Views from Catalonia: Day 6

Today was our sixth day in Catalonia! This was a more rural-oriented visit day focused on animal-based agricultural products and food manufacturing. Bright and early, we visited Innovacc, a Catalan Pig Meat cluster that started in 2008. The organization collaborates with 100 other organizations; 84 are industry and 16 are academic institutions, including the Autonomous University of Barcelona which we had the pleasure to visit. The company recently became involved in other meat products besides pork (beef, poultry and lamb) as well as vegetarian and vegan products. A goal for Innovacc is to include added value products. The company’s culture is focused on increasing business through innovation and cooperation rather than competition. With Spain being the 4th top country in terms of pork production, it is crucial that creative new ideas and efficient practices be incorporated into the system. Innovacc focuses on research, development, and innovation, offering technical courses and project work for pork businesses.

Innovacc

Looking more specifically at the project side, we learned about the wide range of dynamic projects being carried out by Innovacc for its patrons. Some key challenges that Innovacc faces revolve around sustainability, increasing food safety and transparency with consumer welfare in mind. Some project examples we found particularly interesting included: hot-air disinfection of livestock tracks, developing more recyclable packaging, and using sensors with smartphones to determine real-time shelf life dates. Overall, the trends in improving this industry are geared towards utilizing the Internet of Things (IoT) along with improving communication along both consumers and within the value chain of the pork industry. Innovacc has accomplished a lot within the last decade and have a lot more interesting problems to solve. From our group discussion, it was a little unclear what a cluster actually is in terms of agribusiness. According to an article on Research Gate about agribusiness, a cluster is defined as a “geographic concentration that connects some business players, suppliers, services, supported industries, and related institutions (universities, standard institutions, and trading associations) in a field which interacts each other and work together.” Besides this, discussion was mostly about trivia on the statistics of the company.

 

At midday, we visited a very interesting former cooperative, La Fageda. This farm, now classified as a foundation, means forest of beech trees. The name was fitting because the location of the farm was in the middle of a huge beech forest, the only way in being a long, narrow and winding road. La Fageda is basically a mix between a dairy farm and a social project. The farm employs people with physical and mental disabilities and gives them a meaningful job.

Visiting La Fageda

The people that work on the farm receive a pension from the government that is then supplemented with a salary from the farm. Everyone lives on the farm in a large community. The jobs are meant to be diverse and the people only work for short periods of time, such as one hour. The workers are recognized for their abilities, not their disabilities, and the work they do is measured by quality rather than the speed or quantity of work. The work improves their self esteem and improves their outlook on life.

Cows at La Fageda

Turning to the production side of the farm, it has been running for 37 years and now employs around 300 people. The dairy farm has about two thousand cows in total, but not all are housed on the main farm. La Fageda is currently installing a new automatic milking parlour that will be able to milk the cows when the cow itself feels it needs to be milked. The farm makes several products on-site, including yogurt, ice cream, and marmalade.

Tasting yogurt at La Fageda

Originally La Fageda was a cooperative, but a few years ago was member voted into a foundation. This was to ensure the social work aspect of the farm could never be lost. La Fageda has a very interesting business model in that they never formally advertise their products. All advertising is done through word of mouth and visits to the farm, where around 50,000 people visit a year. The yogurt that is produced is very high quality and is very popular throughout Catalonia, which is the only region it is sold. Given that La Fageda produces the best-selling yogurt in Catalonia, it is significantly more expensive (40-50%) than the average yogurt (Danone). Yogurt is very popular throughout the Catalonia region, and La Fageda broke into the market by having farm produced yogurt (a niche market). The two main ideas that they stand by are working in nature and not letting the mentally disabled be cheap labor to other companies. La Fageda also does not mention it’s social cause on any of its products. The farm does not want to belittle the work performed on the farm. La Fageda wants its products to be bought because of the quality of the yogurt, not because of pity for the workforce’s disabilities.

 

For the discussion part on the bus ride, multiple good points were brought up when the group was asked about the issues of copying this business model in the United States. Investment and stigma were brought up, along with funding sources and stereotypes. The group thought it would be hard to get something like this off the ground and up and running. Hopefully a foundation like this can eventually be created to both support the social cause of helping those with disabilities as well as spreading agricultural awareness.

 

Town of Besalu

After lunch, we toured the town of Besalu, Spain. Besalu is small town 40 kilometers from the Spanish border with France, one that is filled with interesting history. First, we looked at the monastery of Saint Peter and Saint Vincent. The monasteries are from the tenth and eleventh centuries. They depict the architecture from the Roman-esque period. In this period. Most builds were built using round arches. They differ from the Gothic arches of the twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries. After these monasteries, we visited a mikvah from 11th century. A mikvah is a place used by the Jewish for circumcision, adulthood, marriage, and prayor. The Jewish were predominantly in Catalonia from the 9th to the 15th centuries.

 

Cathedral in Girona

After Besalu, we traveled to Girona where we went inside the Cathedral of Girona.  The Cathedral is named after Saint Mary of Girona. It is the second widest church after Saint Peter’s Basilica. Construction began in the eleventh century in Romanesques style and continued through the thirteenth century in the Gothic Style. The gothic style is most known for the point arches and windows compared to the Romanesque. Finally in the 18th century, the second bell tower was completed and so was everything you still see today. We also went into the museum and found a very unique rug quilted by the romans. This represented the circle of life. All seasons and months were depicted in Latin. There was also artifacts of the Moors. The Moors were a group of Muslims from present day Algeria and Morocco who came into Spain and had a strong presence for several hundred years. There were also tributes to Emperor Charlemagne who was the ruler the Holy Roman Empire in which existed Western Europe from the fall of Rome to the Middle Ages in light of constant conflicts with germanic tribes such as the Saxons, Vandals, and Visigoths. The Moors were kicked out of Girona in 795 and Barcelona in 801.

 

Our cultural tours of Besalu and Girona allowed us to realize how much symbolism the buildings stood for and how the events that occurred then have led us to understand Catalonia today.

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