Fertile City: Earth custodians at work
by Toby Jones, Solidariteitsnetwerk Buurttuinen
Nomad chefs, refugees and students sharing their food cultures, healthy soil, off-grid living, indigenous knowledge, building coalitions of neighborhood groups … community foodscapes are regenerating in Amsterdam and citizens are making their dreams real. Being custodians of local ecologies, repairing relationships between humans and nature.
This is the third article on a series that shares the courageous dreams (and practices!) of neighborhood food gardens to breathe new life into community foodscapes in and around Amsterdam. The dreams are harvested from 16 community evaluations that happened with 16 different gardens. A cluster of five gardens in Nieuw-West decided to collaborate and now such dreams are becoming a reality. May you be inspired by their great practices and make more dream relationships of solidarity and reciprocity.
Cluster of five community food gardens in Nieuw-West
Dreaming as Earth custodians
Many community food gardeners dream of regenerating the green areas in their neighborhoods. They dream of equitable relationships between humans and nature. To be lifelong custodians of local ecologies who restore water quality, soil life, biodiversity and natural energy. They dream to be treated as partners with the Gemeente, re-connecting isolated green spaces with isolated local neighbors. They dream to protect their gardens from concrete delusions and celebrate life in all its diversity.
Dreams made real: indigenous knowledge
The gardeners of Hof van Acta have integrated traditional vegetables into a food forest garden. Reconnecting with indigenous knowledge they integrate 7 vertical layers of fruit and nut trees with berry bushes and edible shrubs combining with perennials and herbs. The effects are increased biodiversity not only in 100+ species of edible plants, also in species who share the harvest, such as birds, insects and amphibians.
Hof van Acta has been successful in regenerating green areas beyond the borders of the garden. They voluntarily clean surrounding areas of rubbish and trim the grass with scythes replacing fossil-fuelled machines that shred plastic and contaminate the environment. They use the grass cuttings for composting and are bartering with the Gemeente to purchase and sew bee-friendly flower seeds in exchange for their green services.
Dreams made real: healthy soil
The Green Tribe is making great progress in regenerating the health of soil. Like most gardens in Amsterdam they are challenged by the Gemeente dumping a large layer of sand and gravel on top of the soil. They are experimenting with a range of strategies to resolve the disconnection of the top soil from the carbon rich peat layer below:
- Green Tribe gardeners forage for nettles and make compost teas that feed soil life.
- They also use their urine as an excellent fertilizer and a booster for composts.
- They work with willows and plants with deep tap roots that bring minerals to the top soil.
- They plant living green manures and cover crops that prevent soil erosion.
- They have a vermiculture (worm) system. And neighbours share green waste for composting.
- They have compost toilets with an ambition to be 100% circular.
Gradually the health of the soil is regenerating into a self-sustaining ecosystem of microbes and fungi no longer dependent on continuous inputs of fertilizers and compost from other places. By sequestering carbon they contribute to climate change mitigation. Their transformation of human waste means less pressure and energy spent on water and sewage systems in the city.
Dreams made real: off-grid community
The KasKantine community are also cultivating ways to be Earth custodians while striving for more autonomy in daily life. They are restoring nutrient imbalances (contamination) in the water and soil by filtering nitrate out of the canals and installing a water cycle that flows back. As with the other mentioned gardens they irrigate their plants with canal water, but go a step further by using a solar-powered pump.
Gardeners collaborate with nomad chefs, engineers and teachers to realize an off-grid project that reproduces food and energy while also protecting nature in the city. De KasKantine innovated a new type of contract with the municipality, climate adaptive land lease contract (Klimaatadaptief grondhuurcontract) which enables social and ecological initiatives to access land for low rents. This means the Earth is saved from costly and destructive human infrastructures that are usually demanded in urban development.
Community food growers at De KasKantine also reach out to other gardens and neighbours in their locality, listening to their needs and wishes for high quality multifunctional green areas. They organise virtual and physical meet ups that share knowledge and practical skills. The effects are an increasingly active and competent network of people empowered to take care of their local green and rebuild communitarian life ways.
De KasKantine with solar-powered sprinkler irrigation system
Dreams made real: garden team of refugees and students
Neighboring the De KasKantine is the garden of Startblok Riekerhaven ‘a living project for young refugees with a residence permit and Dutch youngsters’ studying at university. The garden team is celebrating life in all its diversity by investing resources into the sharing and celebration of different food cultures. They made facilities for cooking and sharing food (lots of tables) which facilitates social bonding. The combination of individual gardens and common gardens and social infrastructure gives space for different groups to do their own thing while also being together.
Dreams made real: uniting to protect green areas
Finally, there is the Spijteltuin, a newcomer to Amsterdam’s emerging Solidariteitsnetwerk Buurttuinen. Sadly, all 5 of the gardens are at risk of disappearing because the area is intended for redevelopment so the municipality gave them temporary land agreements. Spijteltuin appears to be the first neighborhood garden penciled for erasure because it sits within phase 1 of the urban 25 year development plan of Schinkelkwartier.
Schinkelkwartier area plan
Inspiringly, the community gardeners at Spijteltuin are forming a broad coalition of neighborhood groups, including Schinkelkwartier Bewoners, who use and value the local green areas in a multitude of ways. They organize to influence the development of the area and thereby protect the green areas from property construction and to be acknowledged as placemaking partners with the Gemeente.
Together in collaboration with the other food gardens they are in the process of facilitating neighborhood-led environmental plans that start from local knowledge and integrate neighborhood initiatives. The gardeners share their ecological knowledge and community building skills as they co-design for health and wellbeing with the neighborhood. They unite fragmented green spaces into lively green corridors where environmental health can regenerate and civic life flourish in the wake of this traumatic and isolating pandemic.