Recap: Solidarity Agriculture & Social Businesses – Food in the City Meetup 26 May

In our monthly ‘Food in the city’ meetups, we learn about real-life projects and the tangible work of our speakers & participants. This month we focused on Solidarity Agriculture and Social Businesses that are feeding the city. Our conversation spanned labor rights, accessibility, expansion and growth, as well as food education. It was a dense yet valuable conversation, parts of which we will surely pick up again in the future! This blog post wraps up all contributions with links to related content.

The value of SoLaWi Networks

The evening started with some insights from Isabella Biermann, whose research on the infamous ‘Spargel’ lead her to better understand just how intricate and complicated our global food systems are, and how we can better feed a city. Isabella shared with us the inequalities and destructive realities present within Germany’s annual spargel season, not only in terms of cheap labor (people whose lives, especially during a global pandemic, were deemed disposable) but also regarding the environmental impact of the crop itself. With this we had to question our connection to food and food traditions – if such things are capitalized on and unquestioned in the pursuit of maximum growth, tradition loses its charm in the face of sustainability. Ultimately, Isabella found hope in her local SoLaWi (Solidarity Agriculture) network organization. She saw the SoLaWi jump to action to save the precious spargel crop and redistribute it to would-be consumers. She also saw how such networks bring people together and teach the importance of valuing our produce and where it comes from.

The importatance of Food Education

Next, we heard from Benedicte and Oriante, the founders of Benoo, a newly established cook-it-yourself meal delivery service in Berlin focused on super-regional, seasonal and low-waste recipes. Benoo’s collaboration with both local chefs and farmers allows them to create and provide weekly recipes that inspire new ideas and possibilities in the kitchen, even through the dead of winter. They currently focus a lot on school programs, providing young people and their families the opportunity to taste the (very real) difference between supermarket and local farm produce, and encouraging them to cook home-cooked locally inspired meals together. There was agreement on the call for the power of early education. As we often touch on in our meetups, inspiring young people to have a new perspective on food, health and sustainability often provides a multiplying affect as they push their families to consider different consumption options.

Charlotte, from PlantAge, also joined the call and shared a bit about their vegan farm and SoLaWi project in Frankfurt Oder. PlantAge also provides a bit of food education, both in the form of recipe inspirations that come with their weekly veggie boxes and through social media. On their Instagram, PlantaAge does a great job of showing the planting, harvesting and boxing process, bringing their members and followers along for the journey of what it takes to feed a city. PlantAge, with a steady farm workforce of about 20 people, currently provides 700 households in Berlin with a weekly veggie box, which is quite a lot. Charlotte shared that in regard to expanding, one of the things they struggle with is balancing their commitment to being community-based with their desire to be accessible to as many consumers as possible.

Rethinking “Growth”

On this note we heard from Johanna, a member of the board at SuperCoop – Berlin’s newest cooperative supermarket concept. As a collective decision-making cooperative, SuperCoop will also face capacity constraints regarding the amount of members it can realistically manage, but Johanna made strong points as to reassessing our ideas of growth. She reminded us that growth does not always need to be vertical, it can also be horizontal as well, and encouraged the idea of not being afraid to replicate a good idea. Indeed, many examples of substantial social change were and are made up of multiple, decentralized and smaller nodes of action. P.s., you can still support SuperCoop’s crowdfunding campaign and sign up to be a member until this Sunday!

Here at Farmlyplace, we try to implement ideas of communal ownership and food education in our Kiezfarm. As a local hub for local produce, urban farming, education and social business, Kiezfarm is always looking for local and international actors that want to use the space collaboratively. Soon, the hope is that many Kiezfarms will exist across the city, powered by the people in the neighborhoods they are located in.  

Local Food in a Globalized World

Going back to the question of tradition, a question was posed to the group concerning the availability and use of local food for traditional cultural dishes. Given that Berlin is such a cosmopolitan city, it is imperative that we consider what strengthening local food systems looks like in a globalized world. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be so many people focused on using local food to create traditional dishes from elsewhere. The Buya Ramen Factory in Berlin was mentioned (if you know more, please share in the comments!), as well as rice from Austria. Johanna also mentioned a great initiative called Über den Tellerrand that brings diverse communities together over food and food culture. Benoo shared that many farms in Brandenburg are starting to grow ginger and curcuma, while Kiezfarm has been experimenting with growing greens like Mizuna, Shiso and Wasabino to supply Asian restaurants in the local neighborhood. Finally, it seems there is quite some potential for SoLaWis to engage restaurants and imbiss stands as customers moving forward.

In the end, the question still hangs: how do we feed a city of 4 million Berliners? Is it possible with just SoLaWi and local food? This is the age-old question, and an important one, but as with any major paradigm shift, it must start from somewhere. For example, SoLaWi projects need more people in the city to set up and coordinate drop-off depots, while policy needs to shift in order to support farmers in the region to do the type of ecologically resilient agriculture we need (e.g. shift in CAP subsides), as well as secure land that is consistently being lost to big, industrial farms (land rights actors such as Netzwerk Flächensicherung). These are two sides to the intricate coin of food system change – it is big and complicated, but there are many good examples of people starting where they are with what they have. One way is to simply engage our local community and start a discussion on what people need and want. Slowly but surely, these alternatives to the globalized, industrial food system will start to outweigh the convenience of supermarket offerings. Then we can talk again about what else we need to feed the city.

Where to find the details of our next meetup?

Learn, connect and exchange ideas around sustainability on the last Wednesday of every month in ‘Food In The City’. Head to our ‘Events’ page to find more about what we are planning for the month of June.

Date & time: 30 June @ 19:00 – 20:30 CEST

See you there! 

This post is also available in: Deutsch (German)

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