Pays des Condruses (BE) - How local organic farms are feeding schoolchildren and jobs
Since 2002, Urbact has been the European Territorial Cooperation Programme to promote integrated and sustainable urban development in cities in the Member States of the European Union, Norway and Switzerland. Urbact is an instrument of cohesion policy, financed by the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) and the Member States.
Urbact is a European programme of exchanges and learning between cities whose objective is to develop solutions to major urban challenges. By networking European cities, strengthening skills and capitalising on good practices, it supports public decision-makers and actors in the field to develop sustainable solutions that integrate the economic, social and environmental dimensions of urban development.
Following on from the Urbact I and II programmes, Urbact III continues to promote integrated and sustainable urban development and contributes to the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy.
To download : urbact-citystories-paysdescondruses.pdf (880 KiB)
Pays des Condruses already had a local development strategy — with plans including locally-sourced school food, and a farmers’ ‘Food Hub’. Joining URBACT AGRI-URBAN Network strengthened such actions for local, sustainable agri-business and healthy eating, while connecting local actors across the territory like never before.
In the east Belgian countryside, seven municipalities got together in 2009 to form the LEADER-funded Local Action Group Pays des Condruses, an area that thrives on the milk and meat produced by its thousands of cattle. The Local Action Group promoted short supply chains, local products, and innovation in sustainable agriculture — in line with its territorial development plans. “This economic development strategy simply aims to create jobs in a sector that is losing workers every year, and create productivity on our territory,” says Local Action Group President Eric Lomba.Meanwhile, a regional drive for a ‘Wallon food system’ was encouraging more integrated, sustainable food production and consumption.It was against this backdrop that Pays des Condruses joined ten other urban-rural municipalities in AGRI-URBAN to rethink agri-food. Jean-François Pecheur, Local Action Group Pays des Condruses Director recalls, “The themes we already covered seemed to fit just right with this European project.”
“Food connects us all to our cities, our land and our future”
In 2016 the partners of the network signed a ‘local food policy and employment in small and medium sized European cities’ manifesto. And, over the next two years, Pays des Condruses built a holistic, locally-driven Integrated Action Plan to create jobs, preserve the land and improve health.
“The main challenge for Pays des Condruses was to make its many initiatives, and the actors who pilot them, collaborate and amplify their existing ecosystem, through new markets, new services, etc, stimulating innovation,” says AGRI-URBAN Expert Miguel Sousa. The results went far beyond what was expected (see box).
Voyages of discovery
An URBACT Local Group met every two months, pooling ideas from 56 citizens, farmers, craftspeople, training and cultural associations, politicians, and development specialists. They discussed events and visibility; community cooking; local currency; agro-ecology; and coordination. Some met their European counterparts, including one cook who visited kitchens in Sweden and France.In fact, transnational learning was an AGRI-URBAN highlight. Södertälje (SE) showed how it was developing new local products with businesses, such as chickpea falafels, and a certain barley to replace rice. Cherry-exporting Fundão (PT) shared marketing tips, encouraging the Local Action Group to promote their own territory better.
Healthy, local school food
One partner, Mouans-Sartoux (FR), had 20 years of experience with public canteens and organic food. The Local Action Group sent a delegation over, inspiring better recipes, food preparation and waste management in their own new bio-canteens. “Thanks to AGRI-URBAN we used our partners’ experience to improve our work and gain time in implementation,” says Mr Pecheur. An association ‘Devenirs’ now supplies locally-sourced, mostly organic, meals in nine Pays des Condruses schools. ‘Devenirs’ educates children, weighs leftovers, adjusts menus, and is reducing foodwaste from 30% to 10%. Five more schools are set to benefit by 2021, with the long-term goal of supplying 1000 meals per day — depending on funding.Pays de Condruses’ Integrated Action Plan includes professionalisation schemes to meet growing demands for organic food. One is the region’s first market gardening ‘incubator’ providing crops, land, technical support, and training, to prepare future independent growers.
Travel for extra ideas
“We visited Mouans-Sartoux (FR) with an elected representative and the following idea was born: to test giving schoolchildren soup during the morning break and fruit in the afternoon, in addition to the usual hot meal at midday. This meant healthy, local food all day!” says Mr Pecheur. After a trial period in May-June 2018, the idea was kept.“URBACT enabled us to ask ourselves questions locally, improve our strategy, tackle new challenges,” adds Mr Pecheur. “At European level it helped us open our minds, discover innovative practices - and opportunities like Erasmus+. It made us look at ourselves and say ‘we do that already, but we could do it better’.”