andalusia. If someone wants to buy tomatoes out of season we would rather they bought them in Landare than in Mercadona and so from a worthwhile production outfit and not as an outcome of labour exploitation in Morocco. We have to fondly address the fact that such a person faces many contradictions, as do we all and, in fact, our members are gradually no longer buying tomatoes in winter. Whilst we sell about 500 kilos a week in the summer, we now only sell around 50kg a week in winter».
VALUES AS LINES NOT TO BE CROSSED
Many contradictions appear following growth of the sort Landare has experienced and both Valero and David admit they have to solve many. “Landare must be open to criticism. Our aim is to generate alternative models. Our more militant members have criticized the move to become professionally organized and the current dimensions of Landare and we understand some of their reasoning which has a very strong basis because it is true to say that we have had to renounce some things in order to draw mainstream, convenience-seeking elements of society to us. We are worried by the fact that only around 150 people come to our meetings as decisions should not be taken by just 150 people. People shouldn´t only choose but also decide. Our decision making structures are not appealing to those people that don’t come from a background of militant action and we need to think about alternatives to general assemblies or change how we celebrate these.” Although we may agree with such self-criticism everything is still decided in Landare in assemblies, from whether or not to sell tomatoes in winter and oranges in summer to whether or not to sell red or white tuna. The debates are interesting but long and slow although they maintain that this is because they are in depth discussions.
However, they clearly state that they have never given up any ideological principles, which they consider to be part of their DNA. “There are some lines we will not cross: our values. We like to maintain just relationships both with consumers, pricing goods in such a way as to be able to pay workers, and with food producers. We asked farmers explained their particular problems: supermarkets pay little and late and make no effort to help farmers plan their crops. We thus tried to get around these problems: 80% of our selling price goes to producers and 20% to Landare and we pay them within a month. We have not, however, managed to facilitate planning, an issue currently under debate. We our encountering problems with the idea of planning what food our members will buy as most members are not prepared to limit flexibility in this area.
Landare’s commitment with producers and their concept of fidelity is related to both the way agreements are reached and how these are put into practice. “Fidelity with farmers is linked to the degree to which relations are considered to be just. And that is precisely what we are aiming for: justice. We do not force anyone to sign agreements nor do we sign anything. And what is more, we do not want to make farmers dependent. ¿How much of an individual farmer's produce should we buy whilst also maintaining balanced relationships. In the end we decided to buy up to 50% of a given farmer´s produce and no more given that this would involve Landare being able to apply pressure, just the sort of relationship we wish to avoid. We must admit, though, that it is sometimes hard to stick to this particular limit.”
Fifty-four local producer initiatives currently directly supply Landare with fresh produce. The association has debated what they take the term agroecology to mean and in this context the scale of production operations is considered to be important. Landare is one of the promoters of EHKO, a project involving farms moving towards agroecology in Navarre and both the French and Spanish parts of the Basque Country, and there have been numerous debates in EHKO to identify what is or is not considered to be agroecological. David is a member of the EHKO board and many debates have thus been indirectly transferred to Landare. “For a farmer to become a member of EHKO, there can only be a maximum of two hired farmhands per family member. If there are more the farm is not considered to be a family farm. In Landare we have not yet accepted this particular criterion, but it is interesting to take part in initiatives which generate such debates”.
"POLITICALLY ORIENTATED PROFIT MARGINS"
Most everyday consumer needs are met through the association. Members pay a yearly sub of 36 euros and agree to contribute two hours of work a year (in what is known as auzolan in Basque or communal work) helping at tills or offering free knowledge, skills or advice . “People come to buy goods but also to meet other people: acting as an inclusive meeting point is fundamental and is linked to how we support ourselves and how we understand each other. For this reason we have not developed home deliveries.”
The key to the Landare model is fixing a margin that enables the association to cover costs. This means that all operations must work correctly or else the 20% margin for fresh produce and 30% for processed goods would be insufficient. Landare has not changed these margins in the last twenty years and gains a 2-3% annual net margin. This surplus is for investment in, for example, improvements in their premises, which are always rented, never bought. Landare’s main capital is human as investment is in people.
Landare is also an information node and a meeting point between production and consumption. “We distribute all the information we have to anyone, particularly to other consumer groups. There are many of these in Pamplona and Landare has not absorbed them and, in fact, has very good relations with many of them. Sometimes we buy produce jointly with other groups and use our premises for storage”. Landare participates in different social movements, such as the Navarre REAS (Network for Economic Solidarity), is active in the neighbourhood (participating in local fiestas, cultural events, etc), helps defend local allotments under threat in Pamplona and Aranzadi and helped set up a permanent agroecological market in Pamplona (the Geltoki project run by the Town Council and REAS). “We are campaigning on many issues and we are sometimes asked to represent consumer needs and do so. We would like everyone to consume food acquired through conscious, aware purchasing”.