GRASS CEILING Living Lab Sweden second and third meetings with women rural innovators

The Swedish Living Lab held its second meeting September 4th at our participant Sandra Levinsson’s farm café – Flättinge Gårdscafé – which she pursues on her family farm with her two sisters. The Lab’s co-leads Siv Lindén, Hela Sverige ska leva, and Dr Katarina Pettersson, SLU, led the participants to discuss how the women pursue their various rural and farm businesses. The participants prepared short presentations of their businesses, motivations, support – and then shared their experiences of their business development, including reflections on conditions and difficulties for development. For lunch we were served a lovely vegan burger produced of lupin beans grown at the farm.

The co-leads also led a focus group discussion with the women on innovation. We discussed if they do view themselves as innovators and what comes to mind when thinking about the concept ‘innovator’. For some of the women the general opinion is that an innovator is someone who invents something brand new, and that the women in the focus group rather are ‘entrepreneurs’. The concept of ‘innovation’ is associated with technology. For others being an innovator is the same as being an entrepreneur: which is about having an open mind to absorb new ideas on how to improve how they work and to have goals for what they do, and to become more effective – that this is what it means to be an entrepreneur. The women discussed that they have established rural companies that focus on other things that traditional farming, which could be seen as innovations only that they are unable to see it that way. The understanding in the group was that women and couples, to larger extent than men alone, establish new kinds of companies in rural areas, in particular in tourism and hospitality, and in the horse industry.

The third Living lab meeting was performed November 14th at Emma Hartelius’ farm – Grimstorps Gård – where she is producing ecologically certified beef from natural pasture fed cattle. The focus at this meeting was for the participants to get more knowledge on support opportunities in relation to the Regional Food Strategy as well as the Regional Tourism and Hospitality Strategy. We had stakeholders Bella Rådberg from the County Administrative Board in Jönköping; Christina Odén and Katrin Löwe from the Region Jönköping County (A Region is a self-governing local authority in Sweden. There are 21 regional councils each corresponding to a county in Sweden) with us and they presented theory work and available support for entrepreneurship and innovation. The participants engaged in feed-back and discussions on how their businesses can be better supported. At the workshop a couple of the participants also presented their businesses, as they had not had the opportunity to do so previously. Elin Skörde also presented her experiences from representing the Swedish team in Brussels for the show case event in September.

The fourth Living lab workshop is planned to take place February 6th, 2024, with a focus on business advice and support, and where a couple of stakeholders will be invited.

GRASS CEILING Living Lab Sweden first meeting of women rural innovators

The first meeting of the Swedish Living Lab took place on May 3rd, at the Administrative Board of Jonkoping. The meeting was hosted by the Nina Elmsjö, Head of the Division of Rural development, at the County Administrative Board. The Lab’s co-leads Siv Lindén, Hela Sverige ska leva, and Dr Katarina Pettersson, SLU, welcomed seven, of eight, participants to the event. The women pursue various rural and farm businesses, at various stages of innovation. The women have different backgrounds and their entrepreneurial endeavors include a forest garden; a boarding house for retired milk cows; a farm café and vegetarian protein production; farm shops; natural pasture meet production; locally produced pork; and organic milk production; horse activities – and an on-farm dairy producing cheese.

Nina Elmsjö, extended a warm invitation to the women, and stressed their importance for the viable development of the county of Jönköping, and she described the County Administrative Board’s work, including available support for farmers and rural entrepreneurs. During the event a series of discussions and exercises were performed – with the overarching aim of creating a shared understanding of the GRASS CEILING project, the living lab participatory methodology and getting to know each other. The participants and co-leads also initiated discussions on gender equality, innovation, sustainability and rural development, which enabled them to exchange experiences and reflections. The participants’ all shared a strong commitment for contributing to sustainable rural development – and the importance of women’s entrepreneurship for such a development.

During an exercise called ‘The headlines’ the women were encouraged to make visions for the future – imagining what they and the Lab will have achieved during the course of the GRASS CEILING project, and beyond. Thoughts on the Lab’s achievements comprised it having contributed to the creation conditions for thriving rural areas – including well-functioning social and child care service –  more rural women pursuing rural businesses and a larger degree of self-sufficiency in food production.  The next meeting is scheduled for September, to be held at the farm café, owned by one of the participants. The focus will be on sharing more in-depth experiences of the respective woman’s business development, including reflections on conditions and difficulties for development.