EU City Labs take on agriculture and food systems

Edited on 10/04/2024

Urban garden in Mouans-Sartoux (FR) - Photo by François Jégou

Urban garden in Mouans-Sartoux (FR).

How can we put the transition issues related to food back on the table and in the minds of policy-makers and citizens?

The global food systems cause roughly 1/3 of the greenhouse gas emissions, and the climate impact of major industries (e.g. meat, dairy) brings into question the sustainability of our eating habits. New solutions are being considered to facilitate the transition away from food waste to more sustainable agri-food systems. Unlocking the potential of urban agriculture and building communities around solutions for organic farming, urban greening and biodiversity can accelerate the transformation of food practices, as the URBACT Network Sustainable Food in Urban Communities has clearly shown. 

In March 2024, URBACT and the European Urban Initiative will kick off a series of EU City Labs on Local Food Systems. On 21-22 March, the first of three in the series puts the spotlight on Mouans-Sartoux. Here’s how this small French town has taken on organic, locally sourced food and emerged as a major player in the urban food transition and the leader of two URBACT Transfer Networks. 


When in Mouans-Sartoux


To better understand Mouans-Sartoux's food policy achievements, why not take a closer look at the local way of life? Between 2016 and 2022, a study financed from ADEME (French Agency for Ecological Transition) evaluated carbon impact in Mouans-Sartoux. According to the evaluation, while food represents a yearly average of 2 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per person in France, it is only about 1,17 tonnes in the city. In addition, the number of inhabitants reducing their consumption of meat has increased to 85% in less than 10 years. Of course, Mouans-Sartoux doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Other European cities, including Haarlem (NL), are pushing forth legislation to ban meat advertisements. 

A Table ! Mouans-Sartoux Food Forum - Photo by François Jégou

Group discussion during the A Table ! Mouans-Sartoux Food Forum. Source: François Jégou.


Visual transcription 


In France, Mouans-Sartoux is one of four towns offering 100% organic meals in public school canteens, where 1 000 primary school children eat every day. Half of the meals are strictly vegetarian, and almost exclusively locally sourced. Also, the municipal farm, located 700 metres away from the town centre, supplies the school kitchens, and the three municipal  farmers harvest 25 tonnes of vegetables per year. The municipality's support for the installation of young organic producers on communal land represents another successful measure, accompanying a general embrace of “zero food waste”. 

The municipality also succeeded in creating the MEAD – Center for Sustainable Food Education: the true city public food service. The centre is politically committed to fair trade and it supports the Positive Food Families Challenge. As Valery Bousiges, a parent of a primary school student, put it: "The question is not when is something happening about food in Mouans-Sartoux, but what is happening today." 

Finally, the city's "permanent public activism" is proving its effectiveness with the Citizen feeds the city urban gardens. "These collective gardens grow vegetables and fruit, but above all they produce socialisation between the inhabitants of the neighbourhood", says Rob Hopkins during a visit to one of the association’s six gardens, a project that was conceptualised by the MEAD - Sustainable Food Education Centre and set up by the local residents. 



Two URBACT Networks standing up against bio sceptics


The "Mouans-Sartoux approach" is a bearing fruit, as it builds on long-term awareness and education for a sustainable transition. Yet, this transition is rooted in changing behaviour which, even when anticipated, is not always speedy or easy. In his book L'Homnivore, Claude Fischler explains that, through the mechanism of “food embodiment”, we become what we eat. This applies both physically and symbolically, hence an increased resistance to any diet changes. Unless our lives depend on it, like they once did for the first humans, dietary changes can threaten one’s identity altogether. 

As Andrea Lulovicovà, from Greniers d'Abondance, and Chantal Clément, from IPES FOOD, remind us, the food transition rests on three critical pillars: the agricultural transition, the relocation of food and the transformation of food practices. It is not enough to produce organic and local food if we do not change the way we eat.  

The example of Mouans-Sartoux and all the other towns in food transition tick all three boxes. This is also why the pioneering town was primed to lead two URBACT Transfer Networks advancing good practices, transfer modules and stories on sustainable local food models. BioCanteens (2018-2021) and BioCanteens#2 (2021-2022) involved the following partner cities and organisations: Gavà (ES), LAG Pays des Condruses (BE), Liège (BE), Rosignano Marittimo (IT), Torres Vedras (PT), Trikala (EL), Troyan (BG), Vaslui (RO) and Wroclaw (PL). 

True to name, the BioCanteens URBACT Transfer Networks aimed at reducing food waste by 80%, specifically in the field of collective school catering. Through these networks, Mouans-Sartoux devised and shared good practices for an integrated local agri-food approach, protecting both citizens’ health and the environment. These practices, and more, can be found in the BioCanteens toolbox, which includes a projective exercise on the food sovereignty of each city and the future of its food-producing land by 2040, in addition to a simulation game to create a municipal food platform, a poster outlining a multi-level food governance plan and the Bio Sceptics card game. The card game is intended to debunk clichés associated with organic food heard from farmers, traders, consumers, municipal services and others. 

Participants of the A table ! Food Forum in Mouans-Sartoux (FR) playing the Bio Sceptics card game - Photo: François Jégou

Participants of the A table ! Food Forum in Mouans-Sartoux (FR) playing the Bio Sceptics card game. Source: François Jégou.


A key output of the BioCanteens Networks was the “A Table !" Mouans-Sartoux Food Forum”. Between 26-28 September 2022, the Forum brought together more than 150 stakeholders from 10 countries – including 50 local authorities, more than 20 NGOs and official structures involved in the food transition. 

The central question of the event was: How can we support cities in food transition at national and European level? It is worth re-listening to some voices from the Forum, which divulge more ‘food for thought’: 

- According to Gilles Pérole, Deputy Mayor of Mouans-Sartoux, “The free circulation of goods guaranteed by the European Market Code goes against the re-territorialisation of food and support for local agricultural transition. We need an exception to this European Code for food markets". 

- Food sovereignty – the central theme of the Forum – means reclaiming the ability to choose what we put on our plates. Fabrice Riem, lawyer and Coordinator of the Lascaux Centre on Transitions, presented an interesting take on how to operationalise exceptions, without breaking the rules. 

- Riem and Davide Arcadipane, from the city of Liège (BE) discussed the process of dividing public tenders into multiple lots – in order to facilitate the access of school canteens to supplies coming from small local producers. Riem pointed out how this process, which is now commonplace, represents a way to bend the Public Procurement Code without undermining it. That being said, splitting tenders into 300 to 400 lots, as practiced by the city of Dijon (FR), require human resources capacity that small cities do not have at their disposal and, therefore, a first distinction has to be made in terms of the size of the different cities. 

- Kevin Morgan, of Cardiff University, noted that if cities want to “express their purchasing power to bring about a local food system”, it would be possible to do so using current rural laws and seizing existing competencies from municipalities. At least in France, this is the way to ensure territorial anchoring, to design a call for tenders for food supply that requires a contribution to the construction of the local food system and that, ultimately, are in line with a Territorial Food Plan. 

- At the European level, the suggestions that were collected point to the same direction: it is fundamental to create a direct link between Europe and the cities that are capable of rebuilding a high-quality local agricultural fabric. Especially in terms of direct funding for public agricultural production, as for example the potential creation of "urban leader" or "inter-rural urban leader" projects. 

- All these ideas represented, in a practical and operational way, the principles outlined by Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food movement: consuming food is much more than just eating, it is an agricultural act. Likewise, producing and buying food is not simply supplying the city's canteens, it means building a coherent local territorial food system. 



Going back to the Lab

EU City Lab Mouans-Sartoux

Now, Mouans-Sartoux will host the EU City Lab on Local Food Systems #1 on 21-22 March 2024. The agenda is already available online and registration is open until 7 March! This will be a unique opportunity to learn more about good practices in the field of collective school catering, look closer at the URBACT BioCanteens and Biocanteens#2 Transfer Networks and discuss how local projects can boost more healthy, sustainable food habits among citizens across different countries and regions. 

Do you wish to learn more about URBACT cities' past work on building sustainable local food systems? For a deep dive into Moans-Sartoux’s and other urban agri-food practices, there are plenty of materials on the URBACT Knowledge Hub – Food and sustainable local systems.  



Disclaimer: This article is an update to a publication by François Jégou from 08/11/2022 

Submitted by URBACT on 15/02/2024