On Ghent’s urban farming marketplace, by Joksie Biesemans

Joksie (1986) is Buurderij’s Assembly Host, set up under the French umbrella organisation Food Assembly. Alongside coordinating the weekly urban farming marketplace and organising informative sessions on healthy sustainable food for Background Educations, she also teaches Swedish in universities.

Visuals by Thomas Ost (c).

I got my start in farming about six years ago. At the time, I was a language teacher and tour guide, and took up urban farming as a hobby more than anything else really. Slowly though, it took hold over me. A year later, I was asked by Ghent’s cultural hub DOK to coordinate their communal garden, which turned out to be great as it introduced me to an entire community of amazing individuals, each with their own specialties and advocacies. A little later, sustainable food concept Boeren & Buren – the Dutch version of the Food Assembly – was expanding in the Belgium and noticed that Ghent was yet to have its own Buurderij, or online marketplace. They reached out to DOK’s co-ordinator Liesbeth Vlerick who in turn referred me as a potential Assembly Host. In a sense, hosts work independently of B&B, despite the Buurderij functioning within the framework of this umbrella organisation.

B&B aims to bring people closer to their food, as well as to the people who are actually producing the food.

Despite some initial hesitations, I quickly threw myself into the project that entails us distributing locally-sourced, organically-grown harvest, pasta, meat and bread from our DOK marketplace: anyone is able to order the goods and pay forward on the B&B website, and come pick up exactly that on Thursday evenings. But more than that, B&B aims to bring people closer to their food, as well as to the people who are actually producing the food. I really find the fact that producers receive far from the money and recognition they deserve to be absurd, so we work to re-establish the relationship between the producer and the eater (and not the “consumer” – it’s about living, not consuming!), and put a face to food that would otherwise remain anonymous. Evidently, this means removing supermarkets and other unnecessary middlemen from the equation. And yes, this also means we’re unable to match their low prices, but that’s only because we allow farmers to determine the prices themselves, fairly. In a sense, what you pay is what they actually deserve. It’s common nowadays to moan about the costs of bio-foods, but we need to put these figures into historical context: past generations easily spent 60% of their income on food although now, with our ever-growing spending power in a consumerist world, the split is down to between 10 and 40% – and that’s a stretch. What’s more, we only distribute locally-sourced food: there’s plenty of socio-economic reasons for this, but too oft we forget the rather simple biological argument that eating local is actually the healthier option too. It’s logical that food produced in the area you live in would be the most optimal for you as chances are it’ll provide you with the nutrients you need the most at that given time. Finally, we only work with farmers who practice sustainable, organic agriculture, despite Flemish Minister of Environment Joke Schauvliege’s short-term policies that favour large-scale, intensive farming factories over small-scale ones. Whilst she may have been successful in driving prices downward and producing immense yields, what will the impact of her policies be in 20 or 30 years’ time? If you ask me, it’s a total misunderstanding to assume that we cannot feed the planet with biological agriculture. But, thankfully, all is not lost, as the people of Ghent are becoming increasingly concerned with food production and healthy eating. Better still, the City is actually listening and thinking critically about how they can improve things – granted, within the limits set by their institutions’ frameworks. Next steps for us is expanding our Buurderij community and thinking about its future location since DOK is slowly being renovated. Hopefully we can find a spot at the forthcoming school and maintain this incredible sustainable community that DOK built over the years.