Initiatives at Vooruit under the leadership of Director Barbara Raes
There are various individuals who seem to be major ‘activators’ in leading a return to local and sustainable systems around resources and food in Gent. These people are acting on ideas and creating networks to harness collective power and make positive change at a local level. Barbara Raes is one of these people.
Barbara is the Director at Vooruit. She has started 2 initiatives connecting local people and businesses with a focus on environmental sustainability (Green Track) and food production (Food for Thought).
Green Track began through a desire to increase awareness of the environmental impact of arts organisations in Gent and make improvements through shared solutions. Vooruit’s eco team worked with 6 other arts organisations to collect data around their carbon footprint and collaborate to find solutions, share knowledge and run workshops. An official launch in February 2011 brought the arts community together to showcase this initiative, resulting in 23 arts organisations joining Green Track. Their work has included lobbying for the continuation of night buses so audiences can get home safely on public transport at night; as well as lobbying the local government to make their property improvements more sustainable and ecologically focused. They also share resources such as buying recycled paper, green energy and other material needs. They have a coordinator who keeps everyone on track and a regular newsletter where they can share and promote events. This initiative shows great potential for other businesses in the area to get together and find sustainable solutions to common problems.
The second initiative, Food for Thought, began after a trip to Amsterdam with some of the Vooruit team. They bumped into an Onion Festival, drawing attention to the fact that one quarter of a million onions were about to be destroyed in the Netherlands causing massive economic loss to farmers. There was a huge pile of onions on the riverbank with stalls and markets dedicated to cooking soups and meals and allowing people take onions home. Barbara saw this event as a way of drawing attention to a cause without it being didactic, instead making it engaging and accessible to the public. She investigated similar food over-supply problems in Belgium and after a lot of research ended up focusing on food waste. Based on this problem, she organized a workshop at DOK where food thrown out by businesses was cooked into delicious meals and preserved in jars. The team will repeat this project when they cater for the Transition Conference in Vooruit in October.
Food For Thought continued as a movement in the making by starting to address ideas around sustainable food production and consumption. Barbara felt that with so many people working at a volunteer level either as individuals or small organisations there would be a greater benefit in harnessing their collective group energy. She created an open space for brainstorming ideas at DOK. The open group came up with 3 ideas:
1. - Putting edible gardens in schools: a project involving urban farming between parents, teachers and students
2. - Spreading gardening knowledge in nursing homes with the elderly. Starting gardens for them to look after and share their existing knowledge with the community
3. - A Carrot Mob: Food for Thought will find out from shop owners how great a percentage of their profits they would reinvest in renewable energy. The highest bidder will be the centre of a flash mob on Fair Trade Day in October, where for one day everyone will be encouraged to shop at that location, hence providing the shop with the highest profit margin possible.
Vooruit has traditionally been a space for the people, a venue for coming together and for building a community around social action. Under Barbara’s direction, Vooruit is reclaiming its history by presenting social action and community building initiatives around sustainability and food alongside its diverse program of arts events and performances. Under Barbara’s leadership, these initiatives are harnessing skills and knowledge from the community and connecting the dots to help guide us into the future.