Mercedes Archilla

La Retornable

Location: Cijuela (La Vega de Granada)
Products: Vegetable milks & preserves, hummus, juices
Organic producers La Retornable

La Retornable brings together a group of socially and environmentally committed people to develop a variety of collaborative food projects, with products being mainly distributed to smaller local shops in the Granada area, across Andalusia and over some wider parts of Spain. It is located in the Vega de Granada, a plain of fertile alluvial soil bathed in the waters of the river Genil and surrounded by mountain ranges.

Mercedes Archilla is one of the founders and a producer/worker for the cooperative. In 2019 she was selling organic eggs from her hens, knew all the organic shops and farmers in the area well, and saw an opportunity to create something new from this; a collective that could help strengthen the bonds between producers, shops and consumers.

The Vega de Granada is dominated by poplar trees grown for timber, and crops like asparagus and artichoke, but a lot of organic oats are also grown there – and demand for plant-based milks is on the rise. Sensing an opportunity, Mercedes and the other founders of La Retornable set up a small workshop for producing vegetable milks, which can also process other products by reusing any surplus. And as La Retornable’s packaging can be returned, products generate minimal waste through all stages of their production and sale.

La Retornable does not only focus on food production. Other partners, like Rafael Fuentes-Guerra of the cooperative Habitat 4, work on improving sustainability, urban mobility, agro-ecology and food transition in the area – for example, by working with the Agriculture and Fisheries Management Agency (AGAPA) on a food biodistrict programme. Granada has a relatively strong agro-ecology movement, compared to other Andalusian capitals and provinces, which helps says Rafa. “Here there are many shops in different neighbourhoods, and two monthly eco-markets; one in the north and one in the south of the city.”

La Retornable is part of the Agro-ecological Network of Granada and the Agro-ecological Federation of Andalusia (FACPE), helping developing a network of distribution and consumption based on principles of proximity and solidarity, reduced waste, the circular economy and an effort towards returning packaging.

Mercedes started producing eggs on her farm in 2005. The biggest challenge then was the improvement of the soil. “When I arrived there everything was a stony field; now it is a meadow”, she says proudly. The farmers of La Retornable practise regenerative soil management, which allows them to carry out preventive treatments on the land annually instead of every 15 days, as many conventional neighbouring farmers do.