Agriculture  |  Successes  |  28.05.2013

Sustainable food for all: an initiative of the regional level

Food is the first environmental factor that influences the frequency and appearance of certain diseases. Food quality has become a public health issue. What kind of policies can public authorities implement to favour better quality food? The Regional Ministers of Brussels decided to integrate the development of sustainable food systems as a strategic priority for the period 2009-2014.

The three main axes of the strategy proposed in 2011 by Evelyne Huytebroeck, the Green Minister of the Environment, are: developing a vision for a sustainable food system in Brussels, encouraging sustainable food consumption in canteens and other infrastructures where collective food consumption takes place and supporting a change in households’ consumption patterns towards sustainable eating. We detail below two concrete actions that have been taken, aimed at changing people’s daily behaviours.

Sustainable canteens

Due to the enormous number of meals taken in canteens, at school, at work, in nursing homes, these infrastructures were targeted as good levers to change habits and get positive outcomes for public health.

The so-called “sustainable canteen” project, coordinated by Bruxelles-Environnement, the regional public service responsible for environment and energy issues, enables to give support to the canteens which would like to serve sustainable food. In the first session, in 2009, 40 collectivities representing 60 000 meals per day benefited from this framework. Today, 94 collectivities representing 80 000 daily meals are concerned. The Region wants to reach 125 000 sustainable meals per day by 2015. Ultimately, the objective is that all the public canteens offer sustainable meals.

How does it work?

Sustainable eating means consuming products that are fresh, local, and seasonal, and preferably result from fair trade and/or organic or integrated farming. It also means avoiding food waste and overpackaging, and alternating sources of animal and vegetable proteins.

The canteens interested in the conversion to more sustainable practices benefited from a close support as well as a certification. Transition towards sustainable food is made step by step in order to progressively integrate different criteria of sustainability in the orders. For example, there is a progressive introduction of more local fruit and vegetables, preferably organic, as well as the reduction of food waste.

To strengthen the transition towards a sustainable food system in Brussels, the Minister via Bruxelles-Environnement has also launched an awareness campaign in favour of a local and seasonal food system.

Urban vegetable gardens

The Brussels Region supports the development of urban vegetable gardens not only for encouraging the self production of food but also for raising awareness of agriculture matters and creating social links. Respect for the environment in farming by not using pesticides for instance is one of the main goals of the Minister.

Bruxelles-Environnement works in two directions by encouraging the development of vegetable gardens at home, in small spaces, and by enabling the creation of community gardens. It offered free trainings with professionals for inhabitants who want to make their own garden, in order to promote urban food autonomy and to reconnect people to the food cycle. It also published guidelines which help people with tips for their sustainable gardening.

Regarding the creation of community gardens, several steps have been already taken: after having collected the potential plots for collective gardens, Bruxelles-Environnement funded a dedicated website to help and support inhabitants’ projects towards establishing such gardens. In cooperation with the association “Le début des Haricots” which gives practical assistance, Bruxelles-Environnement launches annual calls for collective gardening projects which will benefit from practical and financial support if selected. This support enables the Region to encourage the creation of social links between inhabitants and, in the meanwhile, to ensure that the gardens respect sustainable and environmental principles. A map collects all the collective gardens and the space still available. Several big gardens have been created so far, including “Les Jardins du Carré Tillens”. After having been de-polluted, this area of about one hectare has been planned and designed to mix harmoniously some individual vegetable gardens, a small fruit orchard and 200 m² of intergenerational garden where pupils and residents of a nursing home regularly garden together. The garden also includes a collective compost, an apiary and public green areas. This project has thus had a very positive impact for the district.  

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