Innovative Ways to Produce Food: Inspirations from The Dutch City of Amersfoort


By URBACT, on June 14th, 2013

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The Dutch historical city of Amersfoort is a forerunner when it comes to sustainable development. The municipality works with many local partners – from farmers to supermarkets and bakeries to urban gardens – to realise its green ambitions. One of the city’s partners is De Vale Ouwe, a private company focusing on ‘culinary project management’. The company aims to shorten the food chain, promote urban farming and create urban gardens.  Marianne Karstens works for De Vale Ouwe and explains why urban food systems form such an important issue for today’s cities.


Urban farming, urban gardens and tasty food

The city of Amersfoort has hosted many different projects aiming to promote sustainable food.
In 2011 the city supported a project called Echt Eten in de Eemstad (Real Food in the City of River Eem), and in 2012 the city was proclaimed ‘Capital of Taste’. In all these projects the municipality closely cooperated with local partners that were stimulated to develop new initiatives and activities in the city.

The participation of Amersfoort within the URBACT Sustainable Food in Urban Communities project forms an opportunity to join forces again and continue activities in a Local Support Group framework. This network, called Echt Eten Metwerk, has already 20 local stakeholders involved. Representatives of biological supermarkets, urban farms, schools and restaurants and local politicians all take part in this ambitious initiative aimed at exchanging knowledge in the field of sustainable food.

De Vale Ouwe is one of the private parties involved in the URBACT project. It was already a familiar player in the world of European projects. It is currently also involved in an INTERREG IVB project called Green Cook, aimed at reducing food waste in Northwestern Europe. The environment and energy administration of the Brussels Capital region – the lead partner of Sustainable Food in Urban Communities– is also part of this INTERREG initiative. They asked De Vale Ouwe if they knew of any Dutch cities that might be interested in joining the URBACT project. “We immediately posted this question on Twitter, and Amersfoort was the first city to respond. I’m sure this is because Amersfoort is a municipality that is highly interested in stimulating the sustainable production and consumption of food. Not only by setting up policies and projects, but especially by activating and using existing knowledge and potential of local players in this field” M. Karstens explains.

Sharing Knowledge and Experience Beyond the Borders of the Netherlands

Participating to Sustainable Food in Urban Communities has thus allowed both the city of Amersfoort and the local actors involved to expand their exchange of knowledge across the borders of the Netherlands. According to M. Karstens this exchange is very important for the development of local ideas.

The thematic network is split up into 3 working groups:

  • Growing; the production of food;
  • Delivering; fostering the connection between the land and the consumer, and shortening the food chain;
  • Enjoying; promoting regional products through education, health initiatives and behavioural changes.

“Through these 3 working groups, URBACT provides a network in which we can learn, be inspired and create value for our own city. We all believe sustainable food should become a mainstream subject. The network allows us to show each other how we think this could be achieved. As a member of the working group on ‘Delivering’, Amersfoort hopes to develop new ideas for its own local food chain.”

Inspiration from Athens, Messina, Vaslui and Bristol

Even though the project has only been active for less than a year, M. Karstens has already been inspired by the work of partner cities. “In Athens, for example, they are trying to connect the issue of food production with the question of unemployment. They are looking for ways to allow wasteland to be used for local food production by unemployed residents.”

However, M. Karstens is not only inspired by practical solutions. “Our partner cities Messina (Italy) and Vaslui (Romania) still have very passionate and inspirational local food cultures. Until 2012 Vaslui did not even have a supermarket. It does now, but it still allows local producers to sell their products in small stalls. The Netherlands has a very different way of dealing with food. We will probably never get an Italian-style food culture, but I do believe that looking at these examples can contribute to our own experience, and maybe change the way we feel about food at least a little.”

The city of Amersfoort has also been influenced by the approach of the city of Bristol, which has thoroughly analysed the food system serving the city. The report ‘Who feeds Bristol?’, written by researcher Joy Carey, explores how the production, growing, distribution, processing, catering and retail of food is organised in the region. The report even looks at the issue of waste, which is another essential element when it comes to sustainability. At the same time, the city is working on the establishment of Bristol’s new Food Policy Council. This will be a small group of committed individuals with expertise and local experience in the field of food. The Council is supposed to “drive

forward the changes needed to make Bristol a city where eating and celebrating good food becomes something that everyone is proud to be part of,” the report states.

“Greatly inspired by Bristol’s approach, the city of Amersfoort has decided to produce a similar study of the regional food chain,” M. Karstens says. “Students from Utrecht University are currently working on a ‘Who feeds Amersfoort’ report.”

The Future of Sustainable Food in Urban Communities Project

The URBACT project ‘Sustainable Food in Urban Communities’ will continue its activities until 2015. If you would like to stay informed about the project and its development, there are regular update on its online blog and information on its Minisite on the URBACT Website.

by Simone Pekelsma for the URBACT National Dissemination Point in The Netherlands, Platform 31




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