Under The Food Belt Umbrella
Under the Food Belt umbrella, there are 28 food co-ops and about 300 individual producers. Those co-ops include retailers, a brewery, bakeries and a vineyard. The shops are supplied by a range of hyper-local producers.
There’s the weekly Court-Circuit market in the city centre, which sells the network’s produce. The Food Belt also holds a 10-day annual food festival, Nourrir Liège, which has spawned emulators in Brussels, Strasbourg and soon Québec. There’s a newly opened House of Sustainable Food that tries to touch the parts of the population that sustainable, organic food initiatives often miss, with cookery classes, nature walks and communal meals. Go here for info https://www.mofongosphilly.com/
But the most impressive part might be the schools. The Food Belt worked for several years with schools and crèches to help source food sustainably. Since 2021, about 100 schools are now under a new regime: meat, bread, dairy and fruit are organic, local and, as far as possible, from within the Food Belt network. The city is aiming for 100% organic and local by 2024.
Then there’s the breaktime soup initiative. Thanks to the Food Belt, 5,000 pupils in local schools in vulnerable socioeconomic areas have been getting free, organic, locally produced soup for a morning snack. That’s already a dramatic social good, but the soup is also made by a small non-profit, Echafaudage, that assists the long-term unemployed back into work, then it’s delivered by the Food Belt co-op Rayon9 using cargo bikes. It’s been so successful that the region, which financed the project, has increased its budget fivefold.
It All Sounds Idyllic, Extraordinary, And A Revolution
It all sounds idyllic, extraordinary, a revolution. Rob Hopkins, sustainability pioneer and co-founder of the Transition Network, agrees: “It’s pretty unique really. It’s by far the most ambitious project like it. They’ve pulled it together with a brilliant can-do spirit.”
But what does that look and feel like on the ground? I went to find out and, over two days, I see what it takes to coordinate better ways of feeding a city: networking, sharing ideas, communicating, lobbying, meetings – lots of meetings. Jonet and Gruie show me around.
We start in the ordinary-looking suburb of Sainte-Walburge where, in the mud and mist, David Wagemans, a bearded guy in combats and a fleece, is boxing up the last tomatoes for the food co-op shop to collect. This is Les Pousses Poussent, the market garden run on land gifted by the city.
Wagemans used to be a chef; he and partner Félicie took over the plot in 2019. “We enclosed it, put it to green fertiliser, dug it, put greenhouses in, a fruit hedge, and then we started in April 2020,” he tells me, as I admire the chard and the beans. “We’ve doubled the surface area. We started with 75 pickers; now we’ve got more than 135.” It’s an inviting place that lures passersby in. As we chat, a couple come and ask how to sign up (there’s a waiting list); another man wanders over to offer Wagemans his excess white raspberry plants.