In 2023, the second project year, SchoolFood4Change has entered a new phase of implementation, bringing people from the participating schools and cities across Europe together for peer-to-peer exchanges. In total, three in-person gatherings were conducted, providing all participants with interesting insights into the hosting countries’ food systems and school environments.
During January and February, three of our SchoolFood4Change partners had the pleasure of hosting international gatherings in Vienna (Austria), in Leuven and Ghent (Belgium) and in Valencia (Spain). Altogether, the gatherings offered the opportunity for around 100 project participants, mainly including school staff, school chefs, and city officials to meet, learn from each other and get inspired by local examples in the hosting countries.
In Vienna the meeting was hosted by the Austrian SchoolFood4Change team comprising of Julia Haas and Hannah Pfeiffer from the organization Danachda in cooperation with Thomas Mosor, Heidi Sagmeister and Andrea Vaz-König from the Municipal Department for Environmental Protection in Vienna.
In Belgium, the gathering was organized by Annelies Smets (Rikolto), while Paola Hernández Olivan from Mensa Cívica was one of the key people that made the regional gathering in Valencia come true, together with city representatives.
What is a Peer-to-Peer regional gathering and what role does it have?
The aim and purpose of the regional gatherings are to connect project partners, participating schools, chefs and teachers to allow them to learn from each other and build capacity, especially around the subject of integrated school meals and food education. In SchoolFood4Change, these in-person meetings and the learning environment they create, support our Whole School Food Approach (WSFA). The regional gathering aims at building cross-country networks to engage and inspire schools to be pioneers in implementing the WSFA in their home cities and countries.
Peer-to-peer exchanges are promoting a mutual understanding of the challenges and the potential and opportunities we have in Europe, working with school meals and food education.
“Food is such a great topic for schools! You can look at it from so many perspectives: health, fitness, ecology, democracy, farming, social aspects, etc.”– as one of the gathering participants in Vienna brought to the point.
“We really think that these physical gatherings play a crucial role for the project. School delegates learn from each other, feel inspired and empowered to reach out to each other.– says Annelie Smets, SF4C project manager at Rikolto, responsible for the Whole School Food Approach implementation(s).
The gatherings of 2023 had the specific goal of kicking-off our pilot schools in their work of implementing the WSFA, along with the aim of enabling networking between schools”
What did the participants learn and take home with them?
After two days of mutual exchange, farm and school (garden) visits, engaging discussion about action levers and opportunities within the school environment, participants of the meeting in Spain reported that their main take-home message was (and is) to feel more confident about their expertise and ability to define “what the Whole School Food Approach is” and to promote its implementation.
“There were so much energy between the groups, so many ideas and so much interest in knowing how things were done elsewhere.”– Paola Hernández Olivan, project staff at Mensa Cívica noted
Having a similar purpose, the gatherings in both Austria and Belgium offered participants the opportunity to get to know locally established initiatives, such as the School Pupil Eco-Parliament and the City Farm in Vienna, as well as the community-supported organic agriculture in Leuven, and an Experiment Garden at Odisee University of Applied Sciences in Ghent.
At the three regional gatherings, it became evident that the participants are in different phases of getting familiar with and implementing the Whole School Food Approach. While some participants and schools are starting the process, others have already taken some steps and some schools are leading by example, feeling confident about their holistic, food-related strategies.
That schools will always be in different stages of their WSFA process lies in the nature of things, since they start from different experiences and previous knowledge. However, one must be aware that schools, regardless of their progress, find themselves struggling with the same kinds of challenges, including meals and food not being considered a priority, cooperation with parents being arduous, resources at the school (both money and time) being limited as well as physical premises (school canteens or school restaurants) and scheduled time for meals not being adequate. Political and structural obstacles were also mentioned as challenges. The professional exchange during the peer-to-peer gatherings helps those affected by these challenges to create synergies by working out solutions together and learning from each other.
What are the next steps?
Another cross-country regional Peer2Peer gathering is foreseen to take place during the first half of 2025.
On top of these in-person peer-to-peer gatherings, one online meeting per project year (2023 to 2025) will be held. National exchanges and events in the course of the project supplement the international discussions. These get-togethers constitute opportunities for participating schools and school delegates to keep exchanging and gain new perspectives.
“The power of bringing school representatives together is that they energize each other. Participants go back to work with a suitcase full of ideas, contacts and energy to take next steps.– says Annelies Smets.
The SchoolFood4Change team is now looking forward to the follow-up of the regional gatherings and to the next chance to exchange, ignite new ideas and meet fellow peers across Europe!
Peer2Peer Gathering Vienna, Austria:
- 18 – 19 January 2023
- for peers from Austria, Germany, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia
- 40 teachers and project leaders.
Peer2Peer Gathering Leuven, Belgium:
- 7-8 February 2023
- for peers from Estonia, Sweden, Denmark and Belgium
- 30 teachers and officials
Peer2Peer Gathering Valencia, Spain:
- 21-22 February 2023
- for peers from France, Italy and Spain
- 27 teachers and project leaders