Hello! My name is Jill, I’m from Germany and I study Global Project and Change Management in the Netherlands. Last year, I was looking for an opportunity to work within the food system and learn more about regenerative agriculture when I found Food4Sustainability online. I applied for an internship and started to work at Food4Sustainability CoLAB in February 2022. I arrived in the small village of Idanha-a-Nova where the CoLAB has its headquarters. I didn’t speak any Portuguese and wasn’t really sure what to expect. Fortunately, my colleagues from F4S organised a little welcome meeting and we had a beer together (Super Bock of course).
Although most team members work remotely and are located in different parts of the country, I got to know the ones that live in the area, and we went out for lunch together and shared car rides to the office. Through the weekly team meetings held through MS Teams, I got to know what everyone was working on and what projects are coming up. That way I was able to connect to the different team members and find out more about the projects I was interested in. After a few weeks of adjusting and getting to know the team, the structure of the organisation and the Portuguese culture, I started to get comfortable with my tasks and the life in the village.
Living in Idanha, in the interior part of Portugal, which is surrounded by agricultural land, the urgency and importance of the work that F4S is doing is clearly visible. The drought in connection with the hot spring weather this year showed the direct effects of climate change. In fact, 97% of the country is facing severe desertification hazards and is classified as ‘severe drought’ by the national weather service (Pole, 2022). According to the European Court of Auditors (2018), countries in southern Europe, including Portugal, are vulnerable to problems such as lower food production, soil infertility, decreases in natural resilience and reduced water quality due to climate change and human activity.
The shift towards more sustainability and resilience is necessary, especially in agriculture as the sector is dependent on and strongly influenced by the climate and weather. F4S works together with farmers and producers in several projects and is always trying to change the mentality from conventional agriculture toward more sustainable and regenerative practices as this is a way to combat the consequences of climate change and enhance resilience.
Next to some project management tasks, my job at F4S was to help with the organisation of a series of webinars about sustainable practices in agriculture and the food system. I was contacting potential speakers and planning exploratory meetings with them to discuss synergies and the possibilities of collaboration. This allowed me to get in touch with many inspiring personas and learn about international companies and organisations that work on the topic of regenerative agriculture. It was truly exciting, and I got so inspired that I decided to try WWOOFING this summer after I finish my Bachelor. WWOOFING is a platform where volunteers can connect to organic farmers and producers to work together and learn about sustainable methods in agriculture. After hearing a lot about regenerative agriculture through the connections to the speakers as well as in the presentations in the webinars and hearing it in the execution of the other projects at F4S, I want to experience the work on a farm myself. I would like to see the practices and get my hands dirty. I think this will help me to deepen my knowledge and inspire me for my future.
Furthermore, I had the chance to join the F4S team on the trip to Almería in Spain for the Transfarmers project. Transfarmers is an Erasmus+ project which aims to connect Portuguese and Spanish farmers and producers to share knowledge, build a network and discuss challenges to promote sustainable practices in production. We spent some hours in a bus together with several producers and investors from all over Portugal to meet almond producers in Spain and talk with the partnering association AlVelAl to learn more about their work and to see how the farmers use regenerative practices on their land. It was a great experience to see what different techniques are used in the farms and how they test and implement more and more regenerative practices. I also learned that farming is not easy, especially in the conditions that the farmers here in Portugal and Spain are faced with. In addition to that, there were some moments of discussion rounds where questions were answered, and challenges and opportunities were discussed. It was a valuable knowledge exchange that not only addressed the benefits of regenerative agriculture but also the problems and possible solutions to overcome them. It was inspiring and I’m sure everyone learned something.
Next to this, I was doing research for my bachelor's thesis on the topic of healthy and sustainable diets among university students in Portugal. Nutrition, health and well-being belongs also to one of the pillars F4S is working on. Therefore, they had a lot of connections to experts that I could interview. I conducted a total of ten interviews with nutritionists, food service companies, retailers, lecturers and researchers from different universities. Besides this, I developed a survey for students to learn more about their eating habits and their perspective on the topic. A total of 34 students from different universities all over Portugal answered the survey. After analysing the data that I gathered, I came to the conclusion that students, as well as universities, have a basic understanding of sustainability, environmental issues and health impacts of food but it is not translated into daily life yet. There are many challenges to overcome to improve the diets of students. The main ones that came up several times are economic factors and the meat-centric approach to food. At the same time, universities and their students are open and willing to change and implement interventions that can support the development of healthy and sustainable food environments.
Throughout my internship, I was lucky to experience Portuguese hospitality and I also have to thank everyone from the F4S team for their great support and help. One thing that I failed during this time is to learn Portuguese. Apart from a few words and phrases I am not able to speak and understand this language. This was also a bit of a barrier during my life in Idanha, sometimes I had to speak with my hands and a little bit of Spanish that I know from school or grab a younger person that was able to translate for me. Nevertheless, I found my way around and appreciated the encounters I had with the locals in the village even though we didn’t understand each other. Related to that, I had a funny experience when I had a problem with my bicycle. One of the screws underneath the saddle came loose and I had no screwdriver at home to fix it. So, I went to the fuel station and tried to explain the problem to the guy at the cash counter. Of course, no one there spoke a word of English, so I showed him the bike. Suddenly, I had five people around me trying to find a screwdriver that fits to tighten the screw. One of the guys was searching in the toolbox in the back of his car, the other one went into the shop nearby to ask there. In the end, they found one and fixed the screw, I said ‘’Muito obrigada’’ and everyone was happy and laughed.
I had a few of those little moments during the past four months and they made me appreciate the Portuguese hospitality and willingness to help. The same was represented in the F4S team. Everyone was supportive and tried to help where they can. Getting to know the Portuguese culture and lifestyle as well as all the insights I got from the work at F4S was truly inspiring. Keep up the good work! Thank you.