Two food and urban farming conferences in The Netherlands in May 2014

Take action? Collaborative action for more sustainable food systems

PUREFOOD Conference, May 14th, Utrecht (The Netherlands)

On Wednesday May 14th 2014, the international PUREFOOD conference will take place in Utrecht (The Netherlands): “Take action? Collaborative action for more sustainable food systems.” This day marks the finalization of the EU-funded PUREFOOD program. The conference is connected to the Day of Urban Farming (‘Dag van de Stadslandbouw’), which takes place on May 15th in Utrecht.

The PUREFOOD conference starts with an informal drink and local bite on Tuesday evening the 13th of May. Wednesday morning the 14th will stimulate the dialogue between you and business, government and civil society representatives, with reflections by keynote listener Tim Lang (Professor of Food Policy at City University London). Taking 3 short, inspirational talks as the starting point, we will try to find answers to the rather challenging tasks we face for the (near) future with regard to making our food system more sustainable. With the experience of 12 PUREFOOD researchers, plus the presence of experienced and well-known scholars and practitioners, we can draw from a rich ‘database’ of knowledge. The challenge will be to connect all this knowledge present and translate it into advice for and action by various actors within our food system.

Wednesday afternoon 3 different excursions are offered, all visiting Utrecht and its peri-urban fringes. During the excursion you will experience the rich history of urban and peri-urban agriculture in Utrecht. The results of the workshop sessions and discussions on Wednesday morning, will feed into 9 English spoken sessions during the Day of Urban Farming on Thursday May 15th.

For more information: www.purefoodconference.com.

Third Edition Day of Urban Farming, The Netherlands

May 14th-17th Utrecht (The Netherlands)

After two previous editions in Almere (2012) and Rotterdam (2013), the Day of Urban Farming (‘Dag van de Stadslandbouw’) has become the authoritative professional event in the field of urban and urban oriented farming in The Netherlands. During this National Platform on May 15th 2014, its 400 participants and about 80 speakers will deal with the central topic how urban and peri-urban  farming and regional food systems can fulfill the needs of Dutch cities, its inhabitants and local farmers. Participants at the conference are farmers and urban farming entrepreneurs, food & agriculture executives and executives from city and regional governments, health organizations, social institutions, real estate developers, housing corporations, universities and colleges.

The conference consist of a plenary session with keynote speaker Claus Meyer (founder New Nordic Cuisine Movement; co-owner restaurant Noma (Copenhagen) and Sharon Dijksma (Minister of Agriculture of The Netherlands). The plenary session is followed by three rounds of breakout sessions, where one will be able to discuss a broad variety of urban farming subjects in further detail. Main items in 2014 will be:

  • health and social aspects
  • business models, value creation and economics
  • cultivation in and on buildings
  • urban area development and placemaking
  • sustainability and local cycles
  • local and regional food networks
  • urban and regional food policies and planning

For English speaking participants, 9 of the 27 breakout sessions will be held in English (in co-operation with the PUREFOOD conference). During three excursions on Wednesday May 14th, one will be able to meet farmers and urban gardeners in and around the city of Utrecht and hear about their experiences. On Saturday April 17th, the general public is invited to visit urban farms and urban gardens all over The Netherlands. In this way, local residents get the chance to become acquainted with urban farming projects in their own neighborhood.

For more information: www.dagvandestadslandbouw.nl.

Localising the food economy in Arnhem?

Von Thunen’s famous ring model

Can the city-region of Arnhem be self-suffient for food? Certainly not for meat, but surprisingly for quite a few other product categories such as potatoes, eggs and most probably vegetables. And suppose we reduce our meat intake, could the region then also produce wheat for bread consumption?

Today five students of the Academic Consultancy Training course presented their recommendations to Stichting CASA in Arnhem. CASA is a non-profit for Architecture and urban development in Arnhem which focused on food and the city this year with a program called ‘Taste the city’. CASA commissioned research with the Science Shop on the question of regional food production and consumption in the region Arnhem and development of a food strategy. Continue reading

Living the peasant way of life in Santa Cruz de la Colina

After a longer posting-pause in which I finalized my first research phase, identifying supporters of rural grassroots development initiatives in the Province of Soto, here a new update of my activities in Colombia:

Time is flying and I am finalizing my second research phase, asking grassroots development initiatives to evaluate the support they are receiving to build joint capacities. To be able to speak with rural development initiatives, I was invited to spend a week with a peasant family in the vereda St. Ana of Santa Cruz de la Colina.

Santa Cruz de la Colina, Matanza, Colombia

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DERREG film Westerkwartier

Over the last 3 years, we have been carrying out research in the Westerkwartier concerning global influences on rural regional development.

The Westerkwartier, Groningen Province, The Netherlands

This research was carried out as part of the European project DERREG. The Westerkwartier was involved in two work packages of the project: 1. Investigating arrangements through which public support for joint learning and innovation is provided to development initiatives active in the region (WP4) and 2. Investigating global networking activities among rural businesses in the Westerkwartier (WP1).

In the summer and fall of this year, three film students from the University of Aberystwyth in Wales made their way around Europe to visit all case study areas and to film the present development activities. In the Westerkwartier, the film focuses on our research conducted for WP4 (joint learning and innovation). In this film, several supporters as well as the beneficiaries were interviewed. Their stories describe the development activities in the Westerkwartier very lively and give a feeling of the enthusiastic and motivated engagement of the denizens in developing their Westerkwartier. The film is available on YouTube and can be viewed here. Enjoy!

‘Agriculture in an Urbanizing Society’ Conference – new deadline for submission of abstracts

As mentioned in previous posts, an international conference entitled ‘Agriculture in an Urbanizing Society’ will be held from 1 to 4 April 2012 in Wageningen. A whole range of different topics and research findings will be presented and discussed in 20 different working groups. The deadline for submitting abstracts was originally 20 December 2011 but the conference committees, in consultation with the working group convenors, have decided to postpone this deadline by one month. So if you are interested to present and discuss your research activities (or plans) in one of the working groups, please send your abstract to the convenor of the working group before 20 January 2012. You are kindly requested to use the abstract submission form.

Presenting my Colombian case study area

During the last two weeks, I was in Bogotá to talk to experts from the IER at the Javeriana University as well as the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development to find out about public support for joint capacity building in rural Colombia. Now, I am back in the department of Santander to start my field work.

In order to be able to do an in-depth study of a) how support for joint capacity building in rural areas is organized and b) how this support is evaluated by its beneficiaries, I narrowed my case study area down to one municipality: Floridablanca.

Main square in Floridablanca

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Excursion to Los Maklenkes nature reserve

Last Monday (21st of November), I participated in a field trip to Los Maklenkes nature reserve on top of the mountain La Judía in the municipality of Floridablanca, close to Bucaramanga. This nature reserve is managed by the peasants living around the reserve and, amongst others, sponsored by the Dutch state lottery. The field trip was part of the festival for urban-rural dialogue, in which I participated the previous weekend.

Los Maklenkes Nature Reserve, Floridablanca, Colombia

The day started with a gathering of all participants to make our way up the mountain to the nature reserve. It was an adventurous drive with 16 people in one Jeep, going up steeper and steeper mud-paths. I dared not to look to the right where the mountain was falling as steep to the ground as the road was crawling up.

Upon arrival at the entrance of the park, we were greeted by the local peasants and informed about the history of the nature reserve and its aim to protect biodiversity and water reservoirs. Following the introduction, we switched into our rubber boots and commenced with a three hour hiking tour through the reservoir.

Getting ready for our hike

Here, we saw the organic agro-forest farming activities which are being initiated under the facilitation of Fundaexpresión, a local NGO for promoting participatory research activities and education in peasant communities. I saw plantain and banana trees, coffee plants and avocado trees.

Banana tree

Following our hike, we settled in the communal house of the reserve to discuss nature protection activities in the high Andes and their impact on the livelihoods of peasants. At the end of the discussion, it was agreed that the provision of information and the creation of knowledge at local level was the most crucial point in enabling local peasants to deal with the resulting pressures on their livelihoods. The provision of information and the facilitation of capacity building were, however, regarded as poor. It was agreed that more attention must be given to the provision of information and the facilitation of capacity building at local level should peasants be enabled to deal with pressures on their livelihoods resulting from nature protection activities.

On the trail of regional learning in rural Colombia

Over the last two and a half years, we have been investigating arrangements to support regional learning in various rural areas across Europe (EU-project DERREG). This intense period of field work and data analysis has given me a first idea of just how complex this subject is, how diverse supportive arrangements can be, and how dependent their success is on the regional contexts in which they are implemented.

As if this complexity is not already enough to ponder about, my curiosity and interest in mutual learning for development has urged me to also investigate this topic outside the European Union. I was particularly interested in questioning how rural regional learning is supported in, what is commonly referred to as, “developing” countries. So, here I am in Colombia,

Downtown Bogotá, Colombia

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Is facilitating citizen initiatives a food strategy?

One can be quite busy at the moment just going to interesting food strategy events. After all, it is harvesting time. Hence, we have the Week of Taste with activities all over the country and the Capital of Taste which is Groningen this year and the Food4You festival in Wageningen and.. probably many more events that I am not aware of. The Capital of Taste activities are situated inside the City of Groningen but in the meanwhile the city is also involved in the making of a Regional Food Strategy. Not so easy (see also Foodlog blog). What is the region? The province with its capital city? Or the administrative region Groningen-Assen which cuts across two provinces? (and who has money? Labeled for what?)

Moreover, what is the problem? Again, difficult. Maybe broadly covered under the heading of ‘urban-rural relationships’ but in fact more narrowly focused on how to get the urban citizen to buy regional products (with no specific focus on sustainable agriculture). Is this a problem? Not really, it is a chance it was agreed in the meeting. A chance which could be facilitated by the government without standing in the way. So there you have your strategy and it resonates with Hinrichs (2000) defensive localism.

It also resonates in another way with Proeftuin Amsterdam, where also the key focus was to facilitate initiatives already there. The task; bringing together, connecting, inspiring, communicating across the energy which crystallizes in a particular topic, food is the hottest at the moment. “We should ask ourselves, where is the energy is flowing towards” I heard in the meeting. Hence, the most important driving force of Proeftuin was according to a presentation, the attention for citizen initiatives. A conclusion too in the Schuttelaar debate in Wageningen, same day. Research done by students of Wageningen university confirms the trend; municipalities busy with food policy/strategy/projects were those activated by their own active citizens. 

After this, the next question often asked, becomes a bit weird. How to anchor the food strategy for the long-term? There is nothing to anchor where the ‘policy’ is to facilitate citizen initiatives, this goes as long as citizens are active. Proeftuin Amsterdam does not exist anymore. Amongst others because there was no political problem (“er lag geen bestuurlijke vraag”). Food security, policies for social exclusion and poverty and access to good food, problems the Food Banks now address, were deliberately not part of the Proeftuin focus.

So what’s wrong with stimulating enthusiastic citizens busy with creating sustainable food systems in various ways? Nothing of course. However, if that’s all, it seems that despite the many ‘nice’ activities, food keeps being seen as a private responsibility. There is a serious problem in the articulation of public interest addressing structural problems in our food system and in fact, no attention at all for social justice. Do-it-yourself for those who can.

Rural regional learning in the Comarca de Verín, Galicia, Spain

Within the European research project DERREG, we are investigating how public policy can best be arranged to stimulate capacity building within development initiatives operating at grassroots level in rural areas across the European Union.

To find out how public policy interventions can best be arranged, we and our research partners have spoken to various stakeholders in different rural regions across the European Union to find out how they intend to support and facilitate learning and innovation and- most importantly- how the support and facilitation agreed upon is actually provided to the grassroots development initiatives. To find out what is working well and what isn’t working well yet, we have spoken to a number of grassroots development initiators in the participating DERREG case study areas and ask them to evaluate the current support and facilitation received.

To be able to compare the results obtained in the different case study areas, I have travelled to Alytus County, Lithuania in October and Oberlausitz, Germany in December of 2010. In January of this year, I was able to visit our colleague Lola Dominguez Garcia of  Universidade de Vigo in the Comarca de Verín in the South-West of Galicia, Spain. In this blog, we intend to share our experiences. Continue reading