29 Jun 2023

Mireia Barba, president of the Espigoladors Foundation, at the Girbau LAB Innovators Club

Espigoladors and Es im-perfect®, a project with a a systemic approach to food: Second chances given to imperfect fruits and vegetables

On june 29, a new session of the Innovators Club took place, with  Mireia Barba, CEO of es im-perfect and president of the Espigoladors Foundation, as guest speaker.

Mireia Barba has a degree in Business Science and Social Education. In 2014 she co-founded the Espigoladors Foundation along with two other partners and holds the position of president of the Foundation. She currently manages the global project of the social insertion company Es im-perfect®.
Es im-perfect® is a company that aims to fight against food loss and waste, guarantee the right to food for all, and generate job opportunities for people in vulnerable situations.

As a brand of vegetable preserves committed to environmental sustainability and social justice, its processing plant produces vegetable pâtés, jams, compotes, creams and sauces from local fruits and vegetables discarded from the commercial circuit for various reasons.
At Es im-perfect® they reinvent these products and give them a new value and a second chance through a sustainable model, based on the principles of the circular economy.

Another project Mireia is involved in is Fundació Espigoladors, a non-profit organization that fights against food waste and losses while empowering people at risk of social exclusion in a transformative, participatory, inclusive and sustainable way.

1.- What has the Espigoladors (“gleaners”) initiative represented in your career?

Fostering a project with social and environmental impact was a vital dream. The experience of these almost 10 years has shown us that the Espigoladors model both works and is transformative. Many incredible things happen in our daily life: we conduct workshops in primary and high schools, and when we listen to children proposing solutions at the level of future social entrepreneurs and politicians, we confirm that education is a transformative process. Meanwhile, in the fields, gleaning volunteers are recovering food so that others can feed themselves in a healthy way and, in turn, become prescribers of a movement that promotes the culture of recycling and reconnecting with the land, with the origin of food. This is also possible thanks to a network of producers committed towards the environment and society.

At the same time, in the district of San Cosme in El Prat de Llobregat, our workshop starts cooking every day at 6:30 am to produce the es im-perfect® vegetable preserves and closes the door at 10:00 pm: in this innovation laboratory for food upcycling, as we like to call it, people in vulnerable situations give a second chance to imperfect fruits and vegetables, and vice versa.
Every day, every moment, things happen that have such a positive and transforming impact upon us that they become breaths of strength to keep fighting and moving forward.

2.- First it was Espigoladors and then es im-perfect…, how do you connect it?

The Espigoladors Foundation is a non-profit organization that since 2014 has been working for food upcycling and the right to healthy and sustainable food in a transformative, inclusive, participatory, and sustainable way. The activity that gives them their name and that is the starting point of the whole project is the gleaning. This practice consists of collecting, in agreement with the primary sector and in collaboration with volunteers, fruits and vegetables that are discarded from the commercial circuit due to production surpluses, declining sales or aesthetic reasons. All recovered food is distributed to social organizations and food distribution services that work to ensure access to healthy food for people in vulnerable situations.

On the other hand, they produce 100% natural vegetable preserves in their own plant under the brand name es im-perfect®. The facility, located in the San Cosme district of El Prat de Llobregat, is both an innovation laboratory for the processing of food and an inclusion company that generates job opportunities for people at risk of social exclusion, mainly from this neighborhood, one of the most vulnerable in the metropolitan area of Barcelona.

The generation of new studies that illustrate the problem of food losses and food waste, and the implementation of awareness-raising activities, is another of the main pillars of Espigoladors. In this line, they promote educational projects in elementary and high schools, communication campaigns, cooking workshops, and training programs for agents in the agri-food sector, among other actions. Another line of work is advising companies on the development of prevention plans to reduce food losses and waste.

3.- To talk about educating against food waste is also to talk about circularity?

Education and awareness about loss and food waste is one of the main areas of action of the Espigoladors Foundation. When we talk about this problem, we do it with a focus on circularity.

The generation of new studies that illustrate the problem of food loss and waste and the implementation of awareness-raising activities is another of Espigoladors’ main pillars. On one hand, we work on the development of new knowledge and participate in institutional and stakeholder networks to generate influence. On the other hand, we carry out awareness-raising actions to encourage the culture of food recovery among the population at large: educational projects aimed at children and young people, workshops on cooking for food upcycling, citizen participation projects or communication campaigns through social networks.

Working with children and young people is a fundamental part of our work: we firmly believe that education is the most important tool for social transformation and that we must spend more time listening to them. They are the future and have a lot to say. Through workshops in schools and other educational projects (ApS Award) we encourage this more participatory aspect and are constantly amazed by the innovative and imaginative ideas proposed by these youngsters. The climate emergency is an issue that touches them closely and one of the challenges that these generations will have to face, and this involves reducing food waste: we are often unaware of the large number of natural resources we are wasting when we throw away food, or that food waste is responsible for 8% of CO₂ emissions into the atmosphere. Our role is to get this message across, not only to the general public to promote changes in awareness, but also to public institutions, because above all we need bold, real proposals that address the root of this problem.

In addition to the communicative and educational actions we carry out, gleaning is also a very powerful tool for raising awareness: we bring people in the fields closer together and give visibility to the work of the primary sector and to the problem of losses. Many people ignore that, for example, about 10 km from the Barcelona city center there is an extensive agricultural area, the Baix Llobregat Agricultural Park, and approaching this reality inevitably involves a shift in eating habits and consumption in favor of local produce. Another of our messages is therefore to encourage this necessary change to ensure the survival of our peasantry, one of the most precarious sectors of our economy.

Finally, we claim the right to healthy and sustainable food for the entire population. This is a universal right, which appears in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but which is far from being guaranteed, neither at home nor in the rest of the world. A concept that not only includes the intake of calories, but also contemplates the fact of being able to choose how to feed oneself and to do so with one’s own means, keeping in mind criteria of sustainability, accessibility, and nutritional suitability.

4.- Where will we be 10 years from now?

We always say that the ultimate goal of Espigoladors is to disappear, because this would mean that neither food losses nor food waste would exist anymore. However, considering that this is a very difficult reality to achieve, Espigoladors wants to continue replicating its model so that more and more people from different territories become aware of the causes and consequences of food losses and waste, and are willing to take action for food upcycling.