Amsterdam, the Netherlands is home to a thriving urban food scene. A strong interest in food production, distribution and consumption patterns has been growing steadily in the past few years. Food initiatives are multiplying in Amsterdam, fueled by a growing awareness of the environmental impact of large-scale food production and distribution, and its consequences on food quality and public health. Furthermore, the demonstrated potential of food-related projects to bring people together, foster social cohesion and public participation has been a critical factor in the success and enthusiasm for this trend; in a city where people from more than 180 nationalities call home.
At the heart of this buzzing world of foodies, bloggers, pop-up restaurants, festivals, consumer cooperatives, local produce markets, and researchers & policy institutes, are hard-working farmers and entrepreneurs. They are striving to change the status quo of the food systems in Amsterdam; to build a sustainable connection between people and healthy food.
Meet Ann Doherty, Kiki Muyres and Hilda Akkermans, three urban farming pioneers. These three women work within the Cityplot collective which has been working on educating Amsterdam residents about the benefits of growing their own food since 2008. In January 2017, they founded Pluk! Groenten van West, the first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project in Amsterdam.
In a CSA, members pay a fixed amount per year and receive a weekly share of the harvest during the growing season. This year, the harvesting season at Pluk! lasted 30 weeks, stretching from May until November, and has been bountiful. The CSA offers weekly and bi-weekly membership packages and counts 54 members with a capacity to accommodate up to 100. “This is our first year. We wanted to start small and grow together with our members,” says Ann.
The relationship between the farmer and the community members is central in a CSA. Commitment, mutual support, trust, and risk-sharing are all part of it. Ann and Kiki highlight the importance of this relationship: “We know of projects where the harvest shares are packaged and delivered to members. At Pluk! we wanted to get to know our members, personally, hear their stories and receive their feedback firsthand.” Pluk! members come to harvest at least once every other week. They pick from a variety of fresh produce, get their hands dirty at weeding, watering or seeding, exchange recipes and share a laugh and a cup of tea.
Pluk! is located within Fruittuin van West, an organic orchard and free-range chicken farm in Amsterdam West - in the beautiful open area of Tuinen van West. On half a hectare (1.2 acres) of ground spread around the perimeter of the farm, Pluk! grows organic vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers for its members.
The project wouldn’t have been possible without this cooperation and partnership with Fruittuin van West. Land is a scarce commodity in Amsterdam, and while there are designated areas in the city’s zoning plan for urban agriculture, these can be difficult to secure especially under a long-term or permanent ground lease. Rules are more flexible for temporary projects, which prospered during the last economic crisis. Urban agriculture activities and innovative food projects and initiatives were especially attractive and were presented as an ideal temporary alternative development approach to prevent urban decay and blight in vacant parcels and empty office buildings while waiting for better times.
But in the meantime, food has carved its place as an increasingly important element in Amsterdam’s urban planning policies. The city’s spatial development vision (structuurvisie 2040) regards a strong local food system as a core component of its economic development, sustainability, and resilience strategy. Other documents, namely the Food Vision (Voedselvisie, 2014) and the Green Agenda (Groen Agenda, 2015) came to support this orientation and create a framework to stimulate food-related projects and initiatives.
As Amsterdam strives to forge its position as a model of sustainability for the rest of the world metropolises, more initiatives are taking-off. To date, the city counts around 180 urban farming projects including vertical farms, children’s farms, school and community gardens, kitchen gardens, and twelve urban farms. Earlier this year, an online Platform for food initiatives in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Region, Van Amsterdamse Bodem, was launched to aggregate information, support and facilitate nascent and sprouting projects. Another platform, the Food Council, was just launched with the goal of connecting various food stakeholders in Amsterdam and its region.
Ann, Kiki and Hilda were among the entrepreneurs who benefitted from the urban agriculture and food initiatives subsidy (Subsidie Stadslandbouw en Voedselinitiatieven), a grant awarded by the city of Amsterdam to projects which seek to sustainably transform the local and regional food production and distribution chains, and to increase awareness of healthy and sustainable eating.
To begin the project, in addition to the subsidy and its member's contributions, Pluk! ran a crowdfunding campaign to cover the expenses of building a greenhouse. For its daily operations, the CSA relies on the labor of an enthusiast core group of volunteers and interns who, in exchange, can take home some of the produce they helped grow.
In its first year, Pluk! has grown around 50 variety of vegetables and other edible plants. During the end of the year meeting, Ann and Kiki presented new ideas to their members to streamline their efforts, diversify their offer and grow the CSA membership in preparation of its second year. “Our wish is to also become financially sustainable,” say both Ann and Kiki, “and for Pluk! to become a seeding ground for other local, organic, polyculture farming projects.”
Are you a CSA member? Is food part of your city’s urban policy? What are some of the initiatives that address food production and distribution systems sustainability in your city? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.
Credits: Images by Sarah Essbai and Ann Doherty. Data linked to sources.