From 11 until 14 February 2019, our group of project partners and enthusiastic stakeholders came together in Sibiu for the first EUREGA exchange visit. Each region shared their knowledge, expertise and challenges through a week of activities and discussion. In Sibiu, the connection between urban and rural was the main theme throughout all visits and projects.
The Sibiu County is located in the heart of Romania, near the Carpathian Mountains. In 2019, the region holds the title of European Region of Gastronomy, taking over the title from project partners North-Brabant (Netherlands) and Galway (Ireland). For the county, creating new opportunities for local food production is a priority. It is important to create more attention to local products amongst a wider audience. Also, is the focus on connecting rural and urban areas, as is to distribute healthy food in urban areas.
The first exchange meeting
During this first meeting, the group discussed the upcoming string of exchange visits and the results of the self-analysis carried out in the first stage of the EUREGA project. During each exchange, participating stakeholders travel along and present their innovations: for instance, there were stories by Apple Orchid Experience from Hajdu-Bihar County and DM Natural Farming Rhodes from the South Aegean Region.
Sibiu as a host region inspired the group with best practices in gastronomy, focused specifically on the link between urban and rural. These best practices comprehend amongst others:
- Artisan beer producers: for the programme that Sibiu organises in 2019 as European Region of Gastronomy, they work together with Lidl to promote local products, including beer.
- APILIFE: promotes awareness about the use of bee products for health and nutrition purposes and in food production. Also, initiatives to protect bees are necessary.
- Association Hosman Durabil: works on innovation in rural development to support local communities in the Hârtibaciului Valley, one of the poorest areas in the Sibiu County. One example of their activities is a brunch where locals cook traditional recipes and organize hiking tours for tourists who look for authentic rural experiences. The local brand labelled ‘Din Hârtibaciu cu Drag’ (From Hârtibaciu with Love) was also presented.
- Karpaten Meat Farm: in Marpod village, this large-scale producer puts principles of sustainability into practice. They educate a wide public on quality beef consumption from animals raised on grasslands, the nutrition of this meat and efforts made in battling food waste.
- Bâlea Lake: one of the key rural areas in the region, Balea Lake is a 4,6 ha glacial lake at an altitude of 2000+ meters above sea level. The first Ice Hotel in Eastern Europe was built near this lake and it is a well visited tourist area.
The project partners looked back on a fruitful and good first exchange visit where ideas for the next phases and visits were made. In the evaluation, participants (both project partners and stakeholders) were most surprised about the high level hospitality and partnerships in the region. When asked what product the participants would import to their region, the cheese doughnuts, zacusca (veggie spread), craft beers, wine and the Angus beef seem to have good chances.
The visit had a good media coverage thanks to the visibility attracted by the launch of Sibiu European Region of Gastronomy 2019 during the same week: the participants were interviewed by national TV stations present at Bâlea Lake. Improvement on the exchange visits can be made in the organisational part of clear discussion moments, separating good practice from project discussions and more theme focus.