La Fourna to bring different cultures together in the process of baking bread

Belgian social bakery to ‘reunite people around the oven’ in Brussels

Good bread is hard to come by in Bockstael – at least according to one non-profit. With their social bakery, they hope to improve the offer and bring different cultures together in the process, as Martin Kuebler reports.

Beumer & Lutum Bäckerei Vollkornbrote

Place Emile Bockstael, in the north of Brussels, is busy. It’s a central square in this part of the city, with cars, trams and buses all jostling for space with pedestrians. There are plenty of shops and cafes, places for people to meet up for a drink, a chain bakery on the corner. But according to local resident Hilde Brepoels, it’s still missing something.

“In Bockstael, there isn’t really a nice place to drink a coffee, or read or book in friendly, welcoming environment,” she says. “And there are no good bakeries, either. We’re missing good bread, and I’m certain there are people from the many different cultures ready to share their recipes.”

And so she, along with other members of the Brussels-based non-profit Vol-au-vent, have decided to launch a project called La Fourna, a social bakery focused on sustainable, organic food that will offer bread baking workshops, allow people to bake their own bread and, as Brepoels says, “reunite people around the oven.”

“Brussels is the ideal city for such a project. All sorts of cultures are represented here. And it’s a great way for those cultures to meet, share recipes and learn about each other,” she says. “Bread is the basic element in every culinary culture.”

Brüssel Place Emile BockstaelThe Bockstael neighborhood has attracted immigrants from many parts of the world

Good bread is ‘definitely lacking’

La Fourna has its supporters in the district government, though for the moment not financially, as city worker Sébastien Sainsard explains.

“It’s a project that I find very interesting, and we’re trying to support it,” says Sainsard, who heads the sustainable district funding program for the district.

He says the area is currently developing a community cultural center to meet the residents’ demands, but a good quality bakery, with a wide selection – “that’s definitely lacking. And because it’s a district that’s quite dynamic, with a do-it-yourself mentality, I think it has a place in the community.”

He says the district is quite diverse, with people from many different nationalities and socioeconomic situations, and lifelong residents living next to recent immigrants and newcomers who work for the European Commission across town.

‘Urban brainstorming’

La Fourna took part in the recent Creativity Calls for Brussels, a sort of “urban brainstorming” initiative that called on Brussels’ residents to submit their project ideas around the theme “Urban Food 2025.” The social bakery attracted significant support: 774 backers on MyMicroInvest, a site that funds startups.

If the project is selected – and based on the interest surrounding the bakery, La Fourna has a good chance – it will receive planning guidance from the Brussels Enterprises and Commerce and Industry association and GreenTech Brussels. The project will also be exhibited at the Belgian pavilion at Expo Milano in September.

Belgien Skizze für die La Fourna Bäckerei in Bockstael

Brepoels says they aim to open the bakery by 2017, at the earliest. Featuring a central oven by Slovak architect Eva Zavodna, it would allow people to see firsthand how the bread is made. Financial support will come in part via crowdfunding, and down the line it may be eligible for backing from the region and city through the sustainable district funding program.

“We’re unable to help financially at the moment,” says Sainsard, explaining that the funding for the current sustainable district funding program has already been set for the next few years. “But we are looking at different ways to support the project – by providing a location, for example.” But he stresses that nothing has yet been decided.

Next year, Brepoels says the plan is to set up a food truck and bring a traveling oven to various neighborhoods throughout Brussels, connecting with similar projects and collecting different bread recipes from people representing the many cultures found in the city.

According to Brepoels, the project would be the first permanent bakery of its kind in Brussels, and she hopes to eventually open further locations.

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