Summer University Concept

1) Summary

The Summer University on the Future of Sustainable Food Business will address controversial questions regarding food sustainability and innovative concepts to realize these goals. It will prepare students for the needed transition from a world in which hunger and food insecurity are widespread and the dominant food system is not sustainable over the long term, to a world in which healthy food and clean water are accessible to everyone. It will give them skills nec-essary to build a sustainable economy, based on innovative entrepreneurship and sustainable business concepts. The content of the Summer University is equally relevant to developing nations of the Global South and to industrialized countries of the Global North. Baccalaureate graduates and Bachelor students from different regions will have ample opportunities for shar-ing their experiences related to sustainable food business from different cultural perspectives. The exemplary case studies in Emmendingen enable the students to apply concepts and re-search methodologies in real world settings.

2) Introduction

All humans need access to food. Max Weber recognized in this daily recurring basic need the motivation to work regularly, and thus the origin of all economic activities.[1] In technologically sophisticated societies, this reality may be obscured by complex economic production and distribution systems. Yet hunger persists in the 21st century, even in techno-logically advanced societies; and almost a billion people suffer because they do not have ac-cess to an adequate food supply and clean water. Due to mismanagement and climate change, these problems will become even more dramatic in particular in ecologically fragile and tropi-cal countries.

While food security may be ensured in quantitative terms in some areas, especially in the Global North, questions concerning the quality of food products remain ubiquitous. Recent food scandals such as the occurrence of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (“mad cow dis-ease”) and food contamination causing widespread human illness testify to the challenge of reconsidering the way we feed ourselves from day by day. Health and ecological effects of the so-called “western diet”, wasteful handling of foodstuffs, and the co-existence of obesity and food insecurity in some of the same populations are all pressing issues. Many of these de-velopments are strongly related to a food system that follows the pathway of the industrial food complex. Alternative concepts are still the exception.

The search for alternatives has resulted in new forms of enterprises and citizen initiatives. An example is “urban farming” that has gained a foothold in industrialized countries and contrib-utes to nutritional quality in both industrialized and developing countries. The fair trade movement and organic farming have increased dramatically over the last twenty years.  Or-ganic food has become so ubiquitous in Germany that even food discount stores offer organic product lines. Social movements and interest groups such as Slow Food, Foodwatch, food sovereignty and gleaners of all types (including “dumpster-divers”) are emerging and growing. Slow Food is a reaction to the rapid spread of the fast-food culture. It recognizes the central position of eating in human life and tries to restore its cultural dignity. The Slow Food move-ment also supports traditional and sustainable methods of farming. Foodwatch’s objective is to unmask practices of the food industry that are harmful to consumers and to fight for their rights accordingly. Food sovereignty is a growing movement of family farmers and other pro-ducers to regain control of their food system, based in recognition of human rights, localiza-tion, and democratic decision-making. The term was first used by La Vía Campesina, the world largest small farmers movement and was adopted by consumers and others around the globe. Gleaning is an ancient practice of retrieving grain or fruit from field that have been har-vested; the idea has been repurposed in by food sharing initiatives and foodsavers. One prac-tice is the "dumpster-diving" in which people retrieve edible food from the dumpsters of su-permarkets. This is one way that some people in industrialized countries are expressing opposi-tion to the enormous quantities of food waste in the global food system. Such movements have recently received attention due to documentaries and a court decision in Germany on "dumpster-divers".

Food production and consumption have become increasingly alienated from each other in in-dustrialized food systems. Not only have geographic distances between the locations of pro-duction and consumption increased in many cases, but also the conceptual distance between production and consumption has risen. With smaller proportions of the population actively engaged in food production the challenges to formulate policies for sustainable development have increased. The lack of transparency concerning processes of food production (e.g. animal husbandry and slaughtering) contributes to this alienation, with laws in the US prohibiting filming inside animal production facilities. Growing enthusiasm for local food has been a backlash attributed to this alienation between consumers and food. Yet even this movement has problematic impacts as well. Farmers often encounter problems with neighbors who may like the idea of farming and like seeing open pastures, yet are not willing to tolerate slow farm machinery on roads or the smell of manure. And consumers may demand food safety measures (implemented at farmers’ expense) in a search for zero-risk food, while not being willing to provide support for farmers who find the cost of building new super-sanitary facili-ties prohibitive.

Sustainable food entrepreneurs are at the forefront of these changes and challenges in the food system. Like other sustainable entrepreneurs, their enterprises take advantage of the val-ue squandered by the linear industrial economy. While still a niche movement, these ventures are growing at many times the rate of industrial food corporations. In addition they are rede-fining every aspect of the food system including farming, production, distribution, consump-tion and capturing food waste as a resource. Organic and biodynamic farms are remaking the landscape, while farm to table restaurants disrupt traditional supply chains. Hundreds of new organic and fair trade products are introduced every year, supporting these farming practices and revitalizing ancestral food ways. Nature’s closed cycles are being used as a model in com-posting facilities that are capturing food and animal waste and returning these nutrients to the soil. While passionate about creating change, these entrepreneurs often lack the business skills necessary to realize their vision on a broad scale. In order to accelerate and leverage their ini-tials success these entrepreneurs need sustainable business management skills to increase their positive impact and remake the economy.

The provision of food is a basic task of every-day life and the original social-ecological sys-tem. Concepts for sustainable food systems draw on human ecological approaches with inter-disciplinary contributions from social sciences, natural sciences, economics and cultural stud-ies. Following the French sociologist Marcel Mauss, we can think of food systems as a “total social phenomenon”, meaning that our eating habits are in relation to almost all other areas of life. “In these total social phenomena, all kinds of institutions find simultaneous expression: religious, legal, moral, and economic. In addition, the phenomena have their aesthetic aspect.”[2]

Recognizing the position of eating habits within a particular socio-cultural setting also illumi-nates crucial aspects of the gender dimension of nutrition. Therefore, we will follow the agri-cultural value chain not only through economic (market) relations but also through social rela-tions, which influence what is eaten and by whom. People generally eat meals that have been prepared and served, and not raw products; thus “meal security” is an important concept.[3]

3) Objectives

The proposed summer university will offer the participants transdisciplinary  skill-building and problem-solving practice, integrating theoretical concepts, a core knowledge base, and practi-cal challenges of vital concern to human well-being. The University will take place in Em-mendingen, in collaboration with community partners. Students will be introduced early on to new frameworks in sustainable business, food systems, and human ecology that will help in developing solutions to key challenges for local businesses. After visiting local food business-es and organizations, students will organize themselves into small groups to analyze the unique challenges of one partner business or organization and evaluate the potential to incorporate these frameworks into its strategy. Simultaneously, students will work as a whole group to analyze the local food system and its sustainability, integrating key aspects that would ensure food and meal security.

Students will learn practical skills and methodologies that can be applied in other settings. These include:

  • Sustainable business analysis, examination of the value proposition, strategic alignment and ability of an enterprise to create economic, social and environmental prosperity.
  • Systemy analysis, or the analysis of the food system from production of inputs through waste management as a complex system, with trade-offs among, for example, economic effi-ciency, ecological integrity and building social capital
  • Power analysis, or the identification of the kinds of power that different food system actors hold and the relative vulnerability of different actors.
  • Gender analysis, or the identification of prescribed gender responsibilities in the food system and how males and females are empowered or disempowered thereby.
  • Community food assessment, or identification of the major assets and barriers to community food systems that can ensure food security for all members without threatening environmental quality or wellbeing of the community.
  • Teamwork, or the ability to work together on a shared goal while appreciating and accommodating different backgrounds, skills and styles of communication.

In combination, these skills will allow students to identify the levers of change or transfor-mation in a food system in which multiple goals can be achieved simultaneously. This is at the heart of multifunctionality and sustainability, concepts that are widely understood as a virtu-ous cycle in which sociocultural, economic and environmental dimensions are combined in order to reinforce and strengthen one another. This set of skills is increasingly important in preparing students to address real world challenges of the present and the future.

Experienced faculty members from the organizing institutions will work with students to guide their learning, while respecting individual interests and creativity, and encouraging stu-dents to self-organize on topics of their choice. Students may elect to create a network to maintain exchanges after the class is over.

The Summer University on the Future of Sustainable Food Business will be grounded in hu-man ecology, a branch of Liberal Arts that focuses on the relationship between human socie-ties and the natural environment. Human ecology, as it is taught in the organizing institutions, emphasizes the personal development of students by encouraging their self-initiative and self-learning and furthering their consciousness for self-responsible action regarding the environ-ment. Human ecological approaches always include philosophical and ethical dimensions be-cause the relationship between humans and the natural environment necessarily entails ques-tions of the just distribution of environmental risks and amenities, just allocation of resources, and gender equality. Food security raises additional issues of the human right to food, nutri-tion and safe drinking water. The Summer University will explore these philosophical, ethical, and rights-based dimensions along with technical and economic questions of how to produce food and ensure widespread access to it.

4) Student Projects and Charrette

Students and faculty will discuss the potential projects early in the schedule. All of the five to six co-operation partners will be visited within the first few days. The students will then choose one partner to work with. They will organize themselves in groups and develop their projects. Throughout two weeks, students will have ample group work time, in which they will arrange to work with their local business or organizations as well as in our collective working space. Students will incorporate the concepts introduced throughout the two weeks into their project work, including frameworks for entrepreneurial ventures that both build prosperity and rejuvenate the environment. Advanced students will be challenged to go a step further in providing recommendations for the company or organization. All of the projects will contrib-ute to understanding the role of these businesses in food sustainability in the region and town of Emmendingen.

The project work is organized as a Charrette, a workshop open to the public. Every morning students and teachers will meet for planning and discussion. Important input in form of sub-ject matters and methodology will be given, before the groups grab their bikes or bus to ride to their partners and start their daily project work with the support of our faculty. In the evening we will all meet again for a sum up. Interim results will be shown and discussed publicly. In-terested citizens, members of organizations and people, who were interviewed by student groups will be invited to attend and participate. On our last day the students will present the results of their projects. Group presentations may be in the form of an exhibit made up of posters and models or PowerPoint presentations accompanied by short oral explanations and ample time for discussion with the audience.

 

Possible Working Group Themes

The topics of nutrition, sustainability and food or meal security in the perspective of entrepre-neurship and innovative business concepts will be approached from at least four different per-spectives: food production and processing, food marketing and trade, food consumption in-cluding meal preparation, and food waste and other losses. If a group wants to pursue another topic area, it may do so after clearance with the teaching faculty. In each case, the group will analyze the current conditions in Emmendingen and propose how they can be improved to create greater sustainability in the food business system.

a)       Food production: These groups will focus on organic as well as conservation agriculture and urban farming, and identify the contributions that each can make to food and meal securi-ty. Sustainability topics in this area will include trade-offs between production of biomass for energy and the potential of organic farming to mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon in topsoil.

b)      Food marketing and trade: These students will identify the flow of food into and out of Emmendingen in the community food assessment. Students will consider the degree of food self-sufficiency that is desirable, and how trade relationships reflect power dynamics in the food system. The advantages and different marketing options for farmers will be considered, e.g., direct versus wholesale or retail markets.

c)       Food Business: Students will conduct a strategic analysis of an enterprise. They will identify the competitive advantages and potential threats to a venture and recommend sustaina-ble business models and practices to increase financial, community and ecological returns.

d)       Meal cultures and food consumption: Groups will analyze the options available in Emmendingen for dining, and the prac-tices used by different households and populations. These groups will consider questions of the nutritional adequacy of diets, changes in diet over time, sustainable consumption, and culturally determined meal preparation and serving customs, cul-tural values and social interaction in sharing and enjoying meals, including the gen-der order in private and public cooking.

d)      Food waste and other losses: Some students will assess where waste is being generated and how it is currently being recycled in Emmendingen (e.g., as compost or as an energy source). The goal of this group will be to develop recommendations for closing the nutrient loop be-tween consumption and production, and minimizing waste in other food system ac-tivities.

In addition to the public Charrette and interaction with local people through interviews and visits, we will invite eminent authorities of human ecology for our evening lectures. These lec-tures will be designed to offer potential solutions to current food system problems and stimu-late discussion.

5) Program Location

Emmendingen

The Summer University will be conducted in and near Emmendingen, a town near Freiburg im Breisgau in southern Germany. This region offers a variety of potential links to the University, including a long tradition of exceptionally high-quality production and processing of food-stuffs. It is a hotspot of the anthroposophically oriented Demeter Movement (biodynamic ag-riculture). The region’s population is known for its appreciation for high food quality; and not surprisingly, it hosts a Slow Food association.

Additional points of interest are the State Viniculture Institute in Freiburg, associated with the Faculty of Biology of the University of Freiburg, and the Agricultural School Hochburg in Emmendingen.   Emmendingen has several remnants of medieval gardens, and plans to restore them as historical sites. Originally these were farmers’ gardens outside the town that became integrated into a newly built quarter during the Baroque Period. Traditionally they were used not only for production of food and medicinals, but also for flowers. The industrial highlight of the town, the Wehrle-Werk AG, develops and builds equipment for energy and environ-mental technology. It is exploring the possibility of urban roof farming on its factory building.[6]

A successful interdisciplinary experiential learning process requires the cooperation of enter-prises and people of the town and the region. The groups will conduct their project work in co-operation with approximately seven local enterprises and organizations. The partners in-clude a dairy producer, horticulture, food marketer, organic shops, wholesalers, rural organiza-tions and charity organizations.

 


[1] Max Weber: Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft. 1922 online-version, II. Soziologische Grundkategorien des Wirtschaften, §3. Wirtschaftliche Orientierung. Here he talks about the development of rational economy out of the necessity to acquire food (http://www.textlog.de/7334.html).

[2] Marcel Mauss: The Gift. Cohen & West Ltd , London 1969, p. 1.

[3] Teherani-Krönner, Parto: Meals are the ties that bind. In: Meal Cultures in Europe. Changes and Exchanges, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin 2011 (www.mealcultures.wordpress.com) and Teherani-Krönner, Parto / Hamburger, Brigitte: Mahlzeitenpolitik. Zur Kulturökologie von Ernährung und Gender, Oekom, München (2014)

[4] „…transdisciplinarity implies a fusion of disciplinary knowledge with the know-how of lay-people“ (Pohl, C. and Hirsch Hadorn, G. (2006). Gestaltungsprinzipien für die Transdisziplinäre Forschung. München: Oekom)

[5] See http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Staatliches_Weinbauinstitut_Freiburg.

[6] See http://www.wehrle-werk.com/dynasite.cfm?dssid=4773.