Discover how URBACT cities are using sustainable food and urban agriculture to address an array of local challenges.
In this article, URBACT Programme Expert Marcelline Bonneau shines a light on several URBACT partner cities making the transition towards more sustainable local food ecosystems – and some of the practices they have developed in the process. She concludes with a reminder of the importance of integrated food policies at city level.
A multitude of local food solutions in URBACT cities
The UIATAST’in FIVES project, taking place in the Fives
neighbourhood of Lille, France, has aimed at using the concept of food (from
growing, picking up, preparing, cooking, and eating) to propose a systemic model to fight against urban poverty, including
social and economic inclusion, health, education, and empowerment.
Indeed, with a population of 20,000 inhabitants, 50% below 30 and 22%
unemployed, 45% of the households of Fives live below the poverty threshold.
More than 1,000 families receive food parcels from the Secours Populaire
Français. The area suffers from poverty, with under and malnutrition, as well
related health issues (obesity, cholesterol, diabetes….).
FIVES has not sought to address those directly and to carry out a top-down
health-focused project convening moralising tips for everyday life: it has
intended to provide a convivial place and useful activities where each
participant could find a direct benefit from herself or himself. While
indirectly addressing poverty issues, it sought to have a wider impact on
residents’ lives, using food-related activities to create commensality, share
moments, empower, enable socialisation, develop skills, and support access to
the job market.
A realm of stakeholders and activities seeking to reduce urban poverty
has been prototyped during 3 years, before the final building and activities
will be launched in Spring 2020.
Its temporary location, l’Avant-goût, has hosted seven main types of
· In an urban greenhouse: urban farming. Activities around
growing, recognising and picking up vegetables;
· In a shared kitchen called
“the Common Kitchen”: cooking workshops,
food events, video-making, food
distribution, job search and entrepreneurship.
Each of them was organised by a variety of stakeholders (often jointly), who mobilised their own target groups as presented in the table below and as referred to throughout this article (this table presents the main organisers of activities bearing in mind that many other organisations have used the placed as well, to a lesser extent) .
Evaluating the impact of the
activities on the reduction of urban poverty is a difficult task. For example,
officially, the objectives of the Common Kitchen
were to “facilitate the relations between the inhabitants, and between the
population and the social services; making the kitchen a collective tool to
break the isolation of a population in precariousness situations; fighting
against prejudices and stereotypes; and mixing the local community with the
best of food-professionals and economic stakeholders”. The
use of indicators will enable addressing some of the effects of this work in qualitative and quantitative terms, yet,
without a total certainty of direct
impact in this uncontrolled environment. In addition, declaring that such a
project had a striking impact on local urban poverty in such a short period of
time, with a perfectly designed methodology, would be presumptuous. Beyond a
mere patronising account of the impacts of the project, we will therefore here
seek to sketch some influence the food-related activities seem to have had on
its beneficiaries and its organisers in reducing urban poverty.
Food activities as gathering and benefiting
those in need
activities we focus on here took place in the temporary location of l’Avant-goût
(a 1800 m² brownfield outdoor area with a temporary bungalow hosting the Common
Kitchen, and an “urban greenhouse” made of a container, a greenhouse, and raised
beds). L’Avant-goût was indeed designed as a physical space for gathering
residents and NGOs for collective use, where residents would be welcome to come
and join activities for free. As part of the wider urban regeneration project,
they were also invited to become actors of their neighbourhood and of the
future design of the project. Some residents for example took part in
co-creation workshops on the future building.
As a physical space, l’Avant-goût has
therefore distilled some elements for a new
everyday life of activities’ participants: they have been given the
opportunity to attend workshops to meet and exchange with others, without any
commitment, regularly if they wished, with the option to remain in contact
outside this frame, but with no obligation. This parenthesis has been for many
the opportunity to move away from their
daily issues, and daily environment: for some mothers especially, the
activities have provided them with a space other
than their home. As such, La Sauvegarde du Nord has organised (cooking and
video) activities during school time for them to be able to come and attend.
For some, it has also enabled them to focus on an activity they like or find interesting. For example, the Secours Populaire Français has observed that those coming to the workshop classes were interested by food and wanted to “be in contact with others”. It has alsoenabledactivating their pleasure of cooking (as an activity), cooking for oneself or for others, as well as, eating (as a basic need) or eating nicely cooked dishes. In turn, these have led to improve self-esteem. Valorisation also became quite apparent during the job search activities organised by La Maison de l’Emploi where applicants were observed during some cooking activities to showcase their skills to potential employers and recruitment agencies.
food has been an excuse to meet and
socialise. As some participants acknowledged, “it is not necessarily about
learning but being together”. In the
case of La Cloche, the invitation has been for all those interested (homeless
people but also the “general public”) to gather and cook on the basis of what
was available. Within the activities of the Secours Populaire Français, those
who are helped will often help in return. Discussions have sometimes also led
to identifying solutions to everyday
life issues (such as administrative, getting access to food, etc). La
Sauvegarde du Nord has also witnessed the empowerment
and openness to the city as its
beneficiaries became independent in their mobility,
while eventually all going to the activities in public transport (often
combining a few for up to 1 hour) by themselves. Such gained mobility will be
beneficial for all their other private, social or work-related activities.
activities have been free and open to all those interested, potentially
creating a space for cultural
encounters, people to come and take part in a collective project. For
example, La Sauvegarde du Nord has noted that their beneficiaries (migrants)
had got to know each other’s cultures in this location outside of the kitchens
many share on a daily basis with other families – with whom daily housekeeping
and usage provoke tensions. Their relation have become positive with a real
possibility and wish to familiarise
with others and their cultures. CCAS is also working with the “senior space” of
Fives and retirement homes to organise intergenerational activities.
The activities have also provided a frame for those who wish to have one for their daily lives. The cooking activities, for example organised by La Sauvegarde du Nord, La Cloche, Les Sens du Goût and Le Secours Populaire Français, also giving the room to the participants to propose their own recipes and ways of cooking. Participants have got empowered and stimulated further cultural and personal exchange, at the same time as being proud of their own learnings. The seeds bank created by Yncréa Hauts-de-France and managed in a participatory way has also served both as an end and as a mean for personal investment and learning from the overall project. Yncréa Hauts-de-France has also invited the beneficiaries of the partner organisations to help managing the chicken coop, producing endives or mushrooms, feeding insects of fishes, sowing, or adjusting fertilizers. Aquaponics, hydroponics and raised beds harvests have directly targeted the cooking workshops to keep a link between the seed to the fork. This way, the cooking classes have also been a way of supporting French learning or communicating in a group, as La Sauvegarde du Nord analysed.
The activities with children have also enabled reaching out to more families. La
Sauvegarde du Nord has seen an increasing interest of (small) children gaining confidence in being integrated
in the food activities along the months. Whether it was picking up vegetables
from the greenhouse or raised beds (managed by Yncréa Hauts-de-France) or
cooking, they could put their hand in the work and do for themselves.
of activities organised has furthermore provided for a basic need which isfood:
for example, the cooking classes and food events provided food for free for
those in need. The solidary fridge,
coordinated by CCAS, sees a constant flow of givers and receivers,
demonstrating local solidarity as well as need for it. In
addition, a partnership with the Local Short Food Supplier, proposes “suspended
vegetables” which are made available in the fridge.
sector faces difficulties in recruiting adequate employees. As such, some job matchmaking organised by La Maison
de l’Emploi have benefited from cooking activities to assess the overall
competences of job applicants and support them and job providers to find the
most suitable job opportunities in the food sector. The incubator led by
Baluchon offers coaching meetings and thematic training sessions for those
wishing to set up a food. The beneficiaries of some activities, e.g. organised
by Les Sens du Goût or CCAS (Centre for housing and social reinsertion), were
also redirected to the incubator to create their professional activity in the
food sector. La Cloche in addition works on the volunteer’s acquired skills and independence: they would for example strengthen the posture of volunteers
becoming workshop facilitators themselves and for intend to acquire a
cargo-bike in order to give them full autonomy. The upcoming catering service –
also led by Baluchon and currently under feasibility study – will also provide
directly employable skills and job
opportunities for unemployed people. Some organisations have also noted some
indirect impact on job creation where for example one person who was
beneficiary, from La Cloche became a volunteer then found a job and housing.
For those in
need of it, health issues have been addressed
indirectly by the mere fact of cooking (instead of buying processed food) and
some general tips about “lighter food”, for example, in the case of cooking
workshops organised by Les Sens du Goût. It has also been the case by going
back to the roots of food, i.e. food production, with the above-mentioned seeds
bank created by Yncréa Hauts-de-France: together with La Cloche, this box has been opened to any person wishing to grow
reproducible regional fruit and vegetables promoting non-market economy. Some
seedlings were exchanged permitting to share knowledge on food production.
food entry was also a way of considering family budgeting while finding
the right balance between healthy and cheap products, reducing food waste,
making the most out of existing products, as was for example shared during the
activities organised by Les Sens du Goût.
Food activities as an opportunity for new ways
of accompanying those in needs
Sauvegarde du Nord noted, for precarious populations coming from other
countries, the only way to survive with limited money is to cook. For “local”
populations, getting access to cheap -and often ready-to-eat- food might be the
priority without the necessary knowledge nor time for cooking, as well as
getting access to what consumption society has to offer.
Yet, food is a basic human need: we all have to eat. This is an activity that is shared
by all. As shown above, food can be used in order to mobilise people as an
entry point to create conviviality
and trust with the organisation.
partners of the project, the use of food has enabled testing out new ways of working. Some were already
carrying small-scale cooking (and baking) activities such as La Cloche. Yet, La
Cloche did not have a
space for upscaling these activities in Lille – although there was a strong
interest and grounded skills amongst volunteers for such activities – and was
happy to benefit from L’Avant-goût’s Common Kitchen. It has used the space to
provide an enabling framework,
letting its beneficiaries to meet and exchange in an organic way. Others, such
as the Secours Populaire Français, have developed activities they had never
developed before. It was also new for them to have an adequate place for such activities. For this, they have relied
heavily on the motivation and involvement of one volunteer, who became an
important driving force: to invite, organise, and facilitate the cooking
activities have also been used with other
tools which can support the development of a realm of skills and attitudes,
such as photo, cinema or culture. Les Sens du gout for example have made videos
of recipes presented by the local residents. In the case of the job-search
related cooking activities organised by La Maison de l’Emploi, it was not only
the participant’s cooking skills which were tested but their overall their
transversal skills (e.g. organisation, teamwork, etc.).
du Nord also noted that, as compared to its other activities, the space
provided here was more neutral and informal, enabling it to reinforce
supporting and educative measures in a new territory.
Some of the
organisations had to learn new
methodologies for interacting with their beneficiaries, for example La
Sauvegarde du Nord who had never organised cooking workshops before and was
stressed each time as to whether they had done the right shopping. It has also
enabled them to look at their beneficiaries in a new light as those participants who appear to feel confident and
“at home” in a kitchen, a positive approach as opposed to the focus on their
issues, which are dealt with when the NGO meets them for their regular support.
They have in turn invited their colleagues to witness this way of working
inviting them to become inspired.
For the CCAS as well, workers have got the opportunity to work outside the
strict institutional framework, to promote proximity link at the same time
as putting themselves at the same level as their beneficiaries: by cooking and
talking about food, they would become reduce barriers preventing one and the
other to get to know each other and trust each other.
organisations have also worked with intermediaries to further expand their experience,
such as parents at schools as well as training teachers and school nurses in
the case of Les Sens du Goût. CCAS is working with professional of care sector
to support the quality of food provided to elderly.
The Common Kitchen has also enabled to
create new synergies supporting in
the joint attraction of each other’s publics, of new public (e.g. those affected by social invisibility) and new methodologies. For example, “workshops and videos” were organised
jointly by La Sauvegarde du Nord, the Secours Populaire et les Rencontres
Audiovisuelles. La Cloche is also currently seeking a collaboration with Pole
Emploi as well as with some companies and catering services. Baluchon is also
seeking the same types of collaboration for its inclusive incubator and
insertion catering service. Yncrea Hauts-de-France has
collaborated with the other partners to showcase different low- or high-tech
microsystems that could be developed at home, in class, in associative or
public structures in a collaborative way.
This mutualised tool has given stakeholders the opportunity to
share and exchange on common issues, with different publics, focusing on fighting
against exclusion, public health, cooking for children, job development. Such
platforms already existed in Lille but they were generalist. The effect of such
synergies was also observed in some participants taking part in some (or all!)
the activities of each of the organisations. CCAS has for example increased
(paper) communication with local shops and inhabitants via the
distribution of flyers by Civic service students”.
and activities, e.g. “Apéro Sans Frontières” (“Aperitif without borders”) have
enabled several shelters, emergency accommodations and “Maisons-relais” to join increase collaboration with La
Sauvegarde du Nord, as well as to ask for support in organising to carry out similar activities. During the European
Heritage Days and the International Solidarity Festival, CCAS is also bringing
together other organization to exchange on the specificity of Food in
Looking at the Future
success of the activities can be explained by the skills and involvement of all
the partners with their varied profiles, beneficiaries and activities.
Synergies, reflexions and experimentations in order to leverage on urban
poverty have been nested for 3 years by all the stakeholders via all the
above-mentioned activities in L’Avant-goût. It could have also been linked to
the type of space provided: informal, seemingly made out of odds and ends,
where participants and organisers could get a feeling of lack of control, “not
too neat”. The new location will be recently built, following strict sanitary
rules and regulations, potentially giving it a “colder” feeling. It will be
important to prevent the disappearance of this feeling of freedom.
food-related activities to seek and leverage urban poverty within the TAST’in
FIVES project has shown effects both on individuals as well as on the involved
organisations. The way it will affect the neighbourhood as a whole will be seen
in the next few years. These will probably be acupuncture points in the local
addressing some issues – like poverty – via an alternative entry point – food-
, as it has proven to be successful – or while supporting other activities.
There will be room for experimenting with increasing mix and synergies between
activities and publics on the site of Chaud
Bouillon!, the resulting building of the project. Also, the future location will enable going
one step further for employability (with a functional professional kitchen)
both through the incubator and the catering training. Once the experimentation
phase and ad hoc funding will be over, partners will for sure be eager to keep
on collaborating and carrying out their activities in the Common Kitchen, the Professional
Kitchen, and the Food Court.
Hopefully the learnings from these three years will continue being used and
leading to new opportunities.
People of varied backgrounds and from all over the world met at the UrbanA Community Conversation on 30th June 2020 to address the question of food poverty and solidarity. UrbanA Fellow Marcelline Bonneau, an expert in both the URBACT programme and the Urban Innovation Actions initiative, led the conversation. She began by sharing her experience and understanding of how European municipalities have approached food poverty during the COVID19 crisis. She focused on three questions:
How have cities supported those in need of food during the crisis?
How have cities reorganized traditional food aid systems, such as funded meals in canteens or regular food distributions?
Cities have shown how agile they can be in addressing increased needs of their local population in terms of access to (healthy) food. As the economic crisis unfolds and hits the most vulnerable first, it is important to think about what cities can do to sustain and transfer such good practices and what support they need at national and European level.
“The idea behind all initiatives is not to leave anybody behind during the Covid-19 crisis.” Josep Monras i Galindo, Mayor, Mollet de Vallès (Spain)
Examples of temporary experimentations in cities worldwide have boomed in the last decade: whether they take the form of disruptive usage of public space for artistic purposes or to look at urban space differently, whether they become the trendiest spot to go out or do shopping, whether they incubate the city of tomorrow, whether they are led by citizens, private companies, universities, public authorities or all of these together, they all play a crucial role in today’s cities .