Behind the scenes of the Call for Solutions - Sustainable Food Systems

Food Trails, the four-year European project launched in October 2020, aims to develop sustainable, healthy and inclusive food policies in 11 European cities: Bergamo, Birmingham, Bordeaux Metropole, Copenhagen, Funchal, Grenoble-Alpes Metropole, Groningen, Milan, Thessaloniki, Tirana and Warsaw. 

As part of the project – led by the Municipality of Milan in collaboration with a consortium of 19 partners – drawing on the experience of the Eurocities Working Group Food and Milan Urban Food Policy Pact –, the Call for Solutions – Sustainable Food Systems was developed.

The objective of the Call is to address 7 challenge areas identified with partner cities to translate the shared vision and joint commitment of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact for integrated urban food policies into measurable and long-term progress towards sustainable food systems in Europe.

Now we leave the floor to Elisa Porreca, Food Policy Officer of Milan and Lina Guglielmino, Impact Innovation Manager of Cariplo Factory.

Elisa, tell us about the context in which the Call for Solutions – Sustainable Food Systems initiative was born

The Call Sustainable Food Systems was born as an activity of the Food Trails Horizon project. It is a 12-million-euro project that activates 19 partners across Europe for the implementation of urban food policies in Europe, with the Municipality of Milan as coordinator. The heart of the project is to develop a systemic approach to the transformation of the food system in the 11 cities involved, developing  living labs to design innovative pilot actions and at the same time define public policies that support this innovative thrust. In support of this activity, the four partner universities and other stakeholders work to model new approaches and monitor the impact of Food Trails‘ actions. 

The project also plans to connect private sector realities to the work of cities to build these solid and ambitious results. This is where the activity of the Call for Solutions – Sustainable Food Systems fits in. The objective of the call is to provide concrete answers to the innovation needs of public bodies by connecting them with the world of startups and small and medium-sized enterprises engaged in the development of solutions for sustainable food systems. 

Lina, tell us about the seven challenge areas. How were they identified, and what relevant impacts for cities do they have? 

The seven different areas of challenge are focused on the priorities identified by the 11 partner cities for the development and implementation of the Food Policies: Education and training, Communication and engagement, Food waste management and reduction, distribution, delivery and logistics, Data collection, Access to healthier food and food processing, Urban farming and gardening and Food packaging. The identification of the challenges  was a long process characterized by One-to-One interactions with the projects’ Cities to analyze the core activities of the Living Labs that the cities are implementing and the desirable impacts. SMEs and start-ups can give added value to activities by amplifying results and impacts. Public-private collaborations can be the key to concrete and long-term social innovation and good practices that can effectively transform the European food system.  

Elisa, a network of 11 European cities with different needs, organizations, and cultures. What do they have in common in this project, and what are the best practices they are trying to implement? 

What unites the partner cities of Food Trails is the concrete commitment to promoting sustainable food systems, for example through the promotion of eco-sustainable diets and the consumption of food with low environmental impact, the improvement of the accessibility of healthy foods for all, through the redefinition of school meals and food aid programs, and the strengthening of the local food system. To do this, the 11 Food Trails cities choose first of all to adopt a systemic and integrated approach; publicly commit to the transition to sustainable food systems by joining the international community of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MUFP), the agreement open to cities around the world for the development of local and sustainable food systems; and participate in European projects, such as Food Trails, sharing know-how and best practices on urban food policies with other cities in Europe, to achieve their sustainability goals. To learn about the best practices that the Food Trails cities are implementing, you can visit the dedicated area of the Food Trails website. 

Lina, the Call for Solutions – Sustainable Food Systems is supported by several partners. What is their active role, and what value do they contribute to generating?   

The Call for Solutions is the result of the collaboration between various project partners, where of course, the role of Cariplo Factory and its expertise on open innovation and connection of start-ups and companies is crucial. Wageningen Economics & Research, with their focus on innovations in the field of food economics, and the Municipality of Milan, which will contribute its point of view as coordinator and as a local authority involved in the development of food policy actions, will be at the forefront of the submissions evaluation group. The partner cities will then decide with whom to realise collaborations. 

Elisa, on November 9th and 10th, the Food Trail Team and the Cariplo Factory Impact Team flew to Thessaloniki for the Food Trails Annual Partner Meeting event. Tell us about these working days and why they played an important role in the initiative. 

The Food Trails Annual Partner Meeting is a very important regular meeting that brings together all project partners. The Thessaloniki meeting was the first one in person since Covid-19. It was three intense days that allowed us to take stock of the activities carried out and discuss strategic actions to be developed in synergy in the coming months. The occasion was also an opportunity to visit Thessaloniki Municipality’s pilot projects in the field of sustainable food and agriculture. The visits demonstrated how collaborations between public (in this case, the Municipality) and private actors are already producing great results both for both stakeholders and the community. Results are in terms of profits, collaboration, and social and environmental impact. 

Lina, draw us the identikit of the innovative startups and SMEs you are looking for in Europe, and what prospects can be reserved for them by applying to the initiative. 

The call seeks the most innovative European start-ups and Small-Medium Enterprises (SMEs) that can develop strategic services and solutions related to the seven different areas of challenge to transform the European food system for a sustainable future. The “Match Making Day” event will present start-ups / SMEs’ solutions to the 11  cities and other stakeholders such as investors, cities’ partners, and high-level representatives of the EU food system policy and innovation landscape. The start-ups/SMEs selected at the end of the “Match Making Day” will gain priority in terms of collaboration with Food Trails Cities and their partners for the development of Living Labs, in the establishment of strategic alliances with one or more cities, and in the possibility to collaborate with their strategic partners such as the European Commission. All start-ups/SMEs participating in the “Match Making Day” will be included in the startup portfolio on the initiative’s website as the best companies able to support the implementation of a sustainable food system. The promoters of the Call will also share contents on their social media channels and produce editorial content for the selected start-ups/SMEs.

Elisa and Lina, we thank you for taking us on this journey to discover the Call for Solutions – Sustainable Food Systems. Before we say goodbye, we ask you to give us four good reasons why start-ups and SMEs should apply:

  1. Have the opportunity to develop a pilot project within the Food Trails project, in collaboration with the 11 partner cities; 
  2. Gain international visibility; 
  3. Become part of the most important network of food cities and stakeholders in Europe; 
  4. Participate in an experimental project, characterized by public-private collaboration.

Startups and SMEs interested in participating in the “Call for Solutions – Sustainable Food Systems” can send their application by 16 February 2023, through the official form.

The selected companies will have the opportunity to meet cities’ representatives of the  Food Trails project, potential investors and relevant stakeholders from the European food system and innovation landscape. 

Furthermore, the finalists will have the opportunity to develop a pilot project, generating international exchange and visibility opportunity, and becoming part of the most important network of food cities and stakeholders in Europe. 

For more details on the “Call for Solutions – Sustainable Food Systems”,

can be found on the official page.

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