City Pigs: making farmers out of city dwellers

The Spilvarken project has its origins in the 2014 Niets is Verloren (Nothing is Lost) festival. In the run-up to the festival, the citizens of Ghent were invited to brainstorm around a more sustainable future for the city.

With a group of smart citizens, artists and foodies we wanted to do someting with forgotten spaces and the waste flows in our city. In our first encounter the pig project was born. We decided to prototype it very fast. A few weeks later we installed three little pigs in the front yard of the School of Arts, in the centre of Ghent.

The project got a lot of media attention and our pink little friends were noticed by everyone. Neighbours, citizens and tourists were very excited to see animals back in the city and offered to help. A group of 40 local residents volunteered to take care of our pigs, daily, for feeding and spoiling them. Local waste flows en leftovers from supermarkets, restaurants, bakeries, cheesemakers and the brewery were picked up by bike and transported to the site.

Experts and peers came to help us out and shared their knowledge how to overcome some regulations and how to optimize the differents phases of our project. Also the food agency became a horizontal partner in this project to let us experiment in how we could deliver a good practice towards the public and still garantee food safety plus animal welfare.

In 6 months time we managed to turn 5 ton of food waste into 250 kilograms sustainable meat. What was left, was a fertile soil on the unused space to grow vegetables or grow flowers in for the neigbourhood. But moreover the group of neighbours grew closer to eachother and became one strong and vibrant community ready to undertake some more positive changes in own households and in the world.

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In 2015 and 2016 I decided to initiate and coordinate our project in 3 different locations, in a social organisation vzw Kompas where their patients become caretakers of the pigs, on a temporary use project and in a park. I invited universities and schools to research all multiple benefits around the project and the revalorization of space, people and food waste.

“Varken” means “pig”, and the prefix “spil” translates as “spindle”. It refers to the role the pigs play in the transition of a neighbourhood or community towards a more sustainable way of living.

Spilvarken is about concrete results, but it is an experiment as well. We examine the influence of taking care of pigs on social cohesion, food literacy and on meat consumption. The results and studies are made available to the public, and we have a transparant model and online manuals that serve for others.

Our financial structure is very simple and sustainable. We sell one of the three pigs in beforehand to a restaurant and with the startup money we raise the three pigs until we can sell the meat of the other two to the volunteers of Spilvarken.