Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Belgian farmers' markets, Shortening the food chain, one neighbour at a time.

Shortening the food chain, one neighbour at a time

A cross between a webshop and a farmers’ market, Buurderijen are popping up all over Flanders, bringing consumers ever closer to the people who produce their food

Local and seasonal

Last month there were four; last week there were five; by the time you read this there will be six. They’re springing up like mushrooms after an autumn shower, and, like an autumn shower, they’ll bring you all kinds of tasty things to eat.
The concept is called a buurderij in Dutch – a play on the words “neighbour” and “farmhouse”. Think of it as Farmers’ Market 2.0.

Here’s how it works: set up a weekly market in the local area, and recruit local food producers to sell their goods. Offer an online shop window for customers during the week, and on the day of the market, they come and pick up their orders, meeting the people who supply the food they’re eating.

The idea came over the border from France, where there are about 650 such projects, via Wallonia, where there were 31 at last count. The first buurderij in Flanders was in Mechelen, followed by Meise, both of which opened last summer. Kraainem, just outside of Brussels, and Antwerp each opened one in September, followed by Wommelgem, east of Antwerp. Last Wednesday, the latest one opened in Bruges.

Meanwhile, in Brussels, the main buurderij is at Tour & Taxis, with smaller versions dotted around in several communes, including Jette, Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe and Elsene. “The good thing about our way of working is that we can easily open new markets everywhere there are people interested in it,” says Hannes Van den Eeckhout, co-ordinator for Belgium.

“The initiative comes from the customers,” she continues. “Someone from the local area – it could be a producer – decides to start a buurderij. They then look for a suitable location and a team of producers interested in taking part and offering produce. Then they go looking for neighbours who are ready to buy their produce online on a weekly basis and come and pick it up.” 

Try before you buy

There is a structure, but each market is basically self-running. “The organisers are pretty autonomous,” Van den Eeckhout explains. “These are local initiatives that we support and that work with the web platform we developed. We try to provide some backup along with the website. But they’re local and independent.”

The concept responds to the idea – part of the Flemish government’s agricultural policy – of the korte keten, a short food chain that tries to ensure that food consumers are as close to food producers as possible.

When we start up, such as this week in Bruges, we open with a party and a tasting
- Hannes Van den Eeckhout

That idea is also, of course, centuries old: In the past, no Flemish family would have dreamed of eating asparagus in October, even if it had been possible to transport it refrigerated from Peru. Despite the technological advances that allow us to do so now, for many people the trend is turning back towards seasonal eating – which also means sustainable agriculture and support for the local economy.

“We try as far as possible to find producers from close to the buurderij,” says Van den Eeckhout. “That’s a little bit more difficult for some products, like quality meat or dairy products, which are not so easy to find in Antwerp. Then we have to look a bit farther afield – in the Kempen, for example.”

Call me a difficult customer, but I like to see and smell the food I’m about to buy, and taste it as well if possible. The idea of buying food online seems like a sterile experience.

“You can always come to the buurderij and have a look around before buying,” says Van den Eeckhout. “The local organiser would be glad to show you around, and you can talk to producers and ask anything you like. Then the following week you’ll have what you need to make a proper choice online.”

Another way to see before you buy is by attending opening day of your local buurderij. “When we start up, such as this week in Bruges, we open with a party and a tasting where the producers can present their wares to people for the first time.” 

No comments:

Post a Comment