Part of the gent plant people
Details at http://www.voedselteams.be/

Voedselteams is nation wide initiative. It's an online ‘food market’ where customers can buy produce direct from local farmers. When enough people from a suburb are interested in being involved, a group is formed with its own administrative and financial coordinators. The group connects to the national Voedselteams website which provides each member with a login and gives specific information relating to their locality, including a list of produce available from nearby farms for sale each week. Once you become a member you can select from a huge range of local produce including fruit, vegetables, cheese, meat, flour and juice. You order your food online and one week later you collect it from a local pick up point. In September 2012, a new Voedselteams group started up in Gentbrugge…

This was their first information meeting and around 40 people showed up for an evening information session. Voedselteams facilitators explained how the system works online and then answered questions from the audience. One woman asked about whether the food was organic. The team leaders explained that the answer is yes… and no. The main focus for Voedselteams is to support local 'small business' farms. While these farmers use organic approaches, they still might not be qualified to register as officially ‘organic’. For instance beef, chicken or lamb farmers might not always be able to find organic grain supplement for their livestock in winter - especially if they are also trying to buy from local producers. Yet their animals might still live free-range and healthy lives. There is information about each participating local farm on the website. This lets Voedselteams members make decisions about which local suppliers they would like to buy from and it also paints a clearer picture of the struggles faced by these farmers. Not everything is black and white. Small businesses can’t always keep up with the ever changing regulations tied to the title ‘organic’ as much as they strive to. The word has become a catch-phrase. For many customers, it is more important to support local farms and help them to grow as best they can as they strive to be as organic as possible.

A group of farmers came to Gent that evening to share their stories and show their produce. There was a bee keeper who makes delicious honey and a vegetable farmer whose wife writes a letter to their Voedselteams customers each week. There was a farmer who runs a flour-mill, another who grows apples and pears, a dairy farmer, a goat farmer and a sheep farmer who produces dairy products. His name was Johan and his farm is in Teme. Voedselteams is his main source of business (he also runs a small shop at the farm). Johan has a wonderful system where the government pays him to keep his sheep on their land to keep the grass and weeds under control. It costs the government half of what they would pay to look after the land with machines. And it benefits Johan because he is getting paid to feed his sheep! Johan also works with an organisation which connects people with disabilities to farmers, and many of his workers have been with him for years. Johan enjoys working with Voedselteams. Each week he receives his order and has 1 week to deliver the produce knowing exactly how much cheese, yoghurt and milk he needs to make. It helps him plan ahead and manage his time.

I also spoke to a couple of the audience members interested in joining the group. Lien from Gentbrugge said that Voedselteams is a good urban solution for reaching local food because finding it in the shops isn’t always possible. Ben likes the idea of shopping online and knowing where the food is coming from. He loved hearing the farmers’ stories and likes the diversity on offer. It seems Voedselteams is a great system for people who can’t grow their own food but who want to connect with and support local farmers and have great local produce in their kitchens.