Ghent en Garde: Transforming the food system
City/Region : City of Ghent , Belgium

Ghent en Garde has brought significant change to the local food system. Through participative governance models, including a food policy council, Ghent’s food policy has moved from launching small-scale initiatives to bringing structural change to the food system. It is decreasing food waste, making food procurement more sustainable, scaling up short food supply chains and improving access to food. 7% of the citizens are now vegetarians, local food is booming through new farmers markets and through a new logistics platform for professional buyers, 300 tonnes of food waste has been redistributed in a 10 month period to 19,000 people in poverty, and we have connected 120 stakeholders on improving access to sustainable and healthy food.

EU Green Deal Policy Areas Addressed
BiodiversitySustainable agricultureEliminating pollution
Clean energyFrom Farm to ForkSustainable industry
Pathways followed
  • Ensure equal access to municipal services
  • Involve citizens through participatory implementation
  • Encourage local private and civic engagement
  • Promote social innovation supporting inclusion
  • Nurture a sharing economy
  • Capitalise on local economy and production
  • Create and close local value chains
  • Apply innovative financing approaches
  • Implement sustainable procurement principles
  • Pursue a shift towards a circular economy
  • Wisely select and apply smart technologies
  • Accelerate sustainability and innovation through public procurement
  • Support open data standards
  • Ensure new policies take socio-cultural changes resulting from innovative technologies into account
Stad Gent

Our food system has become strongly globalized, connecting producers and consumers around the globe. To achieve the sustainable development goals, food has a key role to play. Cities play an increasingly important role in making sure their population has secure access to sustainable, healthy and affordable food. Even though cities lack tools to impact the food system, they play a significant role in shifting it. Ghent is a rather small city with 259,579 inhabitants, but demonstrates the potential of transforming the food system at local urban level, through its local food policy, Ghent en Garde.

Ghent en Garde is being led by the city administration, but builds its strength on a co-creative approach. The role of the city shifts based on need. At times the city has its own tools (e.g. urban planning, public procurement), and other times it influences consumption habits (e.g. vegetarian eating habits, taking leftovers home). Often the role of the city is one of facilitating early dynamics, strengthening them and helping them scale up. Through stakeholder engagement and piloting projects, we look for the right approach for every challenge ahead and dare to adapt our approach over time.

In Action
Stad Gent

Ghent en Garde tackles different challenges through tailor-made responses that are co-created with relevant stakeholders. They have been grouped by the strategic objectives of the food policy.

Ghent en Garde invests in agricultural land for local food production. “For young farmes, access to land is one of the biggest challenges”, says our Deputy Mayor. There is a pilot project which puts 10 hectares of land for free on the market for local, sustainable food production that is being sold to the urban population. Ghent en Garde has also launched a logistics platform for professional food buyers. This allows restaurants, retailers and catering companies to buy local, quality products online. The farmers are in charge of setting their prices. The platform is managed by a multi-stakeholder cooperative and ensures sustainable and quality products and an environmentally-friendly logistic system.

We also launched several supporting mechanisms for citizens engaged in urban agriculture. Schools and community gardens can make use of up to 36 hours of coaching on the ground. An expert assists them from finding the right location, until the implementation and follow-up in the course of the first 2 years. We have also developed an online helpdesk where citizens can ask their questions regarding their own vegetable garden, no matter how small it is.

SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTION AND CONSUMPTION: Thursday Veggie Day is a campaign in which citizens are encouraged to eat vegetarian at least one day a week. On Thursdays, schools and public services only serve vegetarian meals. Several initiatives have been launched over the past 10 years to encourage participation in Thursday Veggie Day, such as promoting restaurants and shops offering vegetarian alternatives, coaching restaurants on how to cook vegetarian meals, and vegetarian cooking workshops for hundreds of citizens and students.

ACCESS TO FOOD: Ghent en Garde launched a new network in the city that brings together many stakeholders on the topic of the right to food. The aim is to make food affordable, healthy and sustainable for every person in the city. This network provides inspiration on potential initiatives, such as school projects on cooking skills and healthy eating. The network also builds lots of new connections amongst organizations, who align with their initiatives and scale them up by joining forces. We also bring together the knowledge of different actors and build common data on access to food in the city.

The Foodsavers platform, operated by the city, brings together food leftovers from the wholesale market and the local retailers and redistributes them to food banks, social restaurants and social supermarkets. Our Deputy Mayor: “Foodsavers not only reduces environmental impact through the reduction of food waste, it also serves clear societal goals by bringing healthy food to people in poverty”.

Another successful initiative is our Restorestje, a local version of a leftover container. It is being distributed to restaurants for free in order to encourage them to use it. Campaigns have managed to change people’s behavior and encourages them to take their leftovers home.

Stad Gent

Our food council brings together 25 stakeholders from the food system, bringing together different agricultural and food industry sectors, as well as innovative, small-scale actors and civil society organisations. Our internal working group connects colleagues from 25 different teams within the city.

Ghent en Garde has strong communication tools. Its online platform has already reached 20,439 individuals. The map on the platform lists over 1,000 local initiatives. The Facebook group has 1,828 members who actively interact through the group.

Networking on short food supply chains annually brings together over 50 farmers, retailers, caterers, researchers and policy makers. Since 2014 over 42 school gardens have received coaching and 13 workshops have been organized for parents, teachers and directors. This amounts up to 240 participants. In the same period 25 community gardens equally received coaching. 11 community garden cafes took place and united 250 participants. Thursday Veggie Day has had significant impact. 7% of the citizens are vegetarian. This outperforms the Belgian average of 2.3%. 28% of the people who once participated, have become vegetarian. We organized 110 workshops on Thursday Veggie Day in schools between 2012 and 2016. Additionally, 81 workshops have been organized for vulnerable groups of society, reaching 918 participants. Through our sustainable school meals we reach 4500 students and serve 775,883 meals annually. Our educational campaign on sustainable food targeted many schools, children and parents. 43 schools were decorated with a campaign on sustainable food. Educational materials were distributed to 5667 children and 2572 teachers. Foodsavers has had significant impact. After ten months of operation, 18,971 people in need received products or food baskets. Those were distributed through 58 local poverty organizations and social restaurants based in Ghent. 118 restaurants have distributed 23,400 boxes of Restorestjes so far.


Since the launch of Ghent en Garde in 2013, there has been a significant increase in local food initiatives. The number of weekly farmers markets has increased from 3 to 9. Vegetable basket schemes have similarly grown and new alternative business models have started up successfully, e.g. an online ordering platform for local products, a catering business with a rooftop vegetable garden, aquaponics and packaging-free food stores.

A pop-up kitchen provided space to 17 chefs in testing their concept. Some of them have started their own restaurant or catering business since. A new logistics platform has been launched and connects local farmers with professional buyers in the city through a multi-stakeholder cooperative model and sustainable logistics. In the course of the first half of the year it will work with over 20 producers and over 20 professional buyers in the city. The ultimate goal is to provide an alternative food distribution mechanism that offers an alternative to the long chain market and brings significant scale for short food supply chains. The platform should bring positive environmental impacts and reduce greenhouse gases by 79% compared to the conventional longer chains. Based on the estimated values this would equal savings of 483 ton CO2eq/year in the longer term.

As a result of Thursday Veggie Day Ghent has the most vegetarian restaurants per inhabitant among cities in Europe. The number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants and caterers keeps increasing and it has also become a standard option on the menu of more conventional restaurants. The impact of vegetarian diets is significant. If you participate in Thursday Veggie Day for one year, you reduce your carbon footprint as much as if you cycle 1250 kilometres instead of driving a car.

Food waste also has a high impact on the environment. The FAO calculated that 100 tons of food waste correspond to 254 tons of CO2 emissions. Our Foodsavers Ghent project had high impact in its first 10 months of operations. 300 tons of food have been redistributed, equaling savings of about 762 tons of CO2 emissions. It focuses on fresh, healthy food for people in poverty. 70% of all food redistributed is fresh fruit and vegetables. In total 18,971 people in need received meals or food baskets in the first 10 months. This is no less than 7 to 8% of Ghent’s population.

Challenges and lessons learned
Stad Gent

Key to our success has been the flexibility of our approach. Every initiative is evaluated on a regular basis and modified when relevant. For example, our coaching program for schools and community gardens has been renewed along the years but the specifics have been modified based on large-scale interviews of all beneficiaries. Similarly our governance model is open for discussion. Through master class sessions and webinars, we exchange a lot with other cities and have critical evaluations of our own model. Our food council has invested a lot of time in developing clearer roles and strengthening its mandate by requiring budget authority. We consider everything we do as work in progress. Everything is subject to improvement. That is why we keep listening to other cities and stakeholders.



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