About COCOREADO and the experience of being an ambassador in a European research project
New to the HCC team, with a background in economics and business administration, I was faced with concepts such as sustainability, food system, public policy, and small producers. The direct involvement in the team’s activities and the support of my colleagues were very important for my familiarization with this world, but an important role was also played by my participation as an ambassador in the COCOREADO project.
COCOREADO is a European research project that aims to COnnect COnsumers and producers to RE-balance farmers’ position through the formation of AmbassaDOrs. The project brought together 13 partners (from 9 European countries) and integrated three approaches: ambassadors, examples of good practices and youth involvement.
The main role of the ambassadors is to co-create innovative solutions to existing problems in the food system and to disseminate the solutions and results of the project at local and regional levels.
The ambassador experience
The main responsibility of the ambassadors was to participate in three training sessions organised within the project. The meetings had a dual role: training and informing participants on the characteristics of sustainable food systems and opportunities for networking and co-creation between participants.
The first meeting was organised in March 2022, in Brussels, and aimed to familiarise participants with the project and the examples of good practice identified within it (called NOFAs). At the same time, we discussed the opportunity to fund 5 ambassadors’ initiatives contributing to the fair and equitable positioning of small producers in the local food chain through the project. Divided into groups, we worked with ambassadors from other parts of Europe to identify the needs and opportunities in our areas and made the first draft of the action plan for these initiatives. Keeping up with the times, we participated in an interactive session where, under the guidance of the CEJA, we learned how to identify fake food news. Last but not least, the three days also included two field trips where we were able to interact with entrepreneurs and learn first-hand about the obstacles and benefits of being innovative in the food system. The first visit was to Eco-Exotic Mushroom – a mushroom and microgreens farm in the centre of Bruxelles that focuses on implementing a circular economy by reusing on the farm unsold bakery products from supermarkets. The second fied trip took place at Groot Eiland, a food hub with a socio-economic objective: fighting poverty in vulnerable neighbourhoods in Bruxelles by providing support and training to residents in carpentry, catering and urban agriculture.
The second meeting, held in October 2022 in Pamplona, focused on providing support to the 5 ambassadors’ initiatives, which were chosen in the period between the two meetings and received funding to be implemented. Thus, we worked on methodologies developed by partners to support selected ambassadors in implementing their initiatives. There were also more training sessions, so we were able to attend presentations and discussions on public procurement, value creation in the food chain and how to price food fairly, social media and how can we contribute to food system change. This time we visited a local products’ market and Landare – a community-owned and run supermarket, which aims to support small producers and offer organic food to its members (only members can shop at the supermarket and they also work to operate it). All this was accompanied by the opportunity to taste and experience the delicious traditional gastronomy of the Navarra region.
The last meeting of the project took place in May 2023, in Riga. This time, ambassadors could choose between different tracks, which addressed the topics: developing ambassadors’ initiatives, developing the vision for Riga’s food strategy and campaigning for change. In my case, I participated in the track discussing campaigning for change. Thus, I learned from the experts (CEJA, Rural Youth Europe and MIJARC Europe) how to make a campaign from scratch and what aspects we need to pay attention to. And the session resulted in our group proposing a campaign to include the ambassador structure in more European research projects. This time too, we participated in field trips. Thus, we visited Āgenskalns Market, a revitalised market in Riga, where members managed to transform an industrial space into a food hub, where local producers can sell their products, and tourists and locals can interact directly with producers, taste Latvian gastronomy and participate in exhibitions and shows. The second field trip took place at Rāmkalni, a recreational complex located in the middle of a forest, which has diversified its services by developing a potato, grain and fruit farm and processing them. At the same time, the distribution of products is very well thought out, with Rāmkalni distributing its products through its own chain of shops, supermarkets and airports.
The experience of being a COCOREADO ambassador allowed me to learn and discover ways to contribute to the sustainable development of the food system and the re-positioning of small farmers in the food chain, both from mentors and from discussions with other ambassadors. I was also able to meet a group of passionate and eager young people who motivated me to continue my work in Brașov. Being part of 3 other European research projects, I can notice that the ambassador structure really brings added value to these types of projects, and I would like to see it implemented in more projects in the future.