An impression: Frances in Switzerland

The summer school course was based in Rheinau, a beautiful small and mysterious village in northern Switzerland, in a loop of the Rheine River and on the boarder of Germany. The course entitled Organic Production Systems was hosted by the World Food System Centre and ETH Zurich. The small village of Rheinau, and the organic farm that makes up most of surrounding area and fields in-between the village was the perfect setting for the course. Organic farm learning and field work was done in the long summer evenings after lectures that were held during the day both in Rheinau and at relevant food system stakeholders in the region. Lecture presentations were given by specialists in their fields, discussing all elements of the value chain, ranging from sustainable agricultural production systems, seed breeding, to marketing, distribution, retail and global food system outcomes and policy issues. It was very beneficial gaining an understanding of the food system from a European or developed world perspective, which sheds light on power inequalities and the ways and means in which developing counties, particularly in Southern Africa, respond.

The hosts also organised exciting extra activities, including a visit to the Swiss outdoor museum where a 7km round walk exhibits a living history of Switzerland and its culture. We had time to explore Zurich and its innovative new restaurants and local food systems, our local village and the surrounding farms, swim in the crystal clean Rheine River and cross the ancient wooden bridge on morning runs that take one into Germany without even noticing it. A novel experience in comparison to the national border controlled African countries. Efficient public transport makes getting around simple although expensive in comparison to South Africa – hiring bicycles is definitely the cheapest and most fashionable way to explore.

The highlight of the summer school course was meeting and sharing with the other participants. 17 different countries from around the world were represented by the 24 of us on the course. This meant a huge variety of culture and contextual understanding, although what brought us all together was our common spirit for our work and sharing understanding of the global food system and it, as well as our, future. The amazing diversity of people, our close communal living and the intense structure of the course meant that this was an extremely different experience in comparison to everyday Stellenbosch life. This has definitely been an experience of a life time for which I am extremely grateful and would really encourage others to pursue.