Rural women innovators in Trøndelag contribute to EU-level research

For the duration of three years, eight rural women innovators in Trøndelag are part of the research project GRASS CEILING. The project is funded by Horizon, the world’s largest funding programme for research and innovation, and an EU resource to acquire new knowledge in Europe. 

Oi! Trøndersk Mat og Drikke and Ruralis are the two Norwegian project partners among the nine European Union countries that are participating in the project. Countries like Spain, Italy, Lithuania and Croatia all ask their rural women innovators the same questions: What is it like being an entrepreneur in agriculture and local food production in rural areas? Do women have the same access to resources as men do, and what are possible barriers for women starting their own businesses and upscaling their companies?

I’m very happy with the Living Lab and I think it’s working really well. We’re a good mix of great women, and I’m very pleased to be part of the project, says Torunn Bjerkem.

Bjerkem has been part of building the heirloom flour mill company Gullimunn, and is now in a substantial restructuring and innovation process with her farm Kulturgården Bjerkem, offering local food, accommodation and cultural events.

It’s great that someone like Mikael Forselius will be at the next Living Lab, talking to us about networking and his diverse experiences in the local food and hospitality industry, says Bjerkem.

Three Living Lab gatherings a year for three years

During the three annual Living Lab gatherings the project managers exchange knowledge and experiences from the rural women innovators, in a data collection process. This data is analysed as research that is delivered to the top level of the EU project. In this way the European Commission can make informed decisions about how they can support rural women innovators in the future.

So far, research has shown that rural women innovators contribute to more business in rural areas, they create sustainable innovations, and initiate and build healthy social communities.

“I really enjoy the social aspect when we meet for our Living Lab gatherings. We support each other, and give each other ideas and perspectives on each other’s businesses and products. It’s a good thing to be able to share the things that can feel heavy about owning a business”, says Kari Øye.

Øye has created the company Havfruene, producing Omega 3-rich cod liver oil made from locally sourced ingredients. They have a stand at the annual food festival in Trondheim: Trøndersk Matfestival, and Øye attended the Grass Ceiling-showcase in Brussels, where she presented her business to the rural women innovators and project partners of the other countries, and to representatives from the European Commission.

Workshops and ‘homework’

In the Living Labs the participants have organised workshops and lectures by various consulting and funding agencies, such as Innovation Norway, Fosenregionen, SISU Business and Proneo. “They gave us homework to ask our customers why they choose our product”, says Sissel Langørgen.

In the coming year and a half, two more women innovators from the project will travel to Vilnius and Brussels respectively, to present their businesses to the project. The participants are excited to learn about the final results of the GRASS CEILING project, which will be presented by the end of 2025.

Torunn Bjerkem
Kari Øye

“Yesterday shock, today sadness, tomorrow action and we move on!” Ines Dundović recounts the fire in her company

One of our friends, a participant in this Project and manager of an entrepreneurial company in Croatia, is going through a difficult time. From this page and on behalf of the entire GRASS CEILING consortium, we want to show our support and solidarity with her.

Just a few days ago we were talking about Ines Dundović, a Croatian producer and processor of plant products, entrepreneur and director of the Veggie Company, with three stores in the Zagreb region.

This week we learned that an unfortunate accident caused a fire in their facilities, resulting in the loss of a significant part of their stock and warehouses.

She herself has recounted the episode on social media with the strength and drive that characterises her: “Yesterday shock, today sadness, tomorrow action and we move on!” As Ines has said before, proclaiming to the four winds and with energy “WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU, MAKES YOU STRONGER!” She went on to thank everyone for the demonstrations of the physical, technical and moral support she has received and the invaluable collaboration of the firefighters in her area.

From this project website we want to highlight that our exceptional entrepreneur, Ines, even though she experienced a fire on her property, which shook her up, she has also demonstrated remarkable strength and resilience, continuing to work with enthusiasm as she prepares the property for renovation. We wish her every success!

And this is the spirit of GRASS CEILING’s entrepreneurial women. Nothing stops them, they are always looking ahead, never back.

So, Ines, we send you our heartfelt encouragement in the recovery of your business. We know that you are going to do very well and from here we will continue to share the news about everything you do to make your work and achievements visible.

A big hug from the entire human team of GRASS CEILING. We are all with you!

Ines Dundović, director of Veggie, a company with three shops in the Zagreb region, participates in the Croatian GRASS CEILING Living Lab

Veggie is a vegetable production and processing company co-founded by Ines Dundović, one of the youngest participants in the Croatian GRASS CEILING Living Lab.

Veggie started out drying tomatoes and today supplies fresh and processed vegetables to restaurants, schools and Gruntek, the largest marketer of organic vegetables with direct sales to the end consumer through weekly vegetable boxes.

Since its inception in 2015, Ines has managed to open three Veggie shops, where she sells her fresh and processed vegetables, to which she has added the products of other local producers. Undoubtedly, Ines is contributing a lot to the development of agriculture in the Zagreb region.

Ines has been working on her parents’ farm all her life and it was after finishing her studies in horticulture at the Faculty of Agriculture in Zagreb that she started Veggie. Recently, the business has expanded to include rural tourism. Ines is a communicative woman who likes to share her knowledge. She is very active in her local community. In fact, she chairs her community’s agricultural committee, which she helped to set up. She has participated in many European projects which have allowed her to acquire new knowledge and to travel abroad a lot to learn about good practices.  

Ines stresses that the greatest benefit of the GRASS CEILING project lies in the creation of networks of women innovators.

United Nations declares 2026 as the International Year of the Woman Farmer

2026 has been declared the International Year of the Woman Farmer by the United Nations General Assembly.

The United Nations hopes that this will be an opportune moment to raise awareness of the crucial role of women farmers in the world’s food systems. Women farmers are key to ensuring food security, food access and nutrition for people, and therefore to eradicating poverty.

2026 is expected to be a year in which effective policies and actions are adopted to address the barriers and challenges faced by women farmers, and to promote gender equality and their empowerment.

According to the FAO’s report “The Status of Women in Agrifood Systems” (2023), despite the fact that women farmers represent 39 % of the global agricultural workforce, women suffer significant discrimination, continue to face challenges in land and livestock ownership, do not enjoy equal wages, are not taken into account in decision-making and have difficulty accessing credit or financial services.

The International Year of the Woman Farmer aims to enhance global commitment to addressing these disparities.

With this commemoration in 2026, the United Nations recognises “the fundamental role of rural women in global food systems and is committed to addressing the challenges they face” and expects the effort and collaboration of countries, UN entities, civil society, academia, the private sector, local communities, indigenous peoples… to raise awareness, implement concrete measures and pave the way for more efficient and inclusive, resilient and sustainable food systems.

María José Velilla (Spain)

Many questions stimulated creativity at the 4th Italian GRASS CEILING Living Lab Meeting

The 4th Italian Living Lab, held on 11 May at the Officine Culturali in Bitonto (BA), reached a crucial point: the ideation phase.

In the previous stages of this dynamic Design Thinking journey, promoted as part of the three-year multi-actor project GRASS CEILING, eight rural women innovators explored the real needs of users to be involved in their future individual business projects.

It is finally time to step out of the comfort zone and think out of the box! The generation of ideas, in fact, is the beating heart of the method and requires creative efforts. The innovators tried to identify some possible alternatives to better define solutions to the problems detected in the initial context analysis.

During the morning they experienced how there are no good or bad ideas: at this stage the most important thing to do is to create, using specific facilitation methodologies such as the World Café technique.  

After meeting up with stakeholders in discussions around tables, they open the door to their imagination. The output of the activity was a colourful mosaic of ideas and questions to continue the journey in coming months. 

In the afternoon, the working group reasoned about the future through the practice of Foresight. It is certainly not easy to predict the future, but it is still possible to be prepared for what may happen. Through a group exercise, the innovators were able to build a medium/long-term vision, expanding the boundaries of perception.

In the next meeting, the eight participants will focus more on the realisation of their ideas and no longer rely simply on their imagination.

The work was led, as usual, by the two co-leads Legacoop Puglia and CIHEAM Bari, with some local stakeholders who collaborated in the morning activities. They included Mariano Frachiolla, agronomist for the Bio Distretto delle lame, Gianvito Turi, visual designer for corporate communication, Francesca Volpe, local food policy expert for CIHEAM Bari, and Vincenzo Fucilli, professor at the University of Bari.

The GRASS CEILING project is funded by the Horizon Europe programme and runs until December 2025, with several Living Labs held in the 9 countries involved in the European partnership.

The Living Lab is an opportunity to strengthen the relationship and discussion within the working group.

No need to wait long for upcoming activities: the next Living Lab will be held in June. Stay tuned!

GRASS CEILING Lithuanian Living Lab gains insight into marketing and the circular economy in the agro-food sector

In 2024, the second meeting of the GRASS CEILING Living Lab took place in Zapyškis, Lithuania, featuring eight women innovators (Karališka Uoga, Šeimos ūkis “Geltoni botai”, Bačkonių ekologinis ūkis, Rasa Prusakova, 50 Arų. Darbo ir džiaugsmo, Saldūs žiedai, Justė Jankauskienė, Šamūkis, Gurkė, Justina Gikniūtė Kočetova, Rūta Aliukonienė, Lina Vysniauskaite, Aliejus- sveikatai ir grožiui) and two experts in marketing and the circular economy.

Greta Stasiulevičienė, a marketing consultant, delivered a presentation on social networks and advertising opportunities for small businesses. She introduced us to concepts such as warm/cool audiences and how to shape the format of advertising, budgeting, and management. We also learned about the potential of free advertising.

Virginija Kargytė, a lecturer at the Vytautas Magnus University VDU Bioekonomikos plėtros fakultetas and representative of Lithuania BIO, presented the key insights from the ongoing study “Circular Economy Development in the Agro-food Sector: the Potential of Industrial Symbiosis”, which creates future opportunities for cooperation among farms based on the management of material flows, involving local authorities, communities, and other businesses. Industrial symbiosis is presented as a process whereby one producer’s material residue becomes another producer’s resource.

We received a warm and hospitable welcome in Zapyškis, near St. Peter’s Church Senoji Zapyškio bažnyčia, by the “Stuba, House of Activity and Creativity”. Its founder and director, Daiva Vaišnorienė, presented the activities of the women-founded organisation and shared her experience.

Vesna Jakić: A sheep wool ambassador on the Croatian island of Cres

Vesna Jakić is a Croatian entrepreneur who participates in the GRASS CEILING project’s Living Lab in Croatia. She works with local wool as a raw material in her company RUTA Wool & Design. In addition to creating original wool designs, Vesna recovers sheep wool that is often abandoned in the fields of the island of Cres (Croatia), thus providing a solution to a serious environmental problem and allowing her to produce island souvenirs by processing the original wool.

Vesna’s work is making a difference on the island of Cres and her products are certified as Croatian island products.

However, Vesna, a textile designer, never knows what her next wool inspiration will be. Before her current business, she led the Ruta association for 20 years, focusing on improving the quality of life on Cres. Already then, her projects were based on the use of wool as a raw material, she taught felting courses and organised numerous craft and art events.

It can be said that Vesna is an ambassador of sheep wool, a material that is no longer used on the island of Cres.

Her greatest passion is working with young people and children. That is why she teaches felting in schools and students come to her to practise. She has led many local and European projects where children have acquired felting and sewing skills. As part of these projects, children also explore the island of Cres and learn about local plants, nature, and the sea… All with the aim of helping them become more aware of the importance of nature, their local environment and sustainable development.

This innovative woman began drawing clothing models at the age of nine and received her first sewing machine at the age of fourteen. She later graduated in Textile Design and Fashion from the Faculty of Textile Technology in Zagreb. After completing her studies, she returned to the island of Cres, where she now lives and has made, in her words, a dream come true.

For Vesna, GRASS CEILING is “a great opportunity to network with innovative Croatian women” and she assures that the biggest benefit of the GRASS CEILING project is “the exchange of knowledge, especially of solutions to the many obstacles they face on a daily basis.”

The joy of working with animals: Miriam’s story in the GRASS CEILING project

Miriam del Re is the youngest farmer (26 years old) of the Italian Living Lab and one of the eight women innovators who participate in the GRASS CEILING project. She has a degree in economics, but while she was preparing for her final exams, she realised her passion lay elsewhere – with animals. This childhood love has led her to devote herself full-time to their care.

In 2021, Miriam decided to repurpose the disused land on her partner’s farm for raising laying hens. The business began modestly with 50 hens and has grown to include 250 free-range hens, along with goats and turkeys.

Looking ahead, Miriam aspires to open an educational farm to showcase the fulfilment that comes with working with animals. During the Easter break, her “Colle di Seta” and “Uova di Seta” Agricultural Society hosted a fun “Egg Hunt” event for curious children.

The event tagline playfully stated, “Come help us find our hens’ eggs! The rabbit ‘Pasqualino’ was very naughty and hid them!” This light-hearted invitation brought many families to spend weekends with the mischievous bunny. The festivities involved egg decoration, group games, and colourful make-up activities for children and their families.

Miriam was delighted with the outcome. “There was a very joyful feeling,” she remarked, “and seeing the excitement of even the adults in painting the eggs was wonderful. We received very positive feedback from many families who requested more events like this one.”

Well done, Miriam!

Laura, a Spanish poultry farmer, happily surrounded by hundreds of happy hens

Laura has found happiness among hundreds of hens, who are also happy thanks to her. This is not the beginning of a children’s story. It is the real story of Laura Polo, a Spanish woman who decided to swap the hustle and bustle of the big city, Bilbao, for the noisy clucking of lots and lots of hens.

She is one of the participants in the GRASS CEILING Spanish Living Lab, an initially self-taught entrepreneur who later trained in agriculture and livestock farming to be able to set up her happy hen farm. However, she claims that there is still not enough training in poultry farming for those who, like her, want to earn a living by raising hens.

Her company is called Avicultura Granja Pepín and it is located in a small village in the province of Palencia, called Alba de Cerrato. “Hens are my passion,” she told the Spanish public television programme “La Aventura del Saber” (La 2 TVE), “and they must be given the care they deserve.”

Her hens eat noble cereals such as wheat, barley, corn, and sunflower seeds, when there is no soya. They do not consume animal or vegetable fats, nor do they consume colourants or palm oil. And as a supplement, they eat vegetable waste from the family garden that Laura tends with her husband. “The eggs that our hens produce have the quality seal that comes from the way we care for them: good food, respect and a large natural space where they can move around. The hens know us and that shows in the flavour of the eggs,” says Laura.

Laura has learned to live without a clock, although she works from dawn to dusk. “We use sunlight as a natural clock.”

In 2017 she opened her first shed with 500 hens. Four months later she set up the second shed with 740 hens. In 2018 the third shed arrived to house another 450 hens. In 2019 she reached maximum capacity: a fourth shed where she halted expansion. “We don’t want to lose the essence of the care and craftsmanship of our final product. With this number of hens we can earn a good living, manage the farm and care for our animals.

She says that GRASS CEILING is providing a great opportunity for the voices of rural women to be heard in European institutions. She has met other women in the sector with similar problems, and sharing their experiences helps them to find joint solutions. “We must continue to enhance the visibility of rural women. We are gradually making progress, but there is still much to be done”. However, the main drawbacks they have are the low population density in rural areas and the limited services available. “It is essential that small towns have access to basic services that allow us the quality of life we deserve. This would attract new residents and entrepreneurs”, Laura says.

“I hope, at least, that we can continue to make a living and our brand can become well-known… I am happy here … no one can change that”.

GRASS CEILING Croatian Living Lab’s 4th meeting hosted by two of its women innovators

The GRASS CEILING Croatian Living Lab (EWE) held its fourth meeting on the islands of Cres and Krk. These islands are home to two of our Living Lab participants, Vesna Jakić and Jasminka Gršković, who are innovators working with wool, olive oil, and wine production. The main programme took place at Moise Palace. Vesna hosted the Living Lab on Cres, and Jasminka hosted it on Krk.

Following the official meeting, which included an innovation process session and a stakeholder session, Vesna offered a wet felting workshop for the Living Lab participants and project team. She also introduced the team to her handicraft business and the Ruta Cres association.

On the second day, the Croatian Living Lab members visited Krk and Jasminka’s family farm. After a meeting with the city authorities, Jasminka hosted a dry felting workshop for their colleagues in her olive grove, where they learned how to make woollen Easter eggs.