Small Scale Producers from a Small Scale Country are coming to Milan!

A total of 5 delegates from Belgium are ready to take off and meet an intercultural movement of farmers, producers and enthusiastic food futurists in a couple of weeks. Two Flemish farmers, one Walloon artisanal ice-cream maker and two Brussels urban farmers - the perfect representation of our intriguing country. My name is Tine Devriese, I’m a graduate from the University of Gastronomic Sciences and today I will present you the Belgian delegation!

Currently, about only 2 percent of the Belgian population is employed in agriculture, and the small scale family farms are disappearing (80% over the last 30 years!). The urban sprawl is in an upward trend, and agribusinesses are increasing their outputs by the minute. It’s time for the young generation to find sustainable solutions, which combine traditional knowledge with innovative ideas. This urge for clever solutions, while respecting the quality and taste of the products, is a common characteristic of all the Belgian delegates - as you will see in the stories below.

Our first two delegates, Sevan Holemans (27) and Hadrien Velge (26), recently launched their urban mushroom farm in the centrum of Brussels, in the basement of the largest organic market of the city. Both graduated in economy, they are convinced of the crucial importance of urban agriculture and circularity. They worked out a closed-cycle system, with minimal waste residues and maximum outcomes. The idea is to use urban waste as a resource to grow food. Mushrooms can grow on a huge variety of substrates, including coffee grinds, brewer’s yeast and straw. Their farm is far from the traditional model: they use technology and innovation, combined with the metropolitan environment and a strong sense of sustainability, to create their own Farm of the Future. They both believe in the power of collective intelligence. If the future needs a new food system, it definitely needs an open community to achieve this goal! Their experience will be a highly valuable contribution to the brainstorm sessions and dialogues concerning farms in the city.

Lila Bourcy (25) is an artisanal ice-cream maker, and has since long been an active member of the Slow Food Youth Network in Brussels. Together with her father, she’s looking for the most sustainable and environmental friendly way to create the best - and healthiest - gelato. They source their ingredients as local as possible, and sell directly to the customer. As a producer, Lila feels she has a mission: to make good and healthy products, and to educate her customers - both young and old. And what better way to do that than with seasonal, raw-milk ice cream?! But she’s still full of energy, open to learn about new ways to put her convictions into practice. Lila wants to find the hope at We Feed the Planet that one day, by bringing our ideas and our passions together, we will finally slow down the huge machine of intensive agriculture.

Our first Flemish farmer, Tom Troonbeeckx (38), was one of the pioneers of the CSA movement in Flanders. His farm, on which he grows vegetables and - delicious! - cherries, has served as an example for many who decided to follow in his footsteps. He started from bare land and created a farm that is part of a healthy, ecological and economical system which takes up social responsibilities. Tom is very dedicated to the input of his CSA members, he sees their opinions and thoughts as a way to shape their local sustainable food system as a community. This busy bee also launched an organization that works on access to land for young farmers, a critical issue in Belgium these days. But Tom wants to take it a step further, and start with cattle breeding too. Tom’s daily work is literally his passion: to grow good food, to educate people about food and to inspire them how to grow it in an economical and environmental sound system.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Photo credit: Tim Vandewiele

Our last farmer, Olivier Mehuys (26), is working hard on his family’s farm - breeding cattle, growing feed and other agricultural products such as peas, carrots and beans. Recently, Olivier has started to introduce the concepts of locality and short chain supply. He is selling the meat through his website Local Foodbox, and is setting up an online local market throughout the province of West- Flanders. “As a farmer”, Oliver says, “I see every day how my crops grow. Today I also see the person who buys my product, and he gets to see who produces the meat he buys.” Olivier is still fully exploring the world of sustainable food production, and he hopes to learn as much as possible during We Feed the Planet !

See you in Milan! 

Tine Devriese, Slow Food Youth Network Bruxelles-Brussels