Almere: Feeding the City

posted in: Sustainability | 0

Last night I attended a ‘Feeding the City’ meeting at the Stadstheater in Almere. Here’s an impression.

A few international speakers were invited to speak at this meeting:

  • Andrea Calori (Milan, Italy): Researcher, consultant and activist in local sustainable development and urban-rural policies
  • Lauren Baker (Toronto, Canada): Coordinator of the Toronto Food Policy Council
  • Cecilia Castro (Lima, Peru): Head Planning and Environmental Projects

Unfortunately Cecilia Castro could not be there because of visa problems, nevertheless the story from Lima was well illustrated. Henk Mulder, City Council Almere, could unfortunately also not attend because of workload related to the new city council formation, but Almere was very well represented through other speakers.

Chapter 1. Milan

In Milan, according to Andrea, there is an existing culture where there is a traditional connection between rural and urban society. Nearly everybody living in the city has one or more relatives living in a rural area and trading happens frequently. Often people living in the urban areas organize for example collective buying from local farms, but farmers also organize markets of local produce. The challenge in Milan is therefore not to connect citizens from rural and urban areas but for government to step in and make a positive difference for urban gardening.

Chapter 2. Lima

In Lima the challenges are of an entirely different nature. Lima is a heavily polluted city that doesn’t get a lot (if any) rain. Aside from that the income per capita is also a lot lower so it’s much more difficult to get the necessary resources. However, there’s a double win in Lima as urban gardening not only makes the city look prettier, it also helps to make the city cleaner.

Chapter 3. Toronto

Toronto has a long history of about 20 years of urban gardening already. Lauren explained in some detail the infrastructure that already exists in the city and how the government facilitates this. Particularly the word ‘facilitating’ seemed to cause an interesting rumble from the audience. It seems like the most natural thing in the world that a government would facilitate such initiative but apparently this isn’t always as easy as it sounds. From the rumbling, also my own, I believe there was a recognition of that.

Chapter 4. GREEN cities.

Remarkably enough, as I have taken it upon myself to build our greenhouse-in-the-backyard and try to make this a repeatable concept, I bumped onto the current efforts of Almere to ready the city for the Floriade 2022, an international gardening event where Almere will become quite visible internationally.

I’ve also learned since that Almere, a very young city, was set up to be green from the start. I’m finding a lot of synergy from that already through a few people I’ve gotten in contact with since the beginning of this project. It’s very good to see that these initiatives are real and they’re global in nature.

Chapter 5. Reservations

I went to this meeting mostly to see what the local government had to say about their efforts and how these words align with the actions. My personal experiences are positive but not to an extent that I can see that there’s a real effort to facilitate (yes, there’s that word again) urban gardening. Perhaps I should have networked a bit more and talk to people who can help but while that may have made a difference for me personally, I don’t believe it should be something that the average citizen should need to do when they want to show an initiative towards urban gardening.

I did in fact write this down on a suggestion paper but of course I forgot to put it in the dropbox.

Chapter 6. On the upside…

We live in a world that’s connecting people from all over the world through social networks. We have technology! One of the most intriguing things I noticed last night was that while there were big TV screens to show slides, there was no Skype connection or something similar to let Cecilia talk to us? I know this would kind of defy the traditional idea of a political cafe, but still. As she could not be there unexpectedly, why not use the technology?

As a diehard technologist, this is where I feel I’m in the right spot as IT Farmer. During the meeting there was also mention of ‘Civil Servant 2.0’ and somewhat jokingly there was also a question whether we shouldn’t have a ‘Farmer 2.0’. This does not just apply to the willingness (which exists I’m sure) of farmers to hook up to urban farmers, but also to the ability to use technical resources for this gardening.

This is a nice cliffhanger I believe to discuss urban gardening. Through social networks I have some contacts in Toronto as well as in South America and it would be nice if people could discuss electronically from all over the world how they feel about urban gardening; What can be improved, how can we learn from each other?