Learning in Lockdown and Planning for a Brighter Future: Slow Food Macedonia

In less than a week’s time, the entire Slow Food network across the Balkans was supposed to be gathering in Bitola, North Macedonia, to celebrate its rich heritage of food biodiversity and to tackle the many challenges the region faces with regards to further integration in Europe and its sustainable rural development.

This event would have been a great opportunity to showcase the growth and achievements of our network in North Macedonia, where Slow Food continues to grow and consolidate its position as a credible, reliable partner for institutions, civil society, activists and of course, small-scale farmers and food producers.

Covid impact

But, as with so many things we had marked in our calendars for 2020, this too has had to be postponed due to the ongoing Covid pandemic, and will not take place before next year. Despite our disappointment at this missed opportunity for the wider Balkan network to meet and exchange experiences in Bitola, we choose to look on the bright side, and focus on the ways that Slow Food Macedonia has used this lockdown period to reinforce its position, partake in community outreach and prepare for the future.

The founding meeting of the national association of Slow Food Macedonia in 2018. Photo: Oliver Manev / Different Photography

Learning from home through webinars

With most people stuck at home, Slow Food Macedonia has started a series of webinars to keep its activists company and continue an ongoing education program throughout the Covid-caused lockdown period: the first one focused on “Urban gardening and responsible food consumption”; the second on biodiversity and resilience. A further two webinars are scheduled for June, with one tackling the concept of school gardens and climate change education, and another on seeds and agroecology.

These webinars have been organized by members of Slow Food Macedonia with relevant expertise, and have been open to everyone their Facebook page. Alongside these educational activities, convivia have also started to promote the sale of local products online through dedicated Facebook page which has already gained 7000 followers.

Buskova Peppers, a Slow Food Presidium from North Macedonia.

A new database of Slow tools

Most importantly, Slow Food Macedonia has launched a database of small-scale farmers, a multi-functional new platform to support food producers across the country. Using this new tool farmers will be able to, for example: getinformation about hospitality services and marketing; access the tools and expertise needed to satisfy hygiene standards which ensure wider market access, and prepare applications for Protected Designation of Origin status.

The new database will also serve as a platform for the exchange of best practices and ensure interaction between farmers and national institutions, chefs, universities, and donors. It is part of a wider framework agreed by Slow Food Macedonia and the Ministry of Agriculture, to whom Slow Food Macedonia serves as an advisor.

A Slow Food edible school garden in North Macedonia

New alliances

The prestige of our network in the country was further consolidated last month when Slow Food Macedonia joined the National Civil Society Coalition for Climate Changean alliance uniting some of the strongest civil society organizations across the country to advocate and campaign for behavioral and policy change.

This new commitment will serve as a catalyst for further capacity-building, a concept at the heart of the association’s national strategy. For this reason, Slow Food Macedonia is currently developing a series of new tools to support strategic thinking and sound planning among its leaders.

As the first country in the region to establish a national protocol for edible gardens in schools, the Slow Foodnetwork in North Macedonia is now ready to scale up its first pilot gardens developed in the capital city, Skopje, and ten more gardens are planned in other cities throughout the country.

All this goes to show: while the Covid pandemic has wrought havoc across the world, and perhaps even changed it forever, the unity and the determination of the Slow Food network are in the ascendant. The stark reality of the pandemic has put a spotlight on a whole host of problems which we were already living with, especially in the food system. We won’t go back to normal, because normal was the problem: but we’re finding the solutions to those problems together, today.

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