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LOCAL SHOP OWNERS: A LACKING LINK IN SUSTAINABLE LOCAL FOOD SYSTEMS?

Through its exploration of food-influenced urban development, the Old City Food Tour encourages local shop owners to play a more influential role in building local food systems.

– Article by Inge de Boer, nurse of Food in the Streets and Old Milan Food Tour

November marks five years of Farming the City’s work in bringing city dwellers together to explore inspirational ways of producing, storing, cooking, preserving, distributing and sharing food. One thing that became increasingly clear over the years is that entrepreneurs should have a more influential role in the development of local food systems. But are they aware and do they know how they can better involve?

One of the initiatives Farming the City developed is the Old City Food Tour. It all started with an exhibition organized during an Architecture Fair in the summer of 2012 in Amsterdam, displaying select tour locations alongside historic images. People liked this so much that we decided to launch the first Old City Food Tour in Amsterdam: a guided tour through beautiful streets in the oldest part of Amsterdam that showed participants hidden tastes and traditions while teaching about how the role of food influenced the city’s development.

However, soon we understood that something lacked, and thanks to a subsidy from the Stadsdeel Amsterdam we were able to complete more in-depth research. Results contributed to making this map and establishing partnerships with local, sustainable and/or artisan producers. These developments turned the Old City Food Tour into an even more unique experience.

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AMSTERDAM TO MILAN: OLD CITY FOOD TOUR EXPANDS

Building on the tour’s success in Amsterdam, we applied the concept in Milan after thoroughly researching the history of this ever-changing Italian city.

The Food Tour’s main objectives are to explore the present through a lens from the past, spotlighting how the morphology and life in cities are determined by food – agriculture, transport, trade, consummation, etc. For this, naturally we talk about the relation between the city and where its food comes from, whether this was just outside the city center or from a colony overseas.

To make this information more digestible, we focused in on ten or so typical food products for each tour. For the Old Milan Food Tour, we picked, for instance, risotto, saffron, honey and bread. Each of these products are – for different reasons – strongly connected to the city’s history: they once dominated the landscape, they were food for the majority of inhabitants, they explain an important event of the city’s history, etc.

SHOP OWNERS CAN BETTER HELP BUILD SUSTAINABLE LOCAL FOOD SYSTEMS

We then linked chosen foods to present day shops situated along the tour’s route. In Milan, this is between the Brera and Porta Garibaldi area, where luxurious boutiques are interspersed with typical (Mediterranean) family-owned specialty shops. The latter often held a strong connection to the neighborhood, as these family-owned shops are often passed from generation to generation. Holding a long history rooted in the area, you would expect these shops to have great respect for local products. Unfortunately, it is usually not the case. When we asked whether these shops could furnish us with products related to Milan and its hinterland, many turned us down with a ‘no’. Not necessarily because they didn’t want to or could not afford it, but simply because they didn’t have the local products.

Producers that work in or just out of the city have a huge potential of selling their wares locally. However, their time is limited and marketing is not always their area of expertise. This is where local shop owners could come in. By selling the wares from their city’s ‘backyard’ (as opposed to selling industrial products), shop owners gain the advantage of being able to showcase what the nearby landscape has to offer and thereby promote a sustainable local economy on different levels. Another advantage is that they can become an intermediator between the producer and the consumer: they can collect comments from the clients – both positive and negative – and communicate them to the producer. In addition, the producer can provide information on the final product, explaining production techniques and explaining slight changes and abnormalities often present in artisanal products that are not always understood by consumers who are used to the manipulated consistency of industrial products.

Shop owners could (once again) become protagonists of the urban (agricultural) hinterland, helping to keep local economy alive, connecting community and food actors, strengthening a more sustainable local food system and delivering a number of indirect benefits, such as attracting new forms of tourism.

BOOK YOUR OLD CITY FOOD TOUR TODAY

Curious to know more about how food shaped the development of Amsterdam or Milan? discover hidden tastes and traditions from past to present by joining an Old City Food Tour today.

How to you find out more?

Amsterdam: please contact info(at)farmingthecity.net

Milan: please contact inge(at)farmingthecity.net

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Posted on 14 September 2015 and filed under Projects

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