Gardeners in the Urban Field

author: Architecture Workroom Brussels
date: November 30th, 2019

In the Brussels metropolitan context, we recognize signs of a new flow of different agroecological practices. The degree and the differentiation of those practices are also pushing, albeit in a very slight way, forms of urbanism in which they are developing. This chapter builds up from a more traditional urban-centred perspective on food production and will continue to increasingly rural angles. Stated differently, it also increases in amounts of technical farming knowledge, or decreases in forms of urban infrastructural support. In the following parts, we will describe only a selection of significant and distinctive practices, in order to highlight glimpses of agroecological urbanism taking place in the Belgian context.

Citizens movements

As we have highlighted at the end of chapter 2, citizens movements are quite strong in Brussels, and especially vocal about urban questions. Looking at it from a food-perspective, the focus is on growing themselves, often in small urban plots, or gathering knowledge in order to grow food in their private gardens. The first is most prominent in  the available allotments, often supported by the Brussels Regional Government, and mostly located along the Promenade Verte. Production has to follow a series of rules, aligned with principles of organic production. Furthermore, Brussels Environment is also supporting food production in collective spaces, throughout the constitutions of the Potagers Urbains, in which groups of residents start to produce food within collective gardens. The specificity of this activity is connected to the social value it symbolize, as a response from a public body to social demand.

Secondly, knowledge is offered through the concept of the Maîtres-Maraîchers (garden master). These followed a course initially set up by Brussels Environment and now form a peer-to-peer network, training others. It gives the tools to residents to learn the practice of food production, but also get tips on reducing food waste or compost. The first was later on developed into another ‘master’, the Maîtres-Frigo initiative, initiated by Brussels environment and Refresh Ixelles asbl in the framework of the Good Food strategy, who are sensibilizing citizens on the matter of food waste, food conservation and food processing, developing a system of knowledge sharing. The third is the Maître-Composteur, also started up by Brussels Environment, already in 1998. Today it counts over 400 members who are specialised in the field of composting, vermicompost, and its related collective value. All the different ‘Maitres’ have their personal information online, so anyone can easily find and contact the one living closest.  

As in many places, composting is done usually on two scales. On the one hand, it is developed at a very small scale by citizens interested in the topic, while on the other, it is carried out at a very large scale by the regional public authorities. Peculiar is that in both cases the connection with professional food growers is almost not present. Two main reasons stand out: first of all because the main goal of these initiatives is related to the reduction of food waste, not focusing on the production of quality compost and secondly, since farmers do not know how the compost is produced nor how qualitative the organic matter is, there is no use of this production in the professional field. Next to that, Belgium has a serious manure leftover, making compost too complex a product to ‘import’.

Moreover, the regulation regarding the transportation and selling of compost, is making the exchange complex to activate. In this sense, it is possible to highlight a gap, within this sphere of practices, in the scale of production and in the use of the produce itself. The Maître-Composteur, as mentioned before, is active at the very small scale, educating people and providing the infrastructure to set collective compost inside the city. Regarding the development of collective knowledge around compost in the city, Worms asbl [1] is also playing a crucial role. This initiative is extremely spread all over the Brussels region, operating on 165 community composts, and active at the micro level, working toward the engagement of communities in the nutrients cycle realm. Their main focus is social-based, raising awareness for nutrient cycling, setting up composting spots in school gardens, universities or public spaces and providing tools to citizens to set up their community compost. The compost resulting is predominantly for domestic use. Worms asbl in collaboration with Operation-phosphore is looking, however, at the future of collective composting, trying to scale-up this decentralized way of producing organic fertilizer in the city, translating it to a hybrid system with the collaboration of public authorities, aiming to bridge the gap between the organic matter coming from the city and the productive fields. 

The initiatives illustrated above are, in the urban context, the reflection of the political framework that the Brussels region is developing, together with policy and food related strategies, directed at engaging citizens willing to be active in the food production sphere and starting to raise questions on food sovereignty, and the accessibility to food growing knowledge.

[1] As part of the co-create project, Operation Phosphore, in collaboration with Urban Ecology, Bruxelles Environnement, Agence Bruxelles Propreté, LoUIsE-Faculté d’architecture de l’ULB

The social role of food production

A lot of practices are connected to food production and processing from a social conviction. Atelier Groot Eiland is one such organisation. It originated in 1986 as a social project and is today supporting Brussels residents that are currently outside the labour market through the organization of free training, offering work experience, employment care and job coaching. Their main focus is food production and food processing, supported by work in a repair atelier [2]. They have two productive potagers: Bel Akker, a land-based 2.000 m2 organic urban farm [3] situated behind the Belvue hotel, and the 700 m2 outdoor space on the Abattoir’s rooftop, combining rainwater-based organic produce with an aquaponics system. Their food goes exclusively to their Good Food labeled restaurant (Bel Mundo), a small cafe and a sandwich shop (Bel’O) or to their organic grocery store (The Food Hub) that also sells produce coming from the Pajottenland (and Italy).

Ferme nos Pilifs is another example linking social issues with local food production. It is an ETA (Entreprise de Travail Adapté) and a non-profit which is providing a profitable job to a high number of workers with disabilities, having as a driver the social inclusion in all its forms and declinations within the activities of the farm. The local organic food production is strictly intertwined with the social economy, constituting a multi-activity project, linking food production with food transformation, distribution , gardening services, courses, pedagogic visits, wood reuse, subcontracted packaging and mailing services, and composting. Today the Ferme counts around 130 disable workers and 50 employees.

These practices aim to educate citizens to a series of issues related to social disadvantages, and at the same time, starting up a strategy of sensibilization and awareness raising around food production. This is also the main goal of Le Début des Haricots an association established in 2005, that puts agroecology explicitly to the fore. The core ideal is to build a just society, from an ecological and social point of view, starting from healthy agriculture principles and practices.  The crucial role of  this initiative is positioned between the producers and the consumers, bridging the gap between the two by activating a series of different practices. One of these is the Ferme Urbaine project, started in 2010 as a social economy initiative for professional reintegration. They are giving space to four unemployed people that would like to start as a professional food producer. These farmers in training are supervised by three agronomists and a social coach, together with the training courses of specific seasonal labourers and the Mission Locale, establishing an agricultural parcours. Le Début des Haricots is active around many different aspects within the food discussion, also in relation to land justice issues, agriculture, health, social engagement, collective intelligence, intertwined with the urban question and the role that citizens can play in these changing dynamics. They sustain many different projects, such as the Ferme Urbaine, by initiating Terre-en vue and GASAP, by being a co-developer of BoerenBruxselPaysans or by setting up La Pousse qui Pousse.

The Bruxelloise initiative La Pousse qui Pousse is part of a regeneration project led by the Municipality of Saint-Gilles, in which they are re-activating public spaces located in the inner courtyards of building blocks. Throughout community engaged activities, they are producing seedlings. The main goal is to build up collective learning, but at the same time collaborators are open to sell their produce to amateur and professional growers.

[2] Atelier Groot Eiland has a partnership with Actiris and benefit from their own social workers’ network 

[3] The land is owned by the Federal Land Management Department 

Collective support for farmers

Funded in Brussels by “Les Debut des Haricots”, the three main principles of the Groupe d’Achat Solidaire de l’Agriculture Paysanne (Buyers Groups Solidary of Peasant Farming, or GASAP) are: direct selling, long-term buying and risk sharing. In order to have any influence on the producer’s price fixing liberty, buyers share logistical and managerial tasks (usually 3 hours per month) to avoid intermediaries and any extra costs. GASAP links Brussels consumers with predominantly Walloon farmers, constituting various systems of local and solidarity partnership [4].

La Ferme du Chant des Cailles is the only CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) within the Brussels Region [5]. The specific case of Brussels is also representing the strong movement of citizens that is related to this CSA. The community around “La Ferme du Chant des Cailles” is  activated to enhance access to land, and protect agricultural land in the fringe of Brussels from unnecessary housing pressure. This initiative has its origins from a group of local inhabitants and farmers [6], together with the old Garden City Cooperative called the Le Logis and Floréal. The CSA model applied to this specific production initiative is closely linked with the collective value that this open space has for the neighbourhood, together with the wish of the community to reclaim space for local and organic food production. While Le Logis was waiting for more funding in order to develop a housing project, it established a farming contract to make use of the land. When in 2011 the farmer left, leaving the land unused for two years, local inhabitants started to mobilize and appropriated it, establishing in 2012 a non-profit organization “Le Chant des Cailles asbl”, structured around the CSA model, feeding nowadays 319 people living in the neighbourhood.

[4] “Overview of community supported agriculture in Europe”, European CSA research group, Urgenci, 2016 

[5] The study “Overview of community supported agriculture in Europe”, make a distinction between the CSA model in Flanders, and the one in Wallonia and in Brussels. In the Wallonia/ Brussels context, the CS 

[6] Le Début des Haricots asbl

Collective infrastructure for farmers

In previous chapters we documented the extinction of smallholders in Brussels and Flanders. At the same time,  there is a growing trend of new young professionals that would like to start up new food growing initiatives. BoerenBruxselPaysans (BBP) was born with the ambition to support professional farmers in the initial phase of their activities. This project, located in one of the residual spots of agricultural land outside the main ring road, is the first attempt to constitute a series of infrastructure gravitating around the farmer figure. BBP is an ERDV (European Regional Development Fund) project integrated in the Good Food strategy and managed by Bruxelles Environment in collaboration with Flanders (via the ‘Brussel Lust’ project)  and Wallonia (via Crédal’s feasibility study on MaBru). The main support funding within the project is used to renovate the Ferme du Chaudron and the Kattenkasteel as two main hubs to support the growers in place (with tool sheds, training and processing facilities and market infrastructure). The project regroups six different actors: Bruxelles Environnement, which is in charge for the coordination of the overall project through the person of Catherine Fierens, Le Début des Haricots asbl, responsible for the development of the training parcours for the involved producers, La Maison Verte & Bleue asbl, being the food processing party, activating the involvement of the local community, Crédal, which is in charge of carrying out a viability study of the different producing models,  Terre-en-Vue, involved to build up a strategy to facilitate access to land for the farmers fulfilling the training scheme, and the Anderlecht municipality, which is making available public land in order to carry out the project. 

The initiative is the translation of political ambitions regarding food production, which is aiming for a sustainable food system within the region. But what is striking to this project is that it not focuses on the consumer, but puts the farmer to the fore, and it is trying to build up supporting infrastructure to make the farmers produce in a sustainable and agroecological way. For three years, farmers (selected through an open call) can develop their project on three production sites: the Espace-Test Agricole near the Kattekasteel and two other sides west of La Ferme du Chaudron. The project puts the accent on short supply chains, but at this point of the project, the distribution connection with the city of Brussels is not strong enough, while at the local level a good symbiosis has been built up (mainly by using GASAP). Furthermore, BBP that is already half-way through, aims to develop economically-viable models of production, and researches existing juridical tools that define Brussels’ land accessibility.

Within the BBP project, Terre-en-Vue is trying to look for a strategy to enhance access to land, either by obtaining spaces or negotiating land tenure. Terre-en-Vue is an ecological land cooperative active in the model of Terre des Liens, enhancing and working towards the safeguarding of farming space by buying available agricultural land and leasing it to farmers, with long-term agreements. Within the BBP project,  they are trying to find the right space for the farmer in which he/she can start their independent ways as agroecological grower. But reallocating farmers, after three years time in which they have invested in improving the soil quality and build up a local clientèle, this method often seems counter-productive.

Enabling agroecological cultivation

To combat the dominant food system, which heavily reduces the power and autonomy of the farmer, several practices in the Brussels fringe and further in the Pajottenland are trying to build alternative connections in the food chain, opening opportunities to overcome some of the current lock-ins farmers are in.

Vert d’Iris, for example, is a non-profit initiative that puts the old Boerkozen model to the fore, linking it with social objectives and community engagement. It mainly supplies a local market, several restaurants and Färm and Sequoia, two local organic cooperative supermarkets. Furthermore, Vert D’Iris is involved in the sale and management of gardening boxes made of recycled plastics, and, for the near future, interested in stepping in the food processing field. The non-profit is located in the Neerpede valley and active on two farms: Betteraves, their first productive spot, of 37 acres, in which organic production, agroforestry and vegetable garden has been developed and InnRGreen that after 2015 is developing capacity for the production of organic fruits, vegetables and flowers. The most striking work that Vert d’Iris is carrying out, is a pilot project in the composting field: the issues faced in this specific project are many and complex, but the main question is how to connect the organic waste with the food producers in the Brussels region, but also how it is possible to collect the waste together with the later distribution of the compost. Since the demand from commercial actors to collect organic waste is high and at the same time there is a need in the professional food growing field to have a specialized and diversified middle scale of composting, they have decided to scale-up the project. They are now planning a new compost area, receiving support through BE-Circular and the Good Food strategy.  The aim is to create around 1.800m2 of compost area designated to professional farmers and food growers, trying also to constitute a symbiosis between growing food and composting, on the spot, leaving space to experimentation and innovation in the nutrient cycling field. In this sense, the compost project has three main objectives: raising of public awareness, not only regarding the compost practice but more extensively on different possible techniques and the variety of different compost typology coming out of it; give a commercial value to organic compost, introducing a middle scale compost plant in the professional field; building up subsidiaries services (like selling worms for composting to professional) going hand in hand with the composting activities. In this way they want to rebuild a lost connection between the composting, nutrient cycling field, having in mind the centrality of the farmer, and the produce. Recently, Vert d’Iris started a collaboration with Cantillon, a typical Bruxelloise Geuze brewery, to establish a cherry orchard for the production of the known Kriek beer. This collaboration started from the ambition of Brasserie Cantillon to brew a typical local beer, using locally produced and site specific ingredients. By the end of 2018, the orchard consisted of around 600 trees, and the first harvest happened in collaboration with local communities and volunteers in the spring of 2019. Through a crowdfunding strategy, they hope to finance their next plantation.

Going beyond the border of the Brussels capital region, another practice is very active in rebuilding the connection between different parts of the food chain: the cereal network in the Pajottenland. It is a recent initiative stemming from the Master Thesis research of Lucas Van den Abeele. In his work, Van den Abeele points out that only 15% of wheat for human consumption and less than 4% of barely used by national breweries are grown on Belgian territory [Van den Abeele, 2018, p. 3]. In order to overcome this shortage, he wanted to find a way in which farmers and processors (who were both demanding local grains) could join hands and shape a cereal network. Through thorough participatory action research in the form of a Farmers Field School, Van den Abeele studied the involvement of farmers in co-developing an incipient network in such a way that it would answer their needs and help them to overcome some of the lock-ins they are confronted with. To test this out, he worked with two farmers in the Pajottenland region, who were very much interested in this proposal, as it would allow them to grow more mixed again. Next to them, he was able to convince the Geuze Brewery 3 Fonteinen and the Cooperative Mills to be the guaranteed purchaser for the first season’s growth. Together with the farmers, they decided on the right cereals (of which Van den Abeele found pre-industrial robust seeds in an old archive), and took into account soil types, mixtures and propagation techniques: ‘Our main parameters are health, for the consumer, the soil and the farmer. Furthermore, participation and seed autonomy are very important in this process’ [Van den Abeele at the BoerenForum, 2019]. The role of the coordinator, in the figure of Van den Abeele himself, is crucial, since there is the need of someone that can have an overview and can do supporting tasks, in order to keep the network of farmers farming healthy. He also took a more engaged position as a researcher, radically  helping on the field during sowing and harvesting times, available when pests arose or when weather conditions took their toll and interested to bring in fresh (agroecological) ideas without imposing them on the farmer. On the contrary, he organised the network in this way that the decision making is done among the farmers themselves, in relation with the brewery and mill cooperative, while he takes on a supporting role. The work combines the reintroduction of cereals to the cultivation scheme of predominantly market gardeners or cattle breeders, establishing a guaranteed market relationship, cultivating a farmer-to-farmer cooperative learning network and the organisations of collective infrastructure (which is still very challenging) to harvest, store, transport and process the wheat. The first year started only with two pioneering farmers, but due to the success and the important word of mouth between farmers, Van den Abeele was able to extend his network with ten more farmers the next year. After his studies, he was hired by the Brewery and continues his work.

In the logic of re-constituting the connection between the different parts of the food chain, it is important also to look at the provision of seeds: clear is the need of locally and organically produced seeds, that are resilient to local climatic changes. It is not always possible for farmers to produce their own seeds, due to scarcity of knowledge, the lack of resources or the contracts they are in. Active in this field is the cooperative Cycle en Terre, which is operating towards the constitution of a local seed network. This initiative is producing the seeds locally and organically, based on a community supported model. The cooperative model is a way for the seed producers to have the freedom to experiment, sharing the responsibility and de-risking the entire process. The fact that the farmers can rely on a network of cooperators, leaves them the possibility to actually build a system of exchange with other growers sharing the same concerns and principles. Thus, the model is not only focusing on the profit that can result from the seeds production, but to further the knowledge exchange and the liberty to experiment and fail on the farmers side. The network is already well spread, creating collaboration between Walloon actors and  different initiatives [7] within Brussel.

[7] Cycle en Terre is connected in Brussels with Jardin des Pomones and la La pousse qui Pousse. Jardin des Pomones in Ferme Nos Pilif is trying to reconstitute local traditional and ancient seeds in order to reintroduce local resilient species. They are also selling a box system of seeds all over Europe. 

Farmer-to-Farmer exchange networks

The concept of autonomy of the farmers, in relation with freedom of experimentation, and risk sharing in the food production process, comes back when we look at a series of already existing initiatives building up peer-to-peer, in this case, farmer-to-farmer networks of exchange, and training.

Agroecology can be considered a form of production which requires very specific knowledge and abilities. In Flanders, Landwijzer is a specialized training centre for biodynamic and organic agricultural producers. Active since 20 years, they are building an educational parcours for new farmers, together with modular education for professionals already operating in the agricultural field. They organize agroecological and natural bee-keeping training courses, also offering tailor-made training on request for agroecological initiatives, organisations or institutions. The full training lasts 2,5 years, and consists of practical experience (internship) in the field, interrelated with a theoretical framework. The courses are always given by professional farmers that have pluriannual experience in food production in Flanders and the Netherlands. It is part of their sound principle: ‘if you want advice from the farmer, you pay for it, just as you would any other expert.’ Thought from training and education paths, Landwijzer is able to organize an informal network of knowledge exchange that is perpetuating once the producers are set within the professional field. They organise exchange moments that are open to anyone, but focus on agroecological growing. A ‘Landwijzer-student’ almost becomes a synonym for new (professional) farmers in the field, usually having a lot of difficulty acquiring access to land. In 2005, Landwijzer was recognized as general Training Center for organic agriculture by the Flemish Government, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and by the Department of Enterprise and Development.

Within the Walloon/ Brussels context there is the French-speaking counterpart of Landwijzer; Crabe asbl. Crabe also focuses on the training of organic farmers, but more in connection with community involvement. Active since 1976, they developed their training scheme in three different directions: training for new farmers, training towards a “green” profession and the training for professional farmers and market gardeners. In general, they act with a double purpose: as a socio-professional trying to reintegrate socially disadvantaged citizens within the job market and as a professional training centre in the agricultural field. The duration of the course can vary depending on the type of training undertaken. It goes from a minimum of 10 months (for certain education pathways regarding the socio-professional field) to a maximum of 2 years. The aim is to give trainees the theoretical and practical basis (in addition to two periods of internship in an organic farm during the formation) to start an organic farm in the medium term. The apprentices can follow a first course (class A) addressing the basis of agronomy applied to organic production; and a subsequent training (class B) which is concerning the economic, financial and legal aspects for the setting up of an organic farm, guiding them inside the CAP regulation and subsidies system, the different local agricultural measures and political framework. During the whole parcours the engagement with communities, the activation of collective actions (as volunteering, or direct selling dynamics) around the individual development of the trainee, are initiated. “Crabe asbl” organize a third training course, (class C) which is dedicated to professionals that would like to perfection or deepen their knowledge or start a process of transition from conventional agriculture to an organic way of production.

Enhancing the autonomy of agroecological food producers, giving liberty to farmers to experiment on crop cultivation and differentiated modalities of production is one of the main objectives of the CSA Network. The CSA Network in Flanders is a network of organic independent farmers, officially established in 2011, nowadays composed of around forty CSA farms [8]. The network organises recurring events on which they exchange very practical (cultivation types, seed sharing, innovation in tools,...) to organisational experience (packaging, accounting, setting up your community,...) and help supporting new CSAs. The CSAs in Flanders are predominantly small-plot intensive vegetable gardeners with a self-picking system, but increasingly also cattle breeders, bee-keepers, flower growers, fruit producers and cereal farmers, using a system that varies from self-picking to box schemes, are part of the network. The CSA Network also functions as a representative for the many involved farmers, networking with different actors active in the agroecological field (e.g. they organise a joint event with their Dutch colleagues or they negotiate with nature organisations to set-up natural grazing schemes) and regularly reporting on new dynamics and innovative practices. They were also the co-founders of the organic land fund De Landgenoten (see chapter 3).

Agricovert is a cooperative founded in 2010, supported by CRABE asbl and active in the field of farmer to farmer network building by setting up “meeting and sharing” between the producers, putting to the fore the connection with the consumer. The 34 producers part of Agricovert are constructing their crop plans together in order to build up a bigger common system of production, avoiding competition, and enriching ecological opportunities. In this sense, they have been building a wider access to the market through the involvement of the consumers, functioning as one big community supported agriculture farm.

Setting the agroecological production at the core of the food system, requires a big exchange of knowledge, expertise and resources. The Boerenforum (part of the Via Campesina Network) is a growing movement of farmers, farmers ‘wives, land workers and co-producers who stand up for the fair, autonomous, solidary and agro-ecological practices of peasants’ agriculture. Boerenforum aims to actively combine the goal of socially responsible farming and that of ecologically responsible agriculture. For a lot of farmers this is not obvious, not even for the farmers’ syndicates. The Boerenforum also takes up a more activist role (by protesting against CETA or being vocal on access to land) and wants to spearhead the transitions that other farmer syndicates will have to take eventually [Wervel/Boerenforum, 2019, p. 17]. In addition, Boerenforum literally organises a ‘forum’ every six months. During the winter, they focus more on their syndical perspective and plan actions and demonstrations, while the summer edition is invariably used to share technical expertise with each other, in the field of one of the members. Such sessions have included discussions on agroforestry, certain crop rotations, double purpose cows, the CSA-model, organising cattle breeding in a CSA, the local set-up of mills or joining the Grain Network. Membership is free (and is directed to all farmers, organic or conventional, interested in agroecological principles), and the organization is drawn on a voluntary basis by farmers and supported by some non-farming volunteers. At every forum, non-farmers get a cord around the wrist and in discussions, the focus is on letting the farmers speak first and foremost.

[8] The first CSA in Flanders was born in 2007, and the number of CSA progressively raised in the period of 2007-2011, starting already an informal exchange and different forms of collaboration. 

Farmer movements

In order to enhance the autonomy of farmers and agroecological production, access to land is a main prerogative but still a strong issue [9]. Around this main difficulty, many initiatives are active playing a key role searching for available land for farming, in order to enhance organic and agroecological production, in the whole Belgium. Terre-en-vue, also mentioned before, is one key actor in this dynamic. The system that they are setting out is based on the logic of preservation of agricultural land, trying to safeguard the use of the plots, and putting them in use to more nature inclusive practice of food production. Terre-en-vue is mostly active in Wallonia, and it is trying to buy agricultural land, and leasing it to farmers. This organisation is also trying to push to change the land use system, in which the preservation of agricultural land is not a priority, and trying to raise awareness on the kind of production is the most suitable to also take care of  soils (aiming for a zoning type for ‘local farming’). This initiative is not only supporting agroecological farming by giving land, but it is also having a juridical and political role in the land access field. In the Flanders context, one of the major initiatives active on this matter, is De Landgenoten, a land trust organization, using a similar system of buying land and leasing it to organic farmers. But it is trying to sensibilize public authorities, municipalities and citizens on the issue of land access and land management and offering services to landowners and public authorities [10].

The legal role that certain initiatives are taken to stand for farmers, for the provision of land, for securing access to market, is a growing dynamic. Fugea is an agricultural union, having juridical power, trying to sustain organic farmers. They built up a form of farmers syndicats supporting agricultural policies sustaining farmers autonomy and multifunctional agriculture practices. Moreover, Fugea is also supporting farmers in their daily work, providing a series of services, together with the setting up of an educational center for new farmers who would like to start with production activities. The strive for a fair and sustainable agricultural system, is the core of those agricultural unions. Voedsel Anders (food differently) is a union of 28 non-profits and ngo initiatives working together in order to fight for a sustainable food and agricultural system (including a lot of the practices and organisations listed above). They lobby for soil care, nature inclusive farming and a stronger vocal position of the individual farmer. The union is pushing in order to have influence in the food and agriculture policy sphere, starting from the local level, trying to set up a different regional food system. Land rights and land policies are at the core of this union, considering them the basis from which a different food system can arise. Building up a completely new food system means, in this sense, restructuring and rethinking the entire food chain. Voedsel Anders is trying to unite the initiative to the entire chain, trying to build a different system, in which all the parties have a say, and in which organic, fair, and sustainable are the main prerogative to envision a different system. In doing so they are providing differentiated set of services to  the different actors involved in this union, defending the interest of the organic sector. Two other initiatives are closely linked to Voedsel Anders. The first is Wervel (Working Group for Fair and Responsible Agriculture) that, often together with Voedsel Anders, is supporting farmers in organising discussion events and by publishing pamphlets, interviews and research. They also have a specific interest in the relation between access to land issues in Flanders and the soy import from Brazil. On the French-speaking side of the country, Agroecology in Action is a group organising very similar activities, but lobbying much more to the Brussels and Walloon political field. 

As a conclusion of this chapter, we can state that many agroecological practices are involved in very similar innovation. What is striking in the Brussels context, however, are two major differences. On the one hand, there is a noticeable difference in the type of agriculture, where various practices mainly focus on vegetable growing and see a guaranteed direct market, often combined with social employment, community building and solidarity principles, while others pursue a mixed agricultural model. On the other hand, you see a very large demarcation between the Dutch-speaking and French-speaking communities, which intersect in Brussels, but where cooperation, unfortunately, is more the exception than the rule.

[9] See ‘Extinction of (smallholder) farming

[10] Ibidem 

  • Van den Abeele, Lucas (2018): ‘Co-developing a cereal network in Pajottenland, Belgium.’, Master’s Thesis at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Ås.