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Feed the planet with 2000m2 by Niklas Karlsson

“Niklas Karlsson at Rosendals Trädgård creates a living model for how we should grow and eat within the planetary boundaries, and in a way that is in solidarity with others. 2000m2 is the most physical project of this kind in Sweden, which shows through research how the entire food system needs to be transformed from “farm to plate”. The model is infinitely scalable, can be applied anywhere in the world, and is at the same time highly practical.” Motivation of the jury.

If the entire planet’s arable land were divided fairly among everyone living on earth, each individual would be allocated approximately 2000m2.

Experiment 2000m2 at Rosendals Trädgård in Stockholm is a living model for how we should grow and eat within the planetary boundaries, in a way that’s in solidarity with others. Based on current science and practical research in both farm and kitchen, the concept shows how the entire food system needs to be transformed – from farm to plate. That is the simple answer to the question of what Experiment 2000m2 stands for. It’s a model that may sound simple in theory but is all the more complex and challenging to apply in practice. Which doesn’t make it any less brilliant.

Responsible for the cultivation at Rosendals Trädgård in Stockholm, Niklas Karlsson set up Experiment 2000m2 in 2018. The past few seasons have provided a wide range of experiences and insights into where the biggest challenges lie. But the practical work in the farm and in the kitchen has also provided inspiring knowledge about how feasible Experiment 2000m2 is in practice, and the enormous potential it has as a model for future growing and eating.

The research behind Experiment 2000m2 comes largely from the BERAS project and the work of agronomy doctor Artur Granstedt at the Biodynamic Research Institute in Järna, outside Stockholm. But other research also confirms the theoretical foundations of Experiment 2000m2 – such as the largest ever research project in the field, the EAT/Lancet report, published in 2019.

– The research shows that it is possible to carry out agriculture and consumption within the limits of the planet, says Karlsson. But then it is important to adhere to the guidelines. For example, by significantly reducing meat consumption and having a large part of vegetable  cultivation in the production.

It is not enough to just rearrange one end of the food system, agriculture: we also need to rearrange our cooking and food consumption so we can make better choices in everyday life. In order to achieve the objectives of Experiment 2000m2, those choices can be summarised as follows:

• Reduce meat consumption to 3–7 kilos from today’s 84 kilos per person per year. Choose game, organic or biodynamic meat.

• Reduce food waste.

• Eat locally and organically, or biodynamically, based on the season.

• Eat MSC-labelled fish and shellfish and keep an eye on World Wildlife Fund’s fish guide.

• Show concern and be in solidarity with yourself, others and the nature in which the next generations will grow up.

There is much in our behaviour that needs to be changed in order to reduce our consumption to 2000m2: Swedes today, on average, take up almost double that cultivation area. It all starts in farming, where the crops must be planned very carefully to provide as much food and energy as possible.

– I have been trying to write down a plant sequence. How many heads of cabbage can you conceivably need? How many potatoes do you eat in a year? says Karlsson.

The crop sequence and the proportions of the crops are based on where exactly the cultivation area is located – in Rosendals Trädgård’s case, on the 59th parallel in Mälardalen, and with the exact type of soil and climate conditions found at Djurgården in Stockholm.

– But the framework for Experiment 2000m2 can be applied anywhere in the world. Then there are thousands of different ways to fill the square metres more or less sustainably. The important thing is that it should be regenerative, a system that starts from local resources and that recreates itself.

The distribution between crops is adjusted each year depending on experience from the previous year, and on climate and weather. But the choice is also influenced by food culture, what we feel good about eating, and how we cook.

– It is possible to grow a lot of potatoes, says Karlsson, but how much is primarily useful to eat? And how gastronomically satisfying will it be?

A central role is played by plants that we humans cannot eat but which go to feed ruminant animals and which come back to the farm in the form of natural fertiliser.

– The cultivation bed is important, because there we use the sun’s power and selected plants to bind nutrients and energy into the cultivation system. We can then convert that energy into milk, meat, and above all compost or manure, which we use on cultivation areas that require more nutrients, such as those where we grow cereals, vegetables and oilseeds.

Karlsson points out that our conventional way of growing and eating today largely depends on the availability of artificial fertilisers which are finite resources and require large amounts of fossil-fuel energy to produce.

– It is with the help of artificial fertilisers that we can grow such enormous amounts of grain and corn for animal feed, says Karlsson. And that is what allows us to milk up to 12,000 litres a year from a cow and eat meat the way we do – 84 kilos per person per year, as we do in Sweden. That’s insane amounts.

Much of the easily soluble nutrients that are added to agriculture today in the form of fertilisers are never taken up by the crops but are leached out, running into our waters and finally ending up in the oceans.

– This means that this type of fertilisation does not at all channel all the energy used in the production, which means that we live far beyond our resources there alone, says Karlsson.

With a cultivation area limited to 2000m2, it is important to make maximum use of it. This means growing ingredients that are as packed with nutrition and energy as possible, and then refining and cooking them in ways that are both enjoyable and healthy – not just empty calories. It’s about finding new proportions.

– Take French fries as an example. One of the best things you can eat, I love French fries, they’re absolutely magical. But when I only have the opportunity to grow oil plants on a limited area of this 2000m2, I can’t waste my annual fat ration on frying. In addition, it does not promote health.

In that way, the consequences of 2000m2 shape both the way of cooking, the dishes and the food culture. If you follow the model, French fries and deep-fried food are reduced to an occasional treat.

Even our way of constructing and designing classic and beloved dishes thus comes under scrutiny. As a trained chef and having worked in restaurant kitchens since he was 16, Karlsson knows how much raw materials are sometimes used to create a single dish on the menu. These dishes are sensorially fantastic, but they may have “cost” five square meters instead of half that in terms of cultivation area, nutrition and energy.

– By creating a physical learning site where you can see in black and white how much cultivation area is needed for grain, carrots and cabbage, I think we can make a difference in the restaurant industry. My dream is that meatballs with mashed potatoes, and other dishes that are typical in our culture and region, will be updated according to these principles. Or that completely new dishes are developed, with limitation as a creative challenge.

The important thing is that cultural bearers, who set the trends and lead development, get the knowledge and tools to change the food culture. This, according to Karlsson, is already happening through the ongoing protein shift, with so many people choosing a vegetarian or vegan diet or eating more legumes.

– We want to create a toolbox for chefs, politicians, decision-makers and large companies, so they understand the proportions and can insert them into their frameworks, says Karlsson. This is a method to create a reset. We show that it is possible and how to do it. It’s like Greta Thunberg says: all the facts are there, it’s just a matter of changing, and then we’re up and running!

Niklas Karlsson and his colleagues in the Experiment 2000m2 project were coached by Circular Gastronomy and three representatives from the Swedish research institute RISE: Jennifer Davis, researcher in sustainable food production and consumption, Britta Florén, senior consultant in sustainable production and consumption and expert on the environmental impact of food, and Lina Andersson Fasth, operations manager and project manager of company and meal development. The objective was, among other things, to connect the project more clearly to global sustainability goals in order to benefit communication, and in this way clarify the goals with regards to cultivation. Experiment 2000m2 is run by Rosendals Trädgård, but has also led to the pop-up restaurant Studio 2000 at Fotografiska Restaurant, where ingredients from Karlsson’s own farms in Sörmland form the basis of the educational meal experience leading to unique knowledge transfer.