Make Parc Ela “erlebbar”

How do we produce sustainable, authentic food that is processed and offered locally? That question was the focus of the first PLUS Change co-creation session for the regional nature park “Parc Ela” in Switzerland

The effects of climate change are also very noticeable in Parc Ela. Farmers in the area are particularly affected by changing precipitation patterns. They experience more weather extremes like heavy rains and extended dry phases. This has an impact on traditional farming methods, crop yields and hay harvest. But tourism is also feeling the effects, especially as the winter sports season is getting shorter and shorter. In addition to climate change, the region faces socioeconomic challenges. High housing prices and limited opportunities regarding education and careers for locals mean that more and more young people are moving away from the area.

As a region, how do you deal with all these challenges? To answer that question, you need as many stakeholders and knowledge partners around the table as possible. Therefore, in addition to a local politician, a number of farmers, producers (e.g. a cheesemaker) and planners, forest managers and people from the tourism and recreation industry were present. 

During the first round, it was still a matter of finding a joint direction. But after the first pitches, the participants found a common mission in the question: how can we give more value to what is made and done locally in Parc Ela, so that both locals and guests really appreciate the area and its challenges? The participants see appreciation as a prerequisite for the necessary changes that can help make Parc Ela achieving a sustainable and climate-resilient land use.

High quality

Parc Ela is Switzerland’s largest nature park with breathtaking alpine landscapes and diverse flora and fauna. With its pristine lakes, cultural heritage and traditional mountain villages, the area is very popular with tourists. Both in winter and in summer. In addition, like other mountain regions in Switzerland, the area is known for its grasslands where the cattle of local farmers graze during the summer months. In the valleys, some farmers practice arable farming. And in the working forests, mostly pine and spruce trees, wood is produced for construction and energy purposes. Within the Parc, mainly cheese, other dairy products and meat are produced, complemented by some cereal and little vegetable and fruit production. For everything in the area goes: what is made locally is of high quality. 

In balance

Parc Ela still has a very original landscape in which the inhabitants live of the land and off tourism. The amount of nature, agriculture, livestock, forestry and people in the area seem well balanced. That means those types of land use do not have to change immediately to make the area more climate resilient. What does need to change however, is the method of cultivation. Because we need to increase diversity in both forestry and agriculture to increase resilience against harmful organisms and weather extremes. It is important to note here that the possibilities for change are strongly dictated by the conditions of the mountainous landscape. E.g. there are no opportunities for arable farming on the often steep slopes. As a result of changing cultivation methods, the landscape will change eventually.

Dare to experiment

In that sense, the warmer climate and longer growing season due to climate change also provide opportunities to experiment with “new” crops such as beans and potatoes and food forests. In agroforestry, arable land, meadows or pastures can be combined with fruit trees and shrubs, resulting in greater biodiversity and better soils. “Everything starts with a tree,” says one of the participants. If the soil is suitable for all kinds of trees, you can easily grow other crops there, too. With the “Climate Neutral Agriculture Grisons” project, the region supports experiments with farming methods that both mitigate and adapt to climate change. The region hopes that with this support, farmers will dare to experiment more. 

One of the farmers present in the session first experimented with growing potatoes in the valley years ago. People declared him crazy at the time, but he now sells his exclusive “Bergkartoffeln” to renowned restaurants in Zurich and elsewhere.
Like the “Bergkartoffeln,” many other products from the region are sold outside Parc Ela, while the participants would prefer that a greater proportion of locally produced goods, also be offered locally. However, the sometimes exclusive nature of local products – producing in the mountains remains something that involves a lot of work and time – also means that prices are often higher and local people are more likely to choose other products in the supermarket. Awareness can help people understand why prices are higher. 


In that regard, the participants believe strongly in storytelling. Stories that tell what makes the area unique, but also what the (climate) challenges in the area are, so you know where you are. The participants would like to tell those stories not only in flyers and magazines, but especially through “learning by doing.” ‘We need to make Parc Ela “erlebbar” by offering deeper experiences to both locals and guests.’ Experiences like workshops and excursions with farmers. But also hotels and restaurants that work with local products and tell something about the background of the products when serving the dishes. Such a deeper experience helps create appreciation for the area, the participants think. Through awareness and deeper experiences, people better understand the challenges ahead, the changes needed and the consequences of those changes. For example, due to climate change there is no longer a ‘snow guarantee’ in the same period as before. And more fake snow is not the solution for that, because it consumes a lot of water and energy in its production. So, we might choose to make summer tourism more solid. If locals and guests deeply understand that, they will better be able to deal with it if they are asked to change their leisure habits. Then people can follow, appreciate and maybe even contribute to the choices made. The same goes for farmers and producers who need to change the way they work and therefore want to sell more locally. That’s better for the land, better for the farmer and better for the guest at the table. But if you don’t make that visible or explicit through storytelling and experience, people are less likely to appreciate it.


To create that higher appreciation for the region, cross-sector collaboration is needed the participants conclude. Now everyone is still on their own little island, but together you can get further. For example, farmers and foresters could very well work together on agroforestry. In addition, farmers could collaborate with tourism and recreation to offer deeper experiences like active help (e.g. fencing, harvesting, visit to the alp, digging up potatoes, preserving the harvest) to both locals and guests. And also an annual co-creation session like this one, where people from different sectors sit together, helps to create awareness. As the head of tourism summed it up nicely: ‘I have never learned so much about this region in 3 hours.’

Text: Merel van der Lande

Made by Biobased Creations for This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement No 101081464.