Pig in the city: Ghent project makes farmers out of city-dwellers


Urban pigs might seems a little unusual, but a project in Ghent is putting the idea to the test, giving communities pigs to raise in the hope of increasing awareness about what we eat and where it comes from

This little piggy

It’s quite a task for a simple pig: process food waste, promote social cohesion and initiate a local transition to a more sustainable lifestyle. But Nathalie Snauwaert, city farmer and artist, is convinced that these little piggies are up to it.

Snauwaert is one of the people behind Het Spilvarken, a project that gets Ghent locals raising their own pigs. “The pigs in the project will always be housed in a community, be it a co-housing project, a work space or a residency centre,” says Snauwaert. “So the participants become farmers, taking care of the daily needs of the pigs and collecting food waste to feed them.”

There are currently three Spilvarken locations, all in the Gentbrugge district. “Some of these new farmers were sceptical at first, especially with regards to the smell,” says Snauwaert. “But once it’s underway, everybody accepts them like new neighbours.”

The aim of Het Spilvarken is not only to reduce food waste and bring people in contact with the practise of raising farm animals, but also to produce ecologically sound meat. Sometimes, though, the bond between farmers and pigs becomes personal, saving the pigs from the butcher.

To eat or not to eat

“It’s a tricky question, to eat the city pigs or not,” Snauwaert admits. “But no matter the answer, it will make people think about their personal meat consumption and the environmental impact of it.”

The Spilvarken project has its origins in the 2014 Niets is Verloren (Nothing 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.

“One of the participants, a chef, floated the idea of utilising pigs to process food waste,” recalls Snauwaert. “The idea of Spilvarken was born.”

“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 to a more sustainable way of living.

“As citizens, there is no reason to wait for the authorities to change things we can do ourselves,” Snauwaert insists. “The Spilvarken project is about concrete results, but it is an experiment as well. We examine the influence of taking care of pigs on social cohesion and on meat consumption. The results will be made available to the public, so our project can serve as a model for others.”