The Short Supply Chain Knowledge and Innovation Network, SKIN, after focusing on collecting good practices around Europe (SKIN GPS repository) is now starting to deepen the core themes of short food supply chain to support stakeholders. The first Innovation Challenge Workshop (ICW) focused on the topic of fresh products during a one day event that took place on the 24th of April 2018 (including visits in both Belgium and The Netherlands).
The ICW was organised as a one-day fieldtrip aimed at discovering innovative approaches and practices used by Belgian and Dutch farmers involved in fresh products for short food chains, with a specific focus on freshness. The visit concluded with a networking dinner, animated by a trend watcher discussing the latest trends in the food-world. Besides the project innovators, local stakeholders and actors were also invited to the tour. They shared their knowledge and discovered inspirational ideas and practices within the short food chain sector as they engaged closely with SKIN.
Collaborative distribution systems, ‘Fresh from the Farm’ labels, experimental kitchens, grocery boxes and innovative business management are some of the examples from the five farms visited. Participants got the chance to meet the farm owners, to interact with them and to listen to their stories and experiences.
In Oud-Turnhout, they met with Appelen Roes, a farm with 25 hectares (ha) of fruit (apples, pears, and cherries) and its in-house production of apple juices and a rich variety mixed juices. To ensure a close connection with their customers, they have developed three local farm shops and an online sales channel. Furthermore, they banded together with 10 other local producers and formed a joint local distribution strategy in which they supply their products to local restaurants, bars, accommodation providers and retailers.
The team also met with Franken Agro, a farming business that inspires good practices and specialises in the production of vegetables, potatoes and turf. They cultivate potatoes, vegetables and turf at their main site and a further 450 ha of potatoes in Wallonia. The freshness of their product is guaranteed by the one-day processing time needed to produce and cut the vegetables and by the absence of any form of additives or preservatives. They are the largest home grown French fries producer in Belgium.
As they headed to Goirle, the agri-food community met with De Walhoeve, a farm shop with home-reared beef and products from fellow farmers and market gardeners. The owner recently built a new stable where he keeps 150 bulls and cultivated 20 ha of land made up of the corn and the grass needed to feed their bulls.
De Laarhoeve provided another interesting practice in which all values related to short food supply chains are blended together with a sense of social responsibility towards people with mental disabilities or behavioural problems. Through their own brand, they produce various types of jam, dessert toppings, apple sauces, poached pears, red cabbage, chutneys, cut flowers and pasta sauces and distribute them to approximately 30 supermarkets. This is combined with providing educational social care for their volunteer staff.
At the end of the day, the last visit happened at t’Schop, an organic farm that focuses on product freshness. They meet their customers through their local shop and sell their Angus meat, vegetables, cheese, as well as other products made by local producers. Moreover, they offer cooking workshops for families, groups of friends or companies to learn and prepare meals using the farm’s organic products.
The first ICW proved to be a successful experience in connecting and mixing SKIN partners, local actors of short food chain practices and stakeholders, fostering knowledge transfer and innovative idea generation. Fresh products is just the first of many topics being tackled by the project in order to set the pathway for the future development of short food chains in Europe. Other topics within the scope of SKIN and coming ICWs are: “Technologies”, “Regulations”, “Consumers and society”, “New skills, the role of AKIS and extension services”, and “Distribution and industries”.
6 June 2018