Making community-run urban farms & kitchens the heart of neighbourhoods that enable people to work together like the cellls of an organism.
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
I first landed in Lisbon on 13 Nov 2017 for some solo travel. I’ve been based in Barcelona since 2012 and long desired to explore this lower-key country on the other side of the Peninsula. By the end of my week-long visit, my intrigue for Lisbon was sky-high. I left with a longing to return and delve deeper into the local food scene -- a personal & professional passion of mine.
Fast-forward to 29 May 2018 and I was back again for four weeks this time. I got the chance to see Lisbon in a new light while connecting with a mix of locals & fellow foreigners who too had fallen for the city. During my stay, I co-hosted the launch of the FoodHub Community and rallied together some folk for a ‘Feast on a Farm’ in the nearby town of Cartaxo with a friendly farmer named Rodolfo. I also got to experience the popular Santos festivities while bonding further with all the great people involved with food I’d met. The time came to head back to Barcelona, and my longing to return had now morphed into unfinished business with Lisbon.
Come Nov 2018, a relentless idea to bring together all the new foodist friends I’d made in Lisbon so far brought me back. One open Facebook group post asking if anyone was interested to join me in organising something that could inspire action around sustainable food is what it took to see sparks.
The 1st edition of Sustainable Food Days was born. As 13 volunteers (8 women, 4 men aged 25-42), we curated a week-long program of 35+ activities with 30 collaborating entities. It took place in different locations around the city from 26 Nov - 12 Dec 2018.
After that surprise success, three of us from the original volunteer group and one activity goer decided to establish the project and organize a 2nd edition. Despite being a team of four, we put together a bigger program from 17-23 June 2019 and were blown away by people's engagement and enthusiasm around the initiative once again.
Lisbon is now EU Green Capital, and I’m back ready for more with the team!
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
A Cidade das Sete Colinas -- the city of seven hills, Lisbon is known as. Although, there are actually eight hills in reality. As one of the oldest European capitals, Lisbon stands with the grace and grandeur of an era long gone while wearing the scars of its different chapters with pride. It wasn’t originally the country’s capital but always was a place of interest, given its strategic location tucked away on the River Tagus. Romans, Moors and explorers of the old Portuguese Empire that linked to four different continents all once claimed the city as their home.
Lisbon also survived a massively destructive earthquake in 1755 estimated at 8.5-9.0 on the Richter scale. After a dedicated mission to rebuild the city led by the Marquis de Pombal, the city was back in business. Much later, tumultuous political times saw her fall prey to Europe’s longest right-wing dictatorship that started in 1926 and wasn’t overthrown until 1974.
Shortly after, Portugal applied to join the EU and entered at the same time as neighbouring Spain. In the height of the recent financial crisis, it was making headlines along with the rest of the debt-ridden ‘PIGS’. They were able to rescue themselves from becoming prisoners of more bailouts by opening themselves up to foreign investment and implementing major labour reforms.
As with all former colonial powers, their past garners some controversies that still echoes in today’s society. However, it also means that those hailing from ex-colonies like Brazil, Angola and Goa bring a cultural richness that is a real asset in today’s world. It’s true that so many different flavours and points of view don’t always find their balance here but the intention and action to do so are growing -- particularly among younger generations.
The Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts reflect a lot in the local food culture: a diet consisting of mostly fish, olive oil, bread and wine is still very present in cosmopolitan Lisbon. As a small country, the rural-urban connection is close meaning an escape to the countryside is typically around 1-1.5 hours away. This makes it easier for “Lisboetas” to go back to their “terrinha” (hometown) and visit older relatives on the weekend. They often return with family-grown fruits & vegetables and homemade jams to relish at home.
Another name for the people of Lisbon is “Alfacinhas” which translates to ‘little lettuces’. This term is thought to have a Moorish origin, referring to the lettuce heads that were grown on Lisbon’s hillsides during their time of rule.
While Lisbon’s eventful history has shaped the city and its dwellers massively, the city today is at its own critical crossroads between what was, what is and what could be. The recent influx of tourism has set off a level of growth that the humble city is finding increasingly hard to cope with. Fortunately, Lisbon and her Alfacinhas have all the key ingredients to build a brighter future and we’re excited to help make it happen through the lens of food!
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Lisbon has ambitious plans for sustainable transport, green spaces and responsible production & consumption as EU Green Capital for 2020. A deep-rooted local culture of "Desenrascanço" where last-minute solutions are favoured over planning in advance is a barrier.
The city is experiencing a surge in tourism and Lisbon was named ‘Foodie Hotspot’ last year. People are flocking from all over the world to savour Portuguese custard tarts and bask in the sun by the river. While somewhat beneficial for local businesses, tourism is becoming a nuisance. For example, housing prices are rising rapidly. Families who have lived in the same home for generations are increasingly being bought out by foreign investors or squeezed out by landlords opting for short-term rentals to maximize profit. Sufficient nourishment must be attained with less money as the cost of living soars. The appeal of the more affordable, yet much unhealthier fast food is increasing.
Portugal is one of the poorest countries in Western Europe with very high socio-economic inequalities. As such, a healthier diet is still out of reach for many - especially those with the fewest means to access one. The influx of Western ex-pats choosing to retire here or Digital Nomads passing through is pulling the demand in another direction, given their higher buying power. This diverse spectrum of socio-cultural needs puts a lot of pressure on the city’s food system.
Online shopping and deliveries is a rising tech trend creating more demand for highly-polluting logistics. Lisbon has a large elderly population causing this highly vulnerable group to be marginalised for lack of tech-savviness.
As one of the highest fish consumers in Europe, stocks of the locally-sourced and beloved sardine have declined drastically with links to overfishing and rising water temperatures. While a rise in vegetarian and vegan diets has been documented, the current market offer comes at premium pricing.
Climate change is evolving from a faraway threat to a real danger on home turf. Heavier rains and extreme wind are forecast for Lisbon. While their occurrence is not set to increase, their magnitude definitely is. Temperatures are also predicted to rise breaking seasonal patterns which are crucial to maintaining good biodiversity and soil health for healthy crop yield.
With no plan in sight to protect fish stocks and a lack of supporting policy enforcement may see its waters become unfit for the marine life that has been a staple of the local diet. Fast food chains picking up on the trend for vegan and vegetarian diets won’t have sustainable production practices to match.
Lisbon’s 65+-year-olds will make up about 30% of the population by 2050, leaving the city to rely more heavily on the income-generating capacity of the younger population. It has one of the lowest birthrates in Europe highlighting an important upcoming deficit in the future workforce.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Based on the simple fact that we all eat food grown somewhere on this planet means we are associated with the global food system by default. As a result of this, and in short, we are all connected to each other. Hence, the overarching theme of our Vision addresses these challenges by bringing together every single stakeholder to ideate and co-create effective solutions that serve us all.
We believe the key ingredients to effective tackling of any challenge include: the right knowledge and experience, motivated people and good planning skills. Easier said than done, we know. It is possible, and this is how we envision so:
Facilitating Knowledge & Resource Exchange
With a subject as multifaceted as food, there are many actors in the field but most are acting in an isolated manner. We seek to create more bridges between active stakeholders that would previously be regarded as unconnected. For example, by bringing farmers together for seed exchanges, machinery sharing or professional training, we create the opportunity to build our collective knowledge.
To address all challenges from climate change to technology trends and changing demographics, we need to create a suitable space for it. Be it functional green spaces sheltered between neighbourhood buildings, intelligent innovations designed with the final user or opening up space for dialogue between all the different stakeholders at the same level -- this is where cross-cutting collaborations need a home. In holding space for these challenges, we make room for people to respond to the call-to-action.
By engaging consumers to actively become a part of their own food system, a stronger sense of accountability towards our food system is born. With real stakes in the food, you eat on a daily basis, playing a part in how it grows inspires a different level of motivation altogether. Bringing people into the decision-making process makes them feel valued and encourages them to add more value to the mix as best as they possibly can.
Providing tools such as a neighbourhood farm and community kitchen sets the scene for self-organisation. People are capable of so much when they are entrusted with a project they themselves will manage and directly benefit from. An online platform to facilitate the organisation helps breakdown the team task at hand into easy-to-handle building blocks.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
Lisbon administrative limits will include the surrounding towns in the larger metropolitan area, shifting from being a densely populated urban area to a predominantly pedestrianised city centre where every neighbourhood acts as a self-sufficient cell part of a bigger organ. In each neighbourhood, there is enough green space to grow seasonal fresh fruit & vegetables to cater to all its inhabitants' basic needs of a balanced diet. They’re run by elected local community farmers and maintained by everyone on a rotational basis. Everybody helps on a weekly basis and in return get a basket of fresh, locally grown produce using regenerative practices delivered to their doorstep each week by a smart drone delivery system.
In a nearby building, communal kitchen space is a complementary central meeting point. It’s where neighbours cook for those working on their urban farm that day, and anyone who doesn’t want to eat alone or may not have the means to cook for themselves. It’s where cooking workshops, monthly seed exchanges with other neighbourhoods, themed culinary nights for cross-cultural education and any other community activity around food might need to happen.
At the beginning of every planting season, all the neighbours are invited to a general assembly to collectively decide what to plant for the season ahead, share experiences from previous years and put forward any proposals. A health check-up on the communal composter is also performed. Often times, teachers bring their classes on a field trip to attend these assembly meetings for a first-hand understanding of how this localised food system model works.
It’s the basis of every neighbourhood’s social fabric that brings everyone together through an online platform where rotas are managed, notices are shared, sick & vacation days are noted to keep the neighbourhood food system running like a well-oiled machine all year long. Everyone takes care of their communal food spaces like it’s an extension of their own home.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Chefs Matheus, Alessio & Nuno at the 2nd Colher de Pau Cook-off (from L to R).
Creating space for dialogue between chefs and diners, collectively asking what sustainable food tastes like.
Setting the Scene
It’s 8am on Friday, May 13, 2050. I know this because my apartment’s smart sound system is playing one of my favourite tunes to help ease me out of bed. Sunlight floods in as the shutters part ways to uncover a beautiful morning view over the Tagus River. My house knows me very well by now, it goes with me everywhere. Mobile modular home units have become very popular in the last 10 years. They’re the perfect solution that combines affordable housing, renewable circular materials and freedom of movement for the mobile generation I belong to.
To the beat of the song, I get up and head to the bathroom for my morning wake-up routine. Lucky for me, the toilet seat is already warm as is the shower floor. All thanks to the highly efficient rooftop solar panelling that warms up surfaces that come in direct contact with bare skin. Just after one week, your smart house familiarises itself with your routine and knows exactly where and during what times you’d need the extra heating. Same goes for sound, light and ventilation. IoT really took off!
Mid-shower, my smarthouse AI system chimes in:
“Morning, Mayya! Ready to plan out your day?”
“Yes, Trix, hit me!” I answer.
“So first up you have your weekly conference call at 10am with Inês and Carolina to prep for your meeting with the Council on Monday about rolling out the next edible urban community garden in Ajuda. Then at Noon, there’s the stakeholder’s online hangout about next season’s activity programme at the Lisbon Seed Bank with Julie.”
“Fantastic! Please send out my meeting confirmations for both. What’s my lunch plan, by the way?”
“You’re meeting Chefs Alessio and Matheus at the Community Kitchen in Mouraria. It’s the Italy meets Brazil cook-off. Don’t forget, it’s your turn for washing up duties there this time too.”
“Okie Doke! Could you also put in a new order for my shampoo & conditioner, please? Running low and want to drop the empty reusables for the refill in the mailbox on my way to lunch.”
“You got it! Have a nice day!”
“Thanks, Trix, catch you later!”
Connecting the Dots
A few years after the ban on single-use plastics in 2021, a Lisbon initiative named Mil-U came up with the idea to create a series of cosmetic dispensers using reusable bottles made from corn starch. After having developed and tested their prototype, they approached us at SFD to present their product and ask for help on how to fine-tune and scale the idea. The team loved it and helped hash out a plan to offer a collection & distribution service sustainably produced bottles for big cosmetic brands.
Once that game plan was ready, we connect them to SFD contacts in the industry and stayed on their advisory board to provide support wherever needed. They’re 57th projected we’ve worked that got awarded Innovation of the Year and since have landed big clients within the hospitality sector too.
The Weekly Food Shop
Supermarkets are no longer what we once knew them to be. They are now storage warehouses with a showroom in the front that has sample products of what they sell. It no longer has fresh produce and other refrigerated items. For things like meat, fish, cheese and other speciality fruit & veg, you have to place an order with your local registered neighbourhood supplier that has a monthly quota to keep availability around the city level. There are monthly tasting sessions with the producers themselves to help foster closer ties and transparency throughout the food chain. À Mesa Com Os Produtores, they’re known as and, were kicked off by Inês in the second SFD edition back in 2018.
Going to the supermarket is now a monthly visit at most. You go to try and test any new products that have caught your attention online. Carrying back your shopping is no longer a thing. Instead, you place your order online and get all your usual items in one click. Or, you scan the items you’d like to buy in-store with your phone for next day delivery in reusable packaging. The shared logistics systems that span the entire city using solar-powered drones make two daily runs: one early morning and the other just before dinner time. They also pick up things you place in your mailbox for returns to suppliers and bring them back to you when your re-order is ready.
Logistics Like Never Before
Each building has been fitted with a special mailbox system. Delivery drones identify individual codes that correspond to the mailbox of each household unit. They drop your mail in your mailbox and you get an automated notification of receipt with the type of delivery awaiting you. Most of the buildings in Lisbon never had elevators but based on the experience and input of the city’s wise elderly, the mailboxes were designed to be manoeuvred like a rolling suitcase. They can latch onto a pulley system that takes them up to whatever floor needed and then find their own way back into their base when returned.
Towards the end of the week, any short-shelf life food items that don’t get sold are offered up through auction via the SFD online platform. People make bids for items through the national MultiBanco banking system. It’s been around in Portugal since 1985, and has evolved to become the main channel for financial transactions in our cashless society. Every month, everyone gets their basic universal income through here too. Anything that doesn’t get sold during the auction is distributed to community kitchens based on need according to live data that is automatically updated through their smart food stores.
The Industrial Farming Face-Lift
Larger scale farms found in the long-standing agricultural areas within 150 km of Lisbon are where basic fruit & vegetables are produced to supply larger sectors like schools and universities, hospitals and residencies, hotels and offices too. This way, bigger farms are guaranteed a market for their higher volume. At a policy level, every farm regardless of size works with regenerative agricultural practices and synch with nearby farms to share resources, tools and machinery and even attend regular professional development training carried out in collaboration with the National Institute of Agronomy.
Exploring the Ethics of Eating
As a result of SFD’s open debates to reflect on current consumption patterns first hosted by Carolina back in June 2018, we put forward a proposal to invite local governing bodies, animal farmers, specialist researchers, animal rights activists and representatives from the general public to co-create a new code of ethics around the production and consumption of animal products. This community-led movement attracted international attention and enabled other actors to engage with the open debate too. A new government body was set up to oversee the compliance according to this new code of ethics.
With a more integrated cultural mix in the city, even more non-native foods are available on the market. Not cause they come from afar, but because each university’s agronomy department has co-organised the development of onsite tropical greenhouses using responsible materials and innovative technology to mimic the climate they would need to grow. Each year, they share their findings and co-design the next cycle of tropi-local growing experiments. It helps keep students engaged with new areas of research and provides a space for people from other countries with agricultural knowledge to share their experience in a context that recognises their value.
Collective Food Consciousness
The focus on reviving farming has created a social shift to a plant-based diet with significantly fewer animal products being consumed. The collective food consciousness has reawoken with great numbers having converted to vegetarian or vegan diets in light of the unethical practices discovered in the animal rearing industry. Over time, the closer we got to the source of production for animal products, many no longer feel at peace with eating animals.
However, those that still do now do so with a deeper understanding of what meat or fish-eating actually entails. An important part of the population still consumes animal products on a flexitarian basis. Smart home fridge technology allows people to get a personalised nutritional analysis based on their physical and genetic profile. It even issues a polite nudge when it picks up on unhealthier eating habits.
Technology Doing it Right
Recipe recommendation based on personal taste and what’s in your fridge is available for those in need of cooking guidance and inspiration. Cooking shows with famous chefs can be streamed in your kitchen at the same time you plan to cook a special meal looping feedback from your kitchen to make sure you get the recipe right. Waste management at home also becomes easier to address as you are given recipe options based on what produce needs to be eaten first.
Meat and Fish on the Side
Dining out is more popular for social occasions and the city now has a wide variety of world cuisine. Vegan and vegetarian options are the main stars of restaurant menus with meat and fish options taking on a supporting act. The latter are still the more expensive menu items due to higher production costs. Local traditional cuisine has undergone a facelift to revive vegetarian and vegan side dishes into tasty, balanced main meals.
It All Comes Down to the Heart
Each neighbourhood community farm and kitchen is the beating heart that everyone flows through to sustain their localised community through a closed-loop collaborative effort.
In 2050, I’d be 61 years old and only starting to enjoy the benefits of this complete food system overhaul which would take an entire lifetime to see come to fruition. It’d sure be worth it though, and would make me want to stick around for as long as possible!