Associated with Botanic Garden Meise

Science café: ‘Is bio better?’

Botanic Garden Meise organized 6 science cafés on different topics that emerged from our co-creation activities. Particularly interesting was the science café ‘Is bio better?’,  on the advantages and disadvantages of organically grown food and of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) as an alternative agro-economic model. This ‘reversed science café’ first invited the participants, through the activity ‘chose the best cauliflower’, to determine the topics of discussion. Next, there was an open discussion where experts and other participants could express their ideas on a level playing field. The recording and analysing of the discussion  resulted in a treasure trove of information about opinions and questions people have concerning organically grown food. Finally, each of the experts gave a short presentation on her field of expertise. During the break, we had a blind taste test of organic versus conventionally grown food. 

The science café took place on the 19th of November, in the Orangery at the garden. Approximately 50 people from different backgrounds participated. Some participants were professionally connected to the topic; we had invited CSA farmers and a professor in agro-economics as experts. In addition there were professionals like a board member of an organisation that promotes ecological agriculture and gardening, a beekeeper, a professional in market research, an education officer from another botanic garden, a researcher in the field of food history.

Through the discussions we could were able to ascertain:

  • What criteria are of importance to participants when they choose between organically grown and  conventionally grown food.
  • What opinions the participants have on this criteria
  • What questions/need for information they have in this area

The 7 most important ideas that arose were, in order of importance:

  1. Impact of organic versus conventionally grown food on the environment.
  2. Nutritional content 
  3. Price difference between organic versus conventionally grown food 
  4. Importance of the contact between consumers and producers in agriculture 
  5. The socio-economic position of farmers.
  6. The role of scientific research
  7. Advantages of large scale versus small scale agriculture

On most of these topics, there were controversial opinions. Many questions arose and it became clear that science doesn’t always give a clear answer and if it gives a clear answer people don’t always trust it.

It also became clear that, even though many people are convinced that the taste of organic food is better, they couldn't select this food as the best during the blind taste test.