Based in Toronto and New York City

, Nancy Matsumoto is a writer and editor who covers sustainable agriculture, food, sake, arts and culture.

Archival posts from my former blog, Walking and Talking

Choice products from Spain's Growing Organic Movement

The best kinds of trips are those that continue to yield pleasures and surprises long after they are over. Our March break trip to Spain turned out to be exactly that type. Last week, five months after our return, a connection made in Spain boomeranged back into my life in a happy way.

The  story centers on chocolate, a delicious dark organic chocolate made with olive oil by a boutique company in Madrid, Chocolate Organiko. I came upon it at a small shop in the enchanting Barrio de las Lettras neighborhood of Madrid. It was meant as a gift but you know how it goes--I ended up devouring it before I could bestow in on another, and fell in love.

Chocolate Oganiko started in 2006 when husband and wife Carlos Ortiz and Eugenia Pozo set up a small chocolate workshop. The venture may have been an expression of Carlos's genes, or at least of the family's underwear: his grandfather bought and sold products from the Spanish colonies, roasting his own new world coffee beans and transforming his cocoa beans into chocolate. His grandmother, meanwhile, made underwear for her children out of the soft sacks used for cane sugar, cocoa, and coffee beans.

Ortiz and Pozo decided their product would be completely organic, sourced Trinitario cocoa beans from small growers in the Dominican Republic and Trinidad, and set to work. When I tried to find out if I could buy the brand in the U.S., I found one of the company's European distributors, Inés Arteaga. While her Barcelona-based company, Organic Gourmet, will ship to the U.S. only for special requests made by snail mail, she informed me that the online shop La Tienda does handle online U.S. orders. (I've since found an even more complete selection of the Organiko line at Inés and I  struck up a friendly correspondence, and I gave her some advice on jazz clubs in New York for a trip she was planning with her family.

This week, I met the Arteaga family at the Metropolitan Museum: Inés, husband Manel (Manuel in Catalan), daughter Clara and son Pablo. Inés's passion for organic products stems from her upbringing in Navarra, in northwest Spain. Her father tended to a small organic farm, but instead of following her love for the land, Inés at first pursued careers as a pharmacist then winemaker. It was after those experiences that she decided she wanted to return to the ideal of organic farming, but on the retail end. Her Organic Gourmet mail-order business, launched in 2012,  is dedicated to promoting and selling the finest organic products of Spain.

As in the U.S., many conventional farmers in Spain are gradually going organic. But while the rich agricultural soil of Spain and the know-how of its farmers has made it the number one producer of organic vegetables in Europe and the fifth in the world, almost all of the country's organic bounty is exported. It's a little like what writer Paul Greenberg has been telling us America does with its high-quality wild fish catch.

In Spain, the growth and export of its best organic produce is driven by two factors: outside consumer demand from wealthier EU countries, and a Spanish economy that has been in crisis for the last six years. Unemployment hovers at 26%, and if we think millenials have it bad in America, the unemployment rate is 50% for the 6 million Spanish youths under 24. Buying organic is not in the average person's budget in a country where everyone from PhD holders to sex workers have had to leave the country to find work. While we were in Spain, protests erupted in Madrid, and everywhere we saw the graffitied slogan "22M Marcha a Madrid" raising awareness before a March 22 "March of Dignity" to protest austerity measures, evictions, unemployment and widespread poverty.

So you can see why Inés's business, which is supporting small producers who are trying to help their country go green, might have had a rocky start. In any case, her excellent products are carefully selected for quality and taste, from jamón ibérico, honeys, olive oils and vinegar to seaweed chimichurri salsas, these delicious sweet and savory biscuits from Paul and Pippa, and of course Chocolate Organiko. If you are living anywhere in the EU, check out the website and do your part to invigorate Spain's economy!

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