Like in many other parts of the world, the Netherlands is a country with two realities. On the one hand, for decades policies have been pushing for further industrialisation of agriculture and food. Many farmers find themselves squeezed between the demands of suppliers and supermarkets, and a large number of Dutch farmers have closed business in the past decade. At the same time peasants, citizens and social movements are rising and building agroecological alternatives, creating more autonomy from existing power structures.
Farm ‘Buitenverwachting’ (Beyond Expectations) of the Van Rijn family is one such farm. Cattle, pigs, ducks and chickens roam around the property of the Van Rijn family. The farm, situated on the outskirts of Leiden, stands out. The fields host not only one, but several species of grass and herbs. They are foraged by a variety of local cattle breeds, who spot the lush pasture with an array of brown, black and white shades. Milk is not only sold to the factory but is processed into cheese and yogurt on the farm itself, finding its way directly to citizens, who co-own parts of the farm.
The farm has moved away from the general Dutch trend of specialisation and uniformity in high producing breeds and grass towards diversity. It is one of the expressions of a strengthening movement for agroecology and food sovereignty in the Netherlands.
On the 20th of June the farm hosted Activating for food sovereignty, a training weekend on agroecology, food sovereignty and the right to food, co-organised by ILEIA. Students and young farmers gathered to discuss how food sovereignty can be implemented in practice. Dismantling corporate industrial food chains, participants concluded, is something we can all play a role in. It starts with creative action; in our daily lives, in our research and on our farms. And although farming families are disappearing at a pace of 7 a day in this country, farming is not yet a dying profession.
In fact, a new class of farmers is on the rise. Many are first generation farmers with a mission to make a living out of agroecological farming. They are in uniting in the association Toekomstboeren (Future Farmers), where they define their struggle as one for food sovereignty. Glimpses of their identity, which is still gaining shape, can be found in portraits that were recently published.
These initiatives are also finding their way into the classrooms. Students with a special glow will soon be wandering the campus of the Wageningen University. A closer look will reveal that it is a tan, obtained not from lying on the beach, but earned by working on a farm. With this year’s 3rd edition of the Farm Experience Internship, supported by ILEIA, students will spend two weeks working on an agroecological farm, and two weeks in sessions to reflect on the experience. The reality of farmers is not something that is taught at the university. The initiative, based on a Brazilian example, strives to give students an insight into these realities and to contribute to making research more grounded.
Also green activists are taking an interest in agroecology, for example at the recent activist agriculture and climate camp Ground Control organised by A SEED. In a workshop hosted by ILEIA, participants discussed why agroecology is powerful and how it can be used as a basis for food system transformation. “A crisis is needed”, exclaimed one of the participants, formerly working in ICT and now studying to become a farmer. “This will force people to start producing food themselves”. Another participant, active for a community supported agriculture farm, added that we don’t have to wait for a crisis, “people can start doing things now by starting new and supporting existing local initiatives and making them more visible”.
This is what Voedsel Anders, a new network of civil society organisations and individuals in the Netherlands and Belgium, is doing. The network has recently drafted a manifesto pleading for more equitable and sustainable agriculture and food systems. On a Voedsel Anders network day, on the 13th of July, a diverse group of farmers, citizens and organisations came together to build on this, exchange experiences and forge new partnerships. At the conference it became clear once more that transformation towards agroecology in the Netherlands is on its way.