Saving the world – Cultivating the city: Invitation to the 14th Weihenstephan forum (21 & 22 October 2021)

How food production in the city contributes to a sustainable future

21 & 22 October, 2021 [Hybrid Event]

The industrialization of our global food system and growing urbanization not only exacerbate the effects of climate change and accelerate the loss of biodiversity, but also significantly cause the spatial and mental decoupling of food production and consumption.

Against the backdrop of the associated socio-ecological challenges, a “renaissance” of various forms of urban agriculture can be observed worldwide over the last decade, accompanied by the emergence of new multifunctional productive ecosystems in urban spaces. Especially in the Global North, the manifold forms and different dimensions of urban agriculture increasingly show potentials how negative effects along the food value chain can be reduced and how ecological, economic and social added values can be created.

The 14th Weihenstephan Symposium will therefore revolve around a provocative question:

“Urban agriculture – A trend phenomenon or transformative element for the development of resilient cities and food systems?”

To explore this controversial question, the professorship for Urban Productive Ecosystems at Technical University of Munich invites practitioners from science, business, politics and civil society to debate their expertise and experience in the form of keynote speeches and subsequent discussion. Different forms and aspects of urban production – their limits and potentials – will be critically examined and their practical potential discussed from ecological, social and economic points of view.

We invite you to participate in the forum and discuss with us – participation is open to the interested public.

Registration & Participation

Due to the current Covid-19 related regulations, the event will take place hybrid, i.e., with a limited number of participants at TUM Campus Weihenstephan in Freising (Konferenzsaal iGZW, 3G rules apply) and the possibility to participate in the full program via Zoom. Please note that registration for on-site participation is required by October 18 to allow for planning the logistics and catering according to Covid rules. All admitted registrants will receive final information and the access link for Zoom closer to the event. The event will be held partly in German (GER) and partly in English (ENG) with no simultaneous translation. It is open to all and is free of charge.

Registration for participation in presence or in digital form for both event days:

If you have any questions, please contact

Request for a MSc student on leadership of place

Picture leadershipThe Rural Sociology Group is looking for a MSc student who is willing to do his/her master thesis research on leadership in 2 Dutch regions in the context of an international comparative research in the spring of 2016.
The central question is how leadership plays a role in rural and metropolitan regional development. Continue reading

Stage project / afstudeer mogelijkheid in de stad Groningen

De Werkgroep Pad de 2 Wijken in Groningen willen in het zuidelijke deel van de stad Groningen een communicatie aanpak voor de twee stadswijken Helpman en De Wijert. Doel is de bewoners meer te betrekken bij de aanleg en beheer van groen in de wijk. Dit project vindt plaats in het kader van een programma gericht op samenwerking tussen ‘groene scholen’ en heeft als nevendoel een aanpak te ontwikkelen voor het in kaart brengen van de betekenis die mensen geven aan groen in hun wijk.Helpman Wijert

Helpman en De Wijert zijn stadswijken in het zuidelijke deel van de stad Groningen met veel groen in de vorm van parkjes, groenstroken en plantsoenen. in Wijert zuid, Wijert noord en Helpman en Villabuurt wonen geheel verschillende bevolkingsgroepen. 10% van de bewoners heeft een niet-Westerse achtergrond. Op sommige plekken wordt het groen opgeslokt door bebouwing of verwaarloosd. Er zijn in de buurt ook bijzondere stukjes groen, zoals ‘vierkantemetertuintjes’, de gezamenlijke moestuin en de kruidentuin, groen dat door en met de buurt is bedacht en ontwikkeld en nu ook gezamenlijk wordt onderhouden.

Continue reading

Politics of place making in urban farming – an essay

By Anke de Vrieze

Last trimester, I had the opportunity to join the Capita Selecta course `A Global Sense of Place´, taught by Joost Jongerden and Dirk Roep. From my current working experience in the field of urban agriculture, the subject of the course – place-based approaches for sustainable development- interested me and proved valuable. In the course, different approaches to ‘place’ were discussed and related to culture, politics, economics and leadership. As we were a small group of students, we met in a weekly reading group, to discuss the literature and our written assignments.

Personally, I was most inspired by the work of Doreen Massey. Her perspective on place and space is a relational one, as she describes places as ‘temporary constellations’ or ‘bundles of space-time trajectories’. In one of her articles, she connects this relational perspective to ‘geographies of responsibility’ and shows how the ‘global’ is embedded locally as well. Taking the example of the City of London, i.e. it’s financial district, she argues against generalised understandings of the local as a product of the global, and demonstrates that indeed much of what we call ‘the global’ stems from local areas, such as the City of London. This leads her to plea for alternative globalisations, based on ‘a challenge of place’. I think, Massey’s perspective can prove meaningful for anyone studying ‘place’, whether it be in urban or rural settings.

For the final essay, ‘Growing community? Urban agriculture in the context of place-based urban development’ of the course, I discussed the ‘politics of place-making’ in a case of urban farming. By drawing on the example of an neighbourhood-based urban agriculture project, I showed how the different perspectives on place, as employed by various actors involved, creates a dynamic fields of interests regarding the ability of UA to address urban issues, and to achieve sustainable community development. Based on this short analysis, I argued for the need of a relational perspective on place, taking into account place-frames and positionality of actors, in (future) cases of neighbourhood-based urban farming.

Anke de Vrieze, anthropologist and project coordinator of FARMING THE CITY (, contact:

Metabolic rift

Organic recycling was part of the urban ecology during the middle ages. “However, as cities grew larger, their self-regulatory ecosystems began to break down” Carolyn Steel writes in her instructive chapter ‘Waste’ in Hungry City (2008:251). “If the ‘filth and muck’ of fourteenth-century Coventry caused a nuisance, that of London, a city 10 times the size, can be readily imagined.” (ibid). The other side of the coin was the state of agriculture, which was facing a rapidly decreasing soil fertility (see earlier blog 18-8). It was what Marx called ‘metabolic rift’ a rift in the metabolism of the human relation to nature through labor which “disturbs the metabolic interaction between man and the earth, i.e. it prevents the return to the soil of its constituent elements consumed by man in the form of food and clothing” he wrote (cited in Foster 1999:379).

Marx was not alone in his opinion and he himself was greatly influenced by Justus von Liebig. Proposals to compost human waste as part of the design of the urban waste disposal system were propagated and sometimes tried in the UK, France and Germany (see Steel chapter Waste) and in the Netherlands (in Groningen see earlier blog 16-8). The sewage system with no in-built recycling won, most of the world sewage is dumped in the ocean untreated. The metabolic rift in terms of Marx widened and its effect is only delayed by chemical fertilizers and global transport. Yet, “nutrients found in sewage are a finite commodity” (Steel 2008: 259). In a few decades when the mines with phosphates are empty and the oil has leaked away in the sea, human sewage will most probably become a valuable resource again.

City and waste

We are very familiar with recycling paper, glass and recently, plastic. It feels good that this waste is turned into a resource again. Many of us are also recycling food scrapes through municipal services, backyard compost heaps or small-scalle vermiculture.  However,when we are flushing the toilet, we do not often see our own waste as a valuable resource.

Our sewage system seems the only and logical answer nowadays but it was highly debated in the 19th century for its disadvantages before it was adopted (like pasteurisation was rejected by medical doctors  because it would also kill all the ‘good’ in milk, see Dupuis 2005). Alternatives were cesspools or the barrel system. Cesspools and sewage pipes were believed to leak and thus to contaminate the groundwater. Contaminated groundwater due to the absence of city-wide waste disposal systems was, by then, seen as the primary cause for outbreaks of cholera and typhus in the mid 19th century.

barrel cart Groningen

The Netherlands had a vocal protagonist of the barrel system in the medical doctor Ali Cohen from Groningen (Houwaart 1997). He became nationally known for his zeal for urban waste disposal. The barrel system simply meant that human waste was collected in barrels which were emptied in a cart behind horses. The waste was then turned into compost at a city composting place after which the compost was sold to the farmers outside the city. Cohen strongly believed in the composting of human faeces as a fine example of restored balance between man and nature, city and countryside.

Various Dutch cities tried the barrel system. However, it turned out not to be profitable, except in the city of Groningen. The special conditions in north of the Netherlands, including the existence of good waterways and large farm holdings in the immediate area were lacking in other parts of the country ( Houwaart 1997). While other cities started investing in sewage systems, the barrel system continued in Groningen until the beginning of the 20th century. Not a very clean practice, emptying barrels in the middle of the street. But the city government always refused to improve the system despite new ideas such as not emptying it on the spot but changing the barrel for a cleaned and disinfected one.  The result was that at the end of the 19th century the city was, totally unlike Cohen’s ideals, stuck with a very outdated waste disposal system compared the other Dutch cities.

Food and urban planning

MorgenTomorrowLast week the municipality of Amsterdam, together with the Netherlands Institute for Planning & Housing and the Ministry of  Housing, Spatial Planning & the Environment, organized and hosted the International Urban Planning Conference entitled MorgenTomorrow. The two-day conference was a combination of plenary sessions in the morning and parallel workshops in the afternoon. I had the honour and pleasure of convening a workshop entitled ‘Food and the City’. Although the food system is, as Pothukuchi and Kaufman (2000) rightfully state in their article in the Journal of the American Planning Association, a stranger to the field of urban planning it was good to see that the conference organizers had put food very prominently on the conference agenda. Not only by means of the workshop I convened but also by means of keynote lectures in the plenary sessions by LaDonna Redmond and Tim Lang. Both are extremely critical about the prevailing food system.

LaDonna is a community activist as well as founder and CEO the Institute for Community Resource Development (ICRD) in Chicago (Illinois). The ICRD’s mission is to rebuild the local food system by building grocery stores that bring access to sustainable products to urban communities of color, organizing farmers markets, converting vacant lots to urban farm sites and distributing local grown produce to restaurants. I was unable to attend LaDonna Redmond’s keynote, but she participated in my workshop and reflected on the different presentations.

Tim is Professor of Food Policy at the Centre for Food Policy of City University London. He has authored and co-authored many articles and books about food policy, especially focussing on the relation between food, health, social justice and the environment. His current work is about ‘omni-standards for sustainable diets’. I attended his keynote lecture and what I very much appreciated about his vision is that, despite the food system being a major contributor to climate change, devising sustainable food systems is not simply a matter of creating ‘climate neutral’ food systems. It will only be truely sustainable if it is able to meet a whole range of sustainability standards (a set of omni-standards as he calls them) in which social and health aspects are as important as economic and environmental ones. What struck me most in his presentation, and which will undoubtedly become the new issue in food debates, is the water footprint of the conventional food system.

Around 65% of all fresh water is used for food production and with growing water scarcity and an increase in water-stressed countries, water use is likely to become the main threat for food production. The table below, of which Tim displayed a part in his presentation, is rather shocking. It shows how much water is needed to produce one portion of a whole range of mainly food products and drinks. It surely makes one (at least is does make me) aware of the urgent need for change.

Portion Litres Portion Litres Portion Litres
Pint of beer, 568ml 170 Cup of coffee, 125ml 140 Glass of orange juice, 200ml 170
Glass of milk, 200ml 200 Cup of instant coffee, 125ml 80 Glass of apple juice, 200ml 190
Cup of tea, 250ml 35 Glass of wine, 125ml 120 Orange, 100g 50
Slice of bread, 30g 135 Bread with cheese, 30g + 10g 90 Bag of potato crisps, 200g 185
Egg, 40g 135 Tomato, 70g 13 Hamburger, 150g 2400
Potato, 100g 25 Apple, 100g 70 Bovine leather shoes 8000
Sheet of A4, 80 g/m² 10 Cotton tee-shirt, medium 500g 4100 Microchip, 2g 32