Dr. Mikelis Grivins is a senior researcher at the Baltic Studies Centre, a research institute focused on studying sustainable rural and regional development, agro-food systems, farming and innovations. We dive in Dr Grivins work on alternative food networks, foraging, and wild foods across Europe. We also discuss similarities and differences between the Nordic and Baltic food systems. There’s lots of food for thought in this episode as we explore history, philosophy, regulation, black markets, and new perspectives.

  • 2:30 Overview of The Baltic Food System and how it has evolved
  • 8:30 Why alternative food systems are important
  • 20:00 4 types of foragers across Europe
  • 30:50 Exploitation, transparency & regulation in the wild food market
  • 50:40 The Nordic-Baltic food system and why collaboration is important

This podcast was recorded live at the Future of Food Hackathon in Riga, Latvia and is supported by the Nordic Council of Minister’s Office in Latvia. For more conversation, join our community on Instagram and hear more episodes on www.nordicfoodtech.io.

1:35 How did you end up studying the Latvian food system?

2:30 How would you characterize the food system of Latvia?

The low density of people is different from Western Europe, but similar to the Nordic countries. The price of food is cities is lower than in the countryside. Many rural residents are self-sustaining having their own farms and foraging.

4:55 What’s the importance of the Baltic sea to the Nordic-Baltic food system?

6:00 How has the occupation of the Soviet Union impacted the food system?

Food shortages during the Soviet Union forced people to develop their own strategies for finding and cultivating food. Whereas in much of Europe food traditions have been vanishing, many of our traditions have remained in tact because of systematic system failures.

8:30 What is an alternative food system?

10:00 Why is the alternative food system in Latvia and other Baltic states valuable to the European Union?

The EU is looking for new sustainable solutions. Our food system has that, but we don’t see it as a strength and therefore are conforming to business-as-usual practices instead of seeing what we have as a solution.

12:00 You have a research paper under review looking at how Latvia is contributing to new ideas in the food system as well as how are they localizing ideas coming from the EU and other Western nations, what did you find?

While we are part of the conversation, we’re not contributing new ideas. Many of these concepts exist in our society, but we look at them from an angle of culture rather than sustainability or ecology.

16:20 How is foraging related to Latvian identity?

Around 75% claim to have foraged at least once in the last year.

20:00 What are the 4 kinds of foragers you’ve identified across Europe?

Cultural foragers love being in the nature. The yield isn’t very important to them compared to the relation to nature. We see this in Latvia and Estonia

Lifestyle foragers are discovering foraging in nations like the U.K. and the Netherlands. They are traveling long distances to forage, but have a particular perspective of what wilderness is and afraid of wild nature choosing parks over unmanaged forests.

Subsistent foragers are looking to get a yield for the winter months. They have a limited territory and this tends to be a community practice.

Commercial foragers can do the most damage and are very diverse in what they look like and how they work. This is where the most tensions are emerging.

23:40 How are people exploiting the wild food market?

This is a problem in many countries. Transparency is almost impossible.

29:00 What is wild washing?

People are perceiving something as wild to be healthier. Marketeers have also caught on to this.

30:50 What’s the volatility of wild markets and what kind of policies do we need around them?

Typically, access to forests in northern Europe is less restricted. Since 50% of it is owned by the state, you can’t prohibit people to interact with nature. You also can’t track people’s whereabouts once they’re in the forest.

35:20  What do policymakers need to keep in mind as they approach the wild industry?

We have to be OK with the fact that we don’t be able to regulate everything. When countries do try to do that, they fail. And while we can’t engage through policy, we can engage through communities who take responsibilities for these natural resources.

38:00 Where have local communities had a strong influence in regulating the wild food industry?

It’s not just about nature, it’s about social support.

41:20 What role does transparency play?

Transparency might not even be the right word. Local enterprises aren’t adopting sustainability plans.

44:00 What will be the future of the food system in 10-15 years?

Within centralized food systems, we will also see adaption to local peculiarities. Everything related to digital will have a massive effect because we can control the food system in real time. Everything related to finance will also have a massive impact. If states come with new financing methods, then we will see new practices. Otherwise, private investors will step in. We will have huge mega brands, but more diversified than they are today.

46:50 What will the future of the food system be for Latvia in 10-15 years?

For me, we are in a hot spot between many different discussions. We will probably see even more diversity since we have influences coming in from Europe, Russia, and beyond. We also probably won’t have as many small farms and our connection to nature will be even more polarized.

48:30 What are we missing to make this vision a reality?

Access to funds. If we want to facilitate change at any level, we have to make sure that actors who are willing to make a change have access to money in order to do so. If you are in the food system right now, it is highly likely that you are locked into a pathway.

50:00 How do you want to collaborate with others?

The future of science is to provide answers for the world.

50:40 What about in terms of Nordic-Baltic collaborations?

They will happen naturally, but they have to be harvested.

51:30 What can the Baltics learn from the Nordics and the Nordics from the Baltics?

The future requires quick responses, trust, and some sort of ability to react. That means that we won’t have a blueprint for how to resolve all the issues. We have to rely on people to solve issues in the moment, which means we have to lose control and empower local actors more.