This is how one of our keynote speakers arrived at the Petnica Research Station for our first Strength2Food Hybrid Forum on Monday, November 27, to participate in a discussion on “How to improve the quality of children’s meals in primary schools”. This event was held in a unique scientific center in Serbia, an independent and independent institution that provides an opportunity for primary and secondary school students from Serbia, as well as the rest of Europe, to engage in research work. Petnica is located about 90 km southwest of Belgrade, near the town of Valjevo, which meant that many of us needed a minibus to get there.

At the first (professional) part of the Forum, we gathered experts from different fields – from school directors and representatives of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development on one side, to experts on children’s health, public procurement, as well as representatives of the Agricultural Advisory and Expert Service and agricultural holdings on the other. A special contribution was made by our participant who came with a box full of food. She was a representative of the people who have the most demanding role in the preparation of school meals, the cooks. The round (square) table was used by our ten experts for a very productive discussion that covered all possible aspects of the chain between food production and children’s health, with many suggestions for further work. It was a real shame that we had to interrupt this discussion for the lunch break.

However, not only did we enjoy the service during the break (to which our skillful cook, already mentioned, contributed the most), but also some of the participants brought samples of their domestic products, which they exhibited before the start of the second part of the Forum (general discussion for all interested) – vegetables, sauerkraut, honey, cream, cheese, ajvar, various pastries and other local specialties. We were expecting a few more exhibitors of domestic products, but the first snow on the nearby peaks prevented them from joining us.
In the second part of the Forum, we had the opportunity to look at the topic of our discussion from other angles. The discussion was joined by other primary school principals, the principal and chief cookery teacher from the secondary school in Mionica, teachers, as well as representatives of the Valjevo Health Center who struggle every day with problems caused by unhealthy eating, such as obesity and diabetes. Everyone agreed that parents are the key to future activities aimed at increasing awareness of the benefits of more nutritious school meals and healthy eating habits. As the Law on Public Procurement is one of the main concerns of school representatives, the most popular speaker was certainly an expert on the Law on Public Procurement.

Most of the Forum participants came by bus from Belgrade, so the number of attendees was fairly constant with 30 attendees at the first (professional) part, and 34 at the second part of the Forum. The whole event was very pleasant, to the satisfaction of all participants. We will gladly use the conclusions of our first Hybrid Forum in planning the next one, which we are already looking forward to.

Steve Quarrie
November 28, 2017