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.

Letizia Cuonzo, a member of the Italian GRASS CEILING Living Lab, welcomed the students of CIHEAM Bari’s Master programme

Azienda Agricola Cuonzo welcomed CIHEAM Bari students from the Master programme in Open Innovation and Youth Entrepreneurship in the Agrifood Sector interested in learning more about the living lab implemented as part of the GRASS CEILING project. 

By applying organic farming methods, enhancing native olive varieties and using an innovative mill to produce organic oil from Ogliarola and Coratina cultivars, Cuonzo is a true beacon of sustainable agriculture. The company strives to connect theory and practice, bringing together ideas and action through the GRASS CEILING project.

The visit to Azienda Agricola Cuonzo was led by Letizia Cuonzo, a member of the Italian Living Lab for the GRASS CEILING project. Letizia has a background in Modern Literature and Art History studies.  In 2010, she became the owner of the farm previously run by her father with the help of PSR Puglia, a source of regional funding for young people starting agricultural businesses. She participates in the Italian Living Lab as a women innovator thanks to her experience in managing the family organic olive oil farm and processing olives. She is also an olive oil taster.  

During the harvesting and processing season, the farm welcomes schoolchildren and tourists, increasing awareness of production practices and offering basic information for tasting extra virgin olive oil. A few days ago, Letizia hosted the visit from the master’s students to tell them about her professional journey as a woman innovator in the GRASS CEILING project. 

This project involves eight inspiring women from the biodistrict of Lame and is expected to reshape Puglia’s agricultural landscape.

A multitasking rural businesswoman turned Norwegian TV star

Marthe Kilen is a rural woman. She lives on the rural Fosen peninsula, and works in Rissa, a Norwegian town of just over 6000 inhabitants. She participates in the Living Lab of the GRASS CEILING project, as one of the innovative rural women in the agricultural sector and in food production.

As she defines herself, “I am a cook, baker and pastry chef by training, and I don’t know how to do anything else… but I do this very well”, although she is now also a pastry judge on a well-known Norwegian television program from the NRK Channel.

Last year she had to disappear, literally from her village, for six weeks to focus on filming the first season of a television program that has made her very well known in Norway. This spring, she will be filming season two of the baking show. But let’s not forget that she is a rural entrepreneur, owning and operating a small business, working with a small staff and living in a small town.

This time her going away for filming and appearing on TV will not come as much of a surprise. In fact, she is already training the workers of her business, Fru Nelik (Missis Nelik) to be able to operate the business during the two months that the new shooting will last.

It’s not easy for a rural entrepreneur to get ahead by managing a business, controlling purchases, maintaining equipment, designing new products, selling and distributing those products, and now… being a judge on a TV show. Teamwork is key for her, and she relies heavily on both her board of directors and the skills of her employees.

Each one of them is now receiving instructions to be able to undertake specific responsibilities, so that it will not be necessary that everything has to go through her.  Starting in April, she will be filming in the TV studio. The brand new ice cream she is launching for summer has to be tested and ready before she leaves, and the warehouse has to be stocked with products. Her small business produces for other suppliers who buy cakes and products from her and sell them in their stores. She also stocks a self-service Fru Nelik pastry store in downtown Rissa.

It is clear to Marthe that innovation is about exploring new opportunities and appreciating the effects that new challenges bring. That is why this year, she will continue to attend the biggest event for locally produced Norwegian food, the Trondelag Food Festival.She is committed to training and knowledge as a way, not only to learn, but also to obtain tools that will allow her to continue to open up avenues of expansion and growth that will benefit her business and, with it, her employees and her people.


New meeting for GRASS CEILING Living Lab Spain to discuss various support actions for women in agriculture

A group of women participating in the Spanish Living Lab of the Grass Ceiling project met on March 8th with representatives from various national, regional, and local public institutions, and members of agricultural organisations. The meeting aimed to make a critical examination of the key action measures being implemented to assist women farmers and to support and promote equality policies. Eight women participated in the meeting, along with a group of external stakeholders and regular collaborators of the project’s working groups.

The meeting fostered debate on the measures being taken by the responsible entities to enhance the situation of rural women. It also emphasized the importance of maintaining active networks for sharing different perspectives, opinions, knowledge, and experiences, given the need for comprehensive analyses. The meeting has enabled participants to generate synergies and promote joint actions that will benefit rural women, especially those working in the primary sector.

The event was attended by representatives of public institutions such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Government of Spain), Department of Agriculture, Livestock and Food (Government of Aragon), Department of Rural Environment and Agrarian Policy (Government of the Principality of Asturias), Territorial Service of Agriculture, Livestock and Rural Development in the Province of Palencia (Government of Castile and León) and private entities such as Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture Association and Agrifood Cooperatives of Spain.

GRASS CEILING Living Lab Sweden fourth meeting with women rural innovators

The Swedish Living Lab held its fourth meeting February 6th at our participant Elin Skörde’s home and forest farm. The Lab’s co-leads Siv Lindén, Hela Sverige ska leva, and Dr Katarina Pettersson, SLU, introduced the meeting, and thanked Elin for having us. Then Dr Flora Hajdu, SLU, who is also part of the SLU GRASS Ceiling-team presented research on Sweden’s changing agriculture, that she has been part of doing Please find more information here (in Swedish). The research found that farmers use various strategies and resources, and make use of welfare systems. During the presentation the participating women were asked to reflect and discuss the findings – to see if they, for example, use a ‘maximization strategy’, an ‘optimization strategy’, or perhaps a ‘diversification strategy’.

The participants also discussed issues of social sustainability and social welfare systems, including parental leave and pensions, and how they have or may potentially use them in the future. In the afternoon Science Park Jönköping’s Emilia Sundberg joined us and introduced us to this stakeholder’s activities and offers to entrepreneurs and innovators. She also led the participants in an exercise to think creatively around new ideas when looking at two photos – one of a drone and one of a cheese. Different interesting and somewhat ‘crazy’ ideas came up – the point being nothing is too crazy and you should not filter away any ideas when being creative. We concluded the meeting with a discussion among the participants on what they want to do in the future Living lab workshops. The fifth Living lab workshop is planned to take place April 29th, 2024.

The path to gender equality in the context of food security

On 14th February took place the seminar on gender equality in the context of food security  organised by FAO, the Government Offices of Sweden, Sida and SIANI. This event aimed to provide current facts and figures, as well as highlight the challenges and present the solutions for transforming policy to action.

Blanca Casares, policy expert at AEIDL (European Association for Innovation in Local Development), partner of GRASS CEILING Horizon Europe project followed the event given the relevance for the project’s European Policy Forum for women-led innovation, coordinated by AEIDL and COPA-COGECA and the established Rural Pact Community group on women in rural areas they coordiate.

The seminar kicked off with a warm welcome from Dan Ericsson, State Secretary to the Minister for Rural Affairs, Sweden. The session was moderated by Johanna Bergman Lodin, Division of Rural Development, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

With a full agenda of knowledgeable speakers, Lauren Phillips, Deputy Director, Inclusive Rural Transformation and Gender Equality (FAO), set the stage by presenting FAO landmark report, The Status of Women in Agrifood Systems, providing the latest data, lessons learned and recommendations about how to do more, and better. Among the data she highlighted was the evolution over the last decade of the employability of women in agrifood systems and what this represents in terms of their income. Regarding the remaining gaps, Lauren pointed out that the gender gap in land productivity between female and male managed farms of same size is 24%.

Among other relevant presentations, Rebecka Ramsted, Programme and Policy Officer, Permanent Representation of Sweden (FAO) presented process and timeline for the adoption of the Voluntary Guidelines on Gender Equality and Women’s and Girl’s Empowerment in the Context of Food Security and Nutrition by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

She pointed out that for the first time bringing a full policy product on gender equality under the umbrella of foremost inclusive international and intergovernmental platform for all stakeholders to work together to ensure food security and nutrition for all. Endorsement took place at the CFS 51 session.

The seminar continued with presentations by Geovanny Enriquez, JP GTA National Program Coordinator (FAO) on Promoting gender transformative approaches for food security and nutrition in Ecuador. Followed by Elisabeth Simelton (Sida) who replaced Sofia Orrebrink, Lead Policy Specialist for Gender Equalityy (Sida) and who gave an overview of Sida’s work in gender equality by talking about various realities in sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry,etc.

The seminar came to a close with a round table discussion about transforming policy into action for food security and gender equality. The different speakers of the session deepened their reflections on the usefulness of the guidelines, the capacity of use by the different countries, the inclusiveness of the implementation processes, the relevance of investment especially in reducing gender gaps and the adoption of the proposed solutions.

The event ended with some closing remarks from ambassador Ms.Nosipho Nausca-Jean Jezile, Chair of the Committee of World Food Security (CFS).

Fourth meeting of the Dutch Living Lab

Last week Dutch Living Lab hold its fourth meeting, as part of the EU GRASS CEILING Project. Dutch Living Lab were warmly welcomed to Op den Hoek, the farm of the Liza Simons who shared her powerful story with LL participants. She also grounded in the current moment and encouraged all to see ourselves as part of the ‘bigger picture’ which was enlightening and thought provoking for many.

The women entrepreneurs have come so far in their projects and it is always a treat to hear about their progress. It is clear how much they support one another as a group, and how there is a desire for it to go one further, outside of the meetings. These are 8 fantastic, motivated and talented women. To bring them together in one room, and for the facilitators to be able to share tools and methods to assist them in their projects, is a real joy to see. But the real excitement came when all brainstormed over solutions, per participant. Then you see just how much experience and talent these women have already, and how much they have to offer still. It is wonderful to be part of this progress and to feel the buzz of potential and possibilities.

Italian Living Lab holds its third meeting

The third Living Lab under the Grass Ceiling project, which took place on 31 January at CIHEAM Bari, was lunched embracing the idea that ‘building a better world means destroying the old one’.

Seven women innovators, active in the field of open innovation, challenged themselves with exploration and design activities, focusing on the profiles and needs of their target users.

By using teamwork tools such as the Empathy Map and Persona Map, the participants were able to delve into the profiles of potential users of the innovation product and service they intend to develop.

The needs, the interests and even the dreams of the potential users of the innovative product or service pave the way for a broader design thinking process that will take place throughout the three-year course of the project.

After collecting the stories of the personas to address, the innovators, in small working groups, shared their views and concerns in order to better define the “Point Of View (POV) statement” that will help solve their business problems by adopting a creative and empathetic approach.

The users’ attitudes and their motivation, thus, represent the cornerstone of innovation to be promoted within the Living Lab network.

The teams of the two co-leads, Legacoop Puglia and CIHEAM Bari, conducted the sessions in the impressive setting of CIHEAM Bari’s campus.

The Grass Ceiling project is funded by the Horizon Europe programme and will run until next December 2025, with several labs to be held in the 9 countries that are part of the European partnership.

For almost a year now, the LIVING LAB has been a valuable opportunity for the participants to share their experiences of innovation through a direct and active exchange.