Almeria y agricultura
(A few pics from the weekly market...)
One of the most interesting things here in Almeria is the way the agricultural industry has changed the landscape. I was shown a photo of Las Norias de Daza (the little town where I'm living) from probably 50 or 60 years ago, and in the photo there are maybe 16 small blocks of houses, a church, a school, and a community hall/center. And outside of this small 4 block x 4 block radius, all is desert. Nada! Now, while the town is still pretty small, almost all of that land is full of houses, greenhouses, and all the other stuff that comes with more people and more industry. It is unbelievable to consider how much has changed in a very short time.
The history of this area (as told to me--so it might be only so accurate!) is that up to 40/50 years ago, it was the poorest part of Spain. We are in the desert, and so the people who lived here had very little. And then someone discovered a way to grow things: greenhouses. Using greenhouses, this area became incredibly productive, multiplying the number of growing cycles by speeding up growth. (Don't ask me how. My non-scientific mind thinks things like this are nearly magical.) This made Almeria the source of most of the fruits and vegetables for all of Europe. That is not an exaggeration! In addition, it made some people very wealthy, and it drew others here for the available work. While the people who come here for work today are largely from Africa, the first migrants to this region came from other parts of Spain, also fleeing poverty. That picture I saw of Las Norias as it was decades ago was part of Franco's plan of colonizacion. Small towns were built among agricultural areas so that those who worked the land could live close to their worksites. With the advent of intensive agriculture, that little plot became something much larger.
Agriculture brought with it not just wealth and people coming for work, but also other industries. The plastic covering greenhouses (these are not permanent structures) wears out and must be replaced--and the old plastic recycled. At times they whiten it, and at other times they wash it, all different types of businesses. Plants are grown from seed in semilleros (nurseries?), and, of course, there are companies that provide tools and fertlizer. Trucks and truck drivers are needed to move the produce. Processing plants clean, sort, and package the vegetables and fruit. They in turn needed pallets, boxes, cartons, and labels, and more trucks to move the produce to warehouses and stores. Auction houses sell lots to large buyers. Produce that's not perfect enough for store shelves is processed for canned goods (which doesn't happen locally, so requires more trucks). It's really stunning to think of all that goes on when one industry becomes big.
In a lot of ways, this is a place of contrasts. Those who've started the greenhouses have become rather wealthy, and those who come here from Africa are usually quite poor. There are rows of car dealerships in one part of town, and tiny apartments with laundry hanging from the patios in other parts. The view from where we live is pretty dismal: a sea of white plastic. But if you go to certain parts of town, there are condos with a beach view.