Talents Portraits: Sarah Nolan
Utrecht University, Amped and Local2Local have been collaborating in the local food domain since the spring of 2014, through initiatives, pilots and projects, together with Green Office Utrecht, Stichting Groentetas, student communities, faculties and partner organizations.
Amped and Local2Local facilitated many internships, research projects and provided students the opportunity to work, gain experience and exchange knowledge in the local food chain in the Utrecht region. This was premised on the idea that the transition to a sustainable and regionally connected food system can’t be achieved without socio-cultural change and an active leading role by the next generation. In 2020 these activities converged into the formation of Local2Local Talents, to support and grow their roles in the food transition.
In the weekly Talents Portraits series we introduce young people who have been part of this journey and would like to share their experiences, learnings and views on the future of food.
This week we feature Sarah Nolan from Ireland, who’s currently working hard to finish her Master’s degree in Sustainable Development at Utrecht University. Sarah has had great ambitions in sustainability studies since completing her Erasmus year in 2019. In that time and through Stichting Groentetas and Grounded she heard of Local2Local and subsequently wrote a paper about Local2Local on the topic of governance before getting really involved in the Groentetas-, Grounded- and Local2Local-community. Sarah describes this journey and what followed as a butterfly effect.
Watch the video interview (8 min) and/or read the interview below.
Please introduce yourself
“My name is Sarah Nolan and I am an Irish Master’s student in Sustainable Development at Utrecht University, specializing in Earth System Governance. I completed my Erasmus year in Utrecht from 2018-19, and loved the city and university so much that I wanted to come back to study, in which I was delighted to find a course which exactly fit my interests. Both within my studies and personal life, I have been increasingly interested in the importance of local food systems as solutions to many of the sustainability challenges we face. I believe that these challenges are driven by systems of over-production, over-consumption, materialism and capitalistic greed which has made society disconnected from the natural world. My real passion for sustainability lies in creating tangible, local and impactful solutions to not only address the wider climate change crises, but to make people feel more connected to and mindful of the things they buy, the things they eat and the systems they support in doing so. I firmly believe that short food supply chains can address fundamental challenges faced by environmental, social and economic pillars of sustainability. My goal is to make such systems accessible, affordable and attractive for all.”
How did you get in contact with Amped/Local2Local & what made you decide to join?
“I heard about Local2Local during my Erasmus year in Utrecht as I used to buy Groentetas each week. Years later when completing the Analysing Governance Practices masters programme of my studies, I chose Local2local as a case study for an assignment as I found the concept very interesting and wanted to know more. While writing this paper, I coincidentally attended an event at Grounded for the first time, and got speaking to Maarten who told me that he worked for Local2local so I asked him for an interview. This one interaction led to me returning to Grounded the following week to interview Maarten, and since then I have actively been involved with Grounded and am on the Awareness Circle team within the organization. Once I interviewed Maarten I completed the paper on Local2Local, but was also helping to prepare for Grounded Festival 2021 at this time. In the build-up week of the festival at Fort t’ Hemeltje, I saw Mark Frederiks and recognized him from the research I conducted for my paper. I decided to introduce myself to him and share my appreciation for the work he was doing, highlighting how impressed and interested I was in the work being done by Local2local. During that hour-long conversation, Mark told me he had connections in Dublin if I was interested in doing research in my home country. This led to us deciding that I would write my thesis under supervision of Local2local on short food supply chains in Dublin. And the rest is history! From my initial conversation with Maarten to my spontaneous conversation with Mark, I was so delighted to get involved with Local2local because I felt welcomed and appreciated from the very beginning. I am so grateful for the opportunities given to me by the Local2local team, in which they have continuously supported me and helped me network and make connections to work on the topic I care so much about.”
What have you worked on, how did you experience this, what did you learn?
“I have been the chairperson of Groentetas for the past year, which is a non-profit student led initiative in Utrecht University which sells locally grown and seasonal veggie bags on campus. Groentetas is supplied and supported by Local2local, and we worked closely together throughout the year through running our weekly stand plus attending different events and reaching out to different actors or groups to enhance the regenerative food system on campus. It was an amazing opportunity for me to gain first hand experience on the reality of short food supply chains and the many logistical and organizational challenges that come with alternative food networks. I did not expect the year to be as challenging as it was, and this was due to the fact that we had to completely restructure our organization after it was stopped for a year during the pandemic. However I am really proud of our outcome as we created an organization which is stronger, more resilient and more organized than what we started with. I hope that our hard work and the continued support from Local2local will allow Groentetas to keep expanding and carry on its legacy into the future.”
What are you doing at the moment?
“I am currently writing my thesis in collaboration with Local2local and University College Dublin to assess the role of local and regional governments in fostering collaboration between short food supply chain stakeholders in Dublin, Ireland. I am using many of the lessons learned and strategies created by the team at Amped/Local2local in an Irish context to understand how short food supply chains could be enhanced and mainstreamed in my home country. I chose this topic as during my time in Utrecht and working with Local2local, I have witnessed first hand how actors can collaborate and build local food systems together with the right supports and incentives in place. I have seen the environmental, social and economic benefits of bringing farmers and citizens together, and I hope I can help to enhance this in Ireland.”
Where are you heading? What are you aiming for?
“I will be finishing my thesis in the coming months, and will then begin work as a research assistant for the team in University College Dublin for the upcoming EU4Advice-project. Alongside Amped in Utrecht, UCD in Dublin will be a Living Lab for this project which aims to enable methodologies and tools to connect short food supply chain advisors in a common network across the 27 EU member states. Through a multi-actor approach involving advisors, policy makers, researchers, farmers and consumers, EU4Advice will create the foundations for the establishment of a network of SFSC-advisors across Europe that will be appropriately structured and connected to a diversity of stakeholders within the national Agricultural Knowledge and Information System. My role will be supporting the project manager in conducting research in Ireland, mainly by conducting stakeholder analyses and connecting with SFSC actors to understand their perspective and how their alternative food network could be enhanced. This research project is inherently linked with my thesis topic, so I am excited to use my thesis findings to contribute to this research and hopefully influence Irish policy.”
What is your (ultimate) dream?
“My ultimate dream is to be a part of creating a resilient, independent and regenerative food system in my home country of Ireland. I hope to do this through continuing in research projects such as EU4Advice and use my knowledge and experience to address many of the inherent flaws in the system as it is. I also hope to do this by teaching people about the importance of reconnecting with nature and our native lands, as I feel that this is something completely lost in modern society. I hope to teach people about the importance of not consuming unnecessarily and unconsciously, and to make people think about the systems they support in the things that they buy and eat. I dream of a society which is self-sufficient and collective, and I think this can be achieved by continuing to research and show evidence of how this is possible and beneficial for all.”