During this year’s Terra Madre event in Turin, an alliance of diverse organisations partnered to create a unique event, ‘SFYN Tank’, inviting young food activists to put their inspiration and innovation to work on issues facing our global food system. Nearly a hundred future food leaders from 33 countries spent the day reflecting on a diverse array of food issues, exploring what is needed to move our food system forward towards increasing sustainability. Slow Food Youth Network, Hivos and Food Hub joined forces to offer insight, tools, and examples for participants to put to work on some of the problems of farming and food production.

The urgency for these young people is evident. The world is producing and wasting more food than ever and we are hitting the boundaries of our natural resources. With around a million visitors from over 140 countries during five days, Terra Madre brings together those players in the food chain who together support sustainable agriculture, with the goal of preserving biodiversity and the distinct tastes of our food.

Learning from design

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Workshop discussion

At this Sustainable Food Youth Network (SFYN) ‘Tank’ event, hosted by Arduino pilot project Casa Jasmina, young farmers, food processors, social entrepreneurs, chefs, product designers, foodies and artists supported each other’s creativity and experience by working on nine selected issues in food production. Moving from problem exploration to designing potential solutions, the groups were guided by experienced coaches and experts, considering issues ranging from food education to seed conservation in the digital age to bridging the urban/rural gap. The collective problem solving followed the principles of design thinking.

The ‘Tank’ aimed to make use of multiple brains in ‘pressure cooker’ processes, triggering fast idea formation and planting seeds of inspiration and collaboration that can grow into more established networks and projects at a later stage.

Thinking holistically

The ‘Tank’ adopts a holistic systems approach that is used in both Slow Food Youth Network’s Food Academies and Hivos’ Food Change Labs. The methodology recognises that if our interventions and activism is to be meaningful, we must acknowledge the complexity of the systems we are engaged with, considering their premises and core functions. Explaining systems thinking, consequently, was made an integral part of the event. Reflecting on their role in the larger framework of a transition to sustainable food production was empowering for the young food leaders and was met with enthusiasm.

Results

At the end of the day, the nine groups presented the solutions they cooked up in their debates and discussions. A group working on the issue of access to affordable, hygenic, certified slaughterhouses for livestock farmers proposed building a system where farmers could have livestock slaughtered on their own farm; another group working on democratising food labels, pointed to the density of labelling on food products that leave consumers confused and helpless. The future food leaders employed a multidisciplinary approach that encompassed research, storytelling, idea-generation, and prototyping with a critical design eye to solve social problems that our food system faces. They transformed ideas of seafood consumption, creating short chain solutions between consumers and fisherfolk; considered how to democratise food communication by using social media tools that the younger generation understands so much better than food industry communication departments; and suggested ideas to preserve traditional knowledge with innovative design. After a day of work, one of the tankers claimed: “We have no one solution, but we do have an approach – traditional knowledge can be used to solve a lot of today’s problems.”

Future projects

The ‘Tank’ was the first time that Slow Food Youth Network, Hivos and Food Hub partnered up. Slow Food Youth Network and Hivos documented and archived all the efforts from the day, and are now compiling each pitch into a dossier to share globally within our networks. The partner organisations have also advocated with Slow Food International to take on one or two of the future food leader solutions as a Slow Food initiative over the course of the next two years.

Along with the experience the participants took home with them, one of the tankers also gave everyone a mission: “I need you to all go home, and teach some elementary school kids something that you’re passionate about. It can be growing food or cooking it, but as you know, an edible education is just as important as algebra is.”

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