The two sisters running a bakery in a desert
- 28 July 2014
- From the section Business
The land in Los Monegros in Aragon in northeastern Spain, is almost as arid as a desert. In the 1960s, it was one of the backdrops chosen for spaghetti western films.
Yet for two twenty-something Spanish sisters, it has become the perfect place for their farming and bread-baking business.
Ana Marcen, the elder of the two, says she had no previous experience in agriculture.
"I studied Greek and Latin and used to work in an orchestra as a singer."
Her younger sister Laura used to work as a waitress and studied engineering.
Their business idea grew out of something their uncle told them - that in times gone by, the bread in this part of Spain tasted different.
It was a flavour he missed.
From seed to loaf
The sisters say their uncle was "a very curious person - he used to ask himself why bread didn't taste any longer as it used to".
They discovered that a type of wheat seed, known as Aragon 03, had been the secret behind the region's distinctly flavoured bread.
They found an elderly couple who still had a small quantity of the Aragon 03 seed. The Marcens bought two bags of the seeds - and from that their business has grown.
The concept of their business is to control the entire bread-making process.
They grow the wheat, mill the flour and bake the bread, muffins and other bakery snacks.
"Unlike other traditional bakeries that just sell organic products, we control the whole process," says Laura.
'You must be mad'
They set up their business in 2007, just before Spain's economic and financial crisis hit.
They were able to get a bank loan of 250,000 euros ($335,000; £200,000) which they think would be harder to come by in today's post-recession climate.
In the first year, their business lost lots of money, but by the third year they had broken even.
Now, seven years after they first started farming and baking, they own two bakeries and sell their products in eight others.
Whatever profit they make, they reinvest in their business as they want to expand and sell online.
"Many people told us we were crazy for trying to run a business like ours in a [dry] place like this. But we found out that the seed we grow is perfect for this climate," says Laura.
"People think that there is no life in Los Monegros, but in reality the region is rich in plants and wildlife.
"As my uncle used to say, you have to bend your knees and look closely. For example, I see opportunities where others don't."
Family idea, family business
From the very start, this was a family-run business.
Their father Daniel harvests the crop, their mother Mercedes works in one of their shops, and their younger brother Jesus mills the flour and bakes the bread.
The two sisters do a bit of everything - from baking to marketing.
Whereas most young people in rural parts of Aragon are keen to move away to other parts of Spain, Ana and Laura have decided to plan their future on the land where they were born.
"We want to create affluence in the area where we are from," says Ana.
Declining populations in rural Spain are a big problem for local town halls, and some mayors have even introduced financial incentives to entice people to live in their areas.
The Marcen sisters need no such encouragement. They are bucking the trend and creating jobs to boost population numbers in a barren part of rural Spain.