Dossier: Young adults

Grassrooted: saving vegetables

The Grassrooted association made headlines last summer when it saved almost 30 tonnes of tomatoes from the biogas plant, creating tomato fever in Switzerland. The campaign was driven by Dominik Waser and friends – plus a lot of idealism and decisiveness.

Text: Julie Freudiger, Photos: used with permission

He arrives a few minutes early and takes a last look at his smartphone – countless emails and messages are waiting for his attention. “I’m working around the clock at the moment”, says Dominik Waser (21), but he looks remarkably fresh. You can tell that he’s really enthusiastic about his project. Last year, he and his business partner Martin Schiller founded the Grassrooted association, with the aim of addressing the topic of food waste in agriculture and highlighting alternatives. Around two-thirds of our vegetables end up as waste – around 300,000 tonnes of which are thrown away by the agricultural sector, because the fruit and vegetables do not meet the requirements. Dominik can’t understand this: “It’s unbelievable! We throw away perfectly good products that were produced under expensive Swiss working conditions! We’ve got so many ideas, for example promotions for the sale of several tonnes of surplus vegetables, a market stand, trade fair stands, workshops, partnerships with major retailers and farmers, a shop in Zurich. We’d have work for ten people,” says Dominik brimming with enthusiasm. A trained gardener, Dominik has put his studies in environmental engineering on hold for the time being.

We can’t solve this problem overnight, but we believe we’ll find a solution.”

“We’ve got to do something about it!”

Martin and Dominik met during their studies. They asked themselves whether it was possible to get vegetables that don’t meet industry standards back into the retail chain. Out of curiosity, they wrote to farmers in the summer of 2018. Then they heard that 30 tonnes of tomatoes that didn’t meet the shelf life criteria for sale to wholesalers were supposed to be heading to the biogas plant. Dominik remembers: “We said to ourselves: we’ve got to do something about it!” Without further ado, they placed an order form on their brand new website and their as yet untested Facebook page – and the campaign went viral. It caught the attention of national media, their phones rang constantly, and their inbox was flooded with mails. Switzerland went tomato crazy. Almost all the tomatoes were reserved within four days. It was at this point that Dominik knew that the work would pay off, because people supported their cause.

Believe in change

Other campaigns followed on the heels of the great tomato rescue. Grassrooted succeeded time and time again in bringing producers, farmers, retailers and shop owners together to find solutions for sustainable agriculture. For example, when they encouraged a wholesaler and well-known juice manufacturer to join forces to process several tonnes of carrots. The vegetables were too big for the packaging, so the farmer would have had to let the harvest go to waste. “We can’t solve this problem overnight, but young people have the freedom to believe in change. If we lose that ...” Dominik doesn’t finish the sentence. Losing heart is not an option.