Foto: Frank Meissner

Think globally, eat locally!

Tromsø Library has once again hosted the monthly Breakfast Seminar organised by The Future in Our Hands North. This time the speakers shared their knowledge about the movement for local food in the city of Tromsø as well as the importance of shaping positive attitudes towards agriculture among children. 

Farmers markets are becoming an ordinary part of urban trade and locally produced food is more and more valued among the consumers. Many people believe that such commodities are healthier and tastier than conventional food. Research conducted at Harvard Medical School shows that there is hard data behind people’s intuition and usually regional foods have more nutritional quality indeed. Fortunately, the trend for buying local food as a part of the green shift towards a more sustainable economic system is predicted to be growing and getting more mainstream.

Foodwise, there are several reasons for going local. Apart from the better taste which is a result of more direct relationship between the farmer and the source of food, it also needs less time to end up on people’s table. This influences both the taste (less additives!) as well as reduces carbon footprint stemming from transportation. Buying local food is socially responsible and not only supports the local economy but also strengthens the bond between people. Forming a personal relationship between the producer and the consumer leads to more responsible behaviour on the side of the farmer too – it’s easier to treat seriously the customer who is not anonymous. This in turn builds stronger local community and a psychological sense of belonging. The sense of belonging, which is one of the basic human needs, stems partially from place attachment which is a notion used to describe the bond between person and place.

Influential Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss suggested that place attachment is crucial in developing the ecological wisdom which he called ecosophy. This ecological wisdom might be defined as a tendency to appreciate the inherent value of nature and seeking to live in balance with the natural environment. Næss argued that everyone should develop their own ecosophy which refers to a specific place in nature which is important for them. Empirical research supports the hypothesis – referring to a specific place in nature is much more efficient in shaping the concern for nature and willingness to protect it comparing to the more abstract perception of nature. Direct bond with food growers gives the unique opportunity to visit the farms and explore all that is behind food production – the land, the crops, the animals, different seasons on the land, details of the process of growing food. They all constitute the development of place attachment which leads to environmentally responsible behaviour.

The global trend for small scale urban agriculture as well as urban-dwellers’ will to cooperate with farmers in order to participate in food production has reached the Arctic. Since it is difficult to produce food on a bigger scale in Tromsø, agricultural education programmes in the city focus on enabling children to grow vegetables by themselves in vegetable gardens along with teaching them how to prepare healthy and interesting meals. Children are encouraged to get involved, and through workshops and team work, discover that contact with food and agriculture can be very inspirational and give a lot of fun.

Three speakers invited to the breakfast seminar focused mostly on the environmental education programmes based on contact with food. Veronica Bergan, associate professor at the UiT who trains future teachers in environmental education and embracing gardening projects in school curricula, emphasised how important it is to educate children about the sustainable food production and where the food comes from since many children are separated from this knowledge and associate food with supermarkets rather than farms. She also acknowledged that one should draw from local tradition and teach children not only about farming but also about fisheries which have been a significant part of food acquisition in Tromsø. Interestingly, many children who disliked fish actually change their opinion about seafood after they have learned to prepare attractive dishes out of fish during special workshops. Nutritionist and writer Vibeke Thorp presented her experience from workshops on different dimensions of perception of food. She referred to research showing how much associations are triggered by different tastes and odours and how food in turn can be used in the transfer of knowledge or in eliciting emotions. She also spoke about different meanings that food carries, description of which can be found in detail in her book “Sterk Kost”. Ute Vogel who specializes in climate change communication and is a leader of the projects Kløverhagen 4H and Frisk Pust Tromsø described her grassroots work with children. In her opinion, the relationship with food is crucial for the green shift to occur. Ute agreed to tell Utropia more about her grassroots experience with local food production projects.

Michalina Marczak: What is Frisk Pust Tromsø?

Ute Vogel: Frisk Pust Tromsø is a local network of activists, projects and organisations working towards more sustainability locally. It came out from one of my projects. In 2014 I organised a workshop with the global ecovillage network and from this cooperation we formed an informal organisation. It’s actually rather a network of people who support each other, a platform for exchanging information, establishing cooperation and getting support, all the above concerning environmental activism.

MM: What about Kløverhagen 4H?

UV: Kløverhagen 4H is a local club within the organisation 4H which is a very old non-profit organisation with main focus on practical learning activities rooted in rural life addressed to children and youth. Although it started in the US, it is now present in around 80 countries in the world. The organisation works with local clubs. What is special about 4H is that it is the kids and youth who decide about what to do. We follow 4H’s four main focus areas: Nature, Culture, Health and Society. The kids choose projects each year starting at the age of 10-11 until they are 18 and get a certificate each year for the project they have accomplished. I started the club out of my own interest because I needed experience within climate communication on a very practical level. I have learnt a lot from climate scientists while working with climate communications at UiT. This has led me to asking: how do we communicate the emergency of climate change and the need to change our lifestyles?

MM: Is it possible to communicate it through local food projects?

UV: My opinion is that it is very important to do something positive and something local. I have worked a lot with international projects but I kept asking myself: what can I do locally? At the same time, I have kids, they learn a lot about climate change and natural sciences at school but I see that there is lack of connection to nature among youth. I looked for the possibility to communicate nature and ways of coming back to nature in an urban setting, for opening the heart through working directly with the earth. I think this is decisive when it comes to solving the problem of climate change – it is no longer so distant, working with the soil builds the psychological, emotional aspect of connecting to nature. I missed gardening myself since I come from a family where gardening was always an important social event. I wanted to learn what a local gardening project would change in the neighbourhood.

MM: What do you do in Kløverhagen?

UV: We started two years ago from a community gardening project in our backyard. It was very small in the beginning, no more than 25 square meters. I invited kids from my children’s school, grades 2-4, and we started planting vegetables, herbs and flowers. We have expanded the area last year, and now we have our own greenhouse as well as about 400 square meters of gardening area.

MM: How does one do that? How do you start a gardening project?

UV: You need engaged parents or people, and the ability to motivate people to start something new. But first of all, someone who gives you the area to grow. It was a long process for us to get the access to the land. We started from a pilot project and got permission from the community housing. We faced a lot of scepticism. They asked: What will it look like? Is everybody pro? Will it create noise? It was crucial to motivate not only the members but also the people around the project to support it. I had to do a lot of information work, a lot of “selling” the ideas of the project to the neighbourhood. The tip I can give is: start small and test it out. Then you can see how people engage. For us it was very helpful to be a member of a bigger organisation – 4H gave us a lot of support. They had a project going in the region called From the earth to the table. This was a coincidence but we got a lot of support thanks to this project. Also the leader of 4H in the region had background in permaculture and ecological farming which turned out to be very helpful.

MM: Did you set yourselves particular goals you wanted to achieve through the project?

UV: After the first year the experience was very positive. It created a lot of interaction in the neighbourhood and this is what it is about. The real value is not in the vegetable or in the herb, the value is in the social interaction and in learning by doing, which is actually the motto of 4H. An important thing was to acknowledge that we don’t expect fantastic produce, the goal was to learn how to grow our own food and get an understanding of where the food comes from. Knowing and “experiencing” where the carrot comes from helps develop the relationship with the soil, something that the children have lost. Food production is central to climate change – we have to rethink out relationship to the food – how we produce it, how we transport it. For us, the main goal is knowledge and reconnecting to nature.

MM: What would you point out as factors fostering the development of urban agriculture?

UV: A good supporting community. That’s what we’re trying to develop now – we have applied for money to start a school garden centre which involves teacher education, local schools and kindergartens in practical learning projects about sustainable development and food. It will also be a competence centre for ecological urban and suburban gardening and farming in general. It’s crucial to organise knowledge-driven activities for the community – gardening, beekeeping, composting. All this is about going into cooperation. Multiculturalism can also add up a lot of skills and knowledge to the community. Many immigrants or asylum seekers have got experience from farming or gardening from their home countries. Urban farming has a great potential for integration too. And that’s maybe the key word – integration. Gardening is a very integrative, positive activity.

Text: Michalina Marczak