Food Trails, a project based in countries across the European Union, is transforming urban food systems. Founded as a collaborative initiative of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact and the EuroCities Working Group on Food Systems, Food Trails works with eleven partner cities. These cities are called “living labs” to inspire policy innovations.
The project focuses on four areas: nutrition and healthy diets, climate and environment, circularity and resource efficiency, and innovation and empowerment of communities.
The eleven partner cities include Warsaw, Poland; Tirana, Albania; Thessaloniki, Greece; Groningen, Netherlands; Grenoble-Alpes Metropole, France; Funchal, Portugal; Copenhagen, Denmark; Boudreaux Metropole, France; Birmingham, United Kingdom; Bergamo, Italy; and Milan, Italy.
The living labs are a hub of local government, nonprofits, businesses, and Food Trails team members who all work in collaboration. Each focus issue depends on the perspectives of the lab, ranging from nutritious school meals or strengthening food culture. “The living labs are the right space, in our opinion, where the discussion about food can be organized with completely different stakeholders,” says Andrea Patrucco, Food Trails Program Manager for the City of Milan, to Food Tank.
Milan, for example, is working on food waste in their school system. Funchala, on the other hand, aims to preserve their food heritage inspired by its island setting in the Atlantic.
While policymakers in Funchal are still in the process of establishing an urban food policy, the city’s living lab determined their targets with community input. By connecting producers with local schools and encouraging food entrepreneurs, Funchal can improve the island economy and preserve the local culture.
In Warsaw, the Russian war against Ukraine prompted the city to rethink its objectives as a participating city. Before the conflict, Warsaw planned to work with farmers’ markets to redesign their stalls. But with the influx of Ukrainian refugees, the city’s transitioned its efforts to food distribution.
Food Trails works to inspire city-to-city network through collaborative policy design. Representatives from Copenhagen, Denmark, and Milan, Italy, met last year to simultaneously work on school systems. The scale and types of meals served differs by region, the advice strengthened each of their strategies and allowed them to leverage the power of procurement.
“Many cities have important purchasing power,” says Fillippo Gavazenni, Head of the Milan Urban Food Policy Secretariat tells Food Tank. “If they change the criteria for purchasing, then cities are probably also pushing producers to shift the way in which they use water and chemicals because they need to abide by new regulations.”
The Food Trails initiative officially ends in 2024, but the findings will play a role in galvanizing policy change at the national and European Union-wide levels. The European Commission already acknowledges Milan Urban Food Policy Pact as an example for other EU policy proposals. They intend to carry this momentum into advocacy.
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Photo courtesy of Elijah G, Unsplash