A few weeks ago, my colleague Ellie and I set off on a whistle-stop tour to Brussels for the day, to meet members of the Youth Food Movement and to be introduced to the concept of the Het Eetcafé. Het Eetcafé is a collaboration between the Youth Food Movement and the Nederlands Agrarisch Jongeren Kontakt that aims to tackle polarisation in our food systems by bringing together unlikely groups of people, to discuss issues around sustainable agriculture. In Dutch, Het Eetcafé literally translates to ‘the pub’, reflecting the informal and relaxed ethos, both online and offline, in which farmers and citizens can make a connection through food.

Most people in the Netherlands live in the city and therefore know less and less about where food comes from, who produces it and what life on a farm looks like. On the other side of the coin, farmers have also become increasingly disconnected from their consumers. The principle behind the Het Eetcafé is about creating a dialogue between both groups, to discover what really matters to them… even if they happen to disagree! In addition to the online platform, they organise events throughout the Netherlands to invite farmers to meet the consumers, and for urban dwellers to see where their food comes from.

The day-conference that we attended brought together a wide variety of people from countries across Europe including France, Holland, Poland, Belgium, Italy, Germany and the UK. It was particularly interesting to see how farming network organisations appeared to be so different from country to country. In Holland for example, the young farmers organisation, the Nederlands Agrarisch Jongeren Kontakt, is very active and available, whereas the French young organic farmers felt that French farming organisations were largely invisible to them, and felt that they were deliberately excluded for being organic or ‘biologique’ farmers. The Het Eetcafé offered the opportunity for farmers, organisations, policy makers and even scientists to meet and bridge the gap between production, consumption and policy. This subsequently allows young farmers to have a voice amongst policy makers, bringing local issues to national attention. Het Eetcafé is jointly funded by the European Commission and the Ministry of Economic Affairs, which gives the project an interesting angle in the way they link rural and urban audiences.

After lunch, we visited Copa Cogeca, an organisation that represents 28 million farmers and agri-cooperatives in the EU. It’s also one of the oldest and most powerful lobby groups in Brussels. We were also joined by Trees Robijns from Birdlife International for a discussion about the recent Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform. A particular focus of the project is facilitating the opinions of young farmers to be heard by policy makers. Although there were disagreements, one thing that did resonate with the entire group was the length and complexity of the current CAP, which makes it difficult for many people to even begin to read. With the upcoming European elections looming, it’s important that policy documents can be translated into something more comprehensible, so that the public can make a more informed decision about what they are voting for. The more people that are aware of the issues, the more of a potential opportunity there is for young farmers to be able to influence a change in European agriculture in the future.

The hope is to expand Het Eetcafé and have many different action groups operating across Europe. The team are currently in the process of putting together a start-up toolkit, providing all you need to set up your own café group. This will aid in the development of diverse networks of young farmers from all over Europe, creating an interconnected community ready to tackle issues surrounding sustainable agriculture for many years to come.

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