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Food For Good

by Jonathan Hankins [1], 21 April 2023

On 4 April 2023 Jonathan Hankins and Cristina Grasseni showed a group of students from Nottingham Trent university (UK) round the community garden Food For Good in Utrecht (NL).
As regular readers will know, both share an interest in local food production. Cristina is Principal Investigator in Food Citizens? [2], an ongoing EU funded project that aims to examine the consequences and premises of collective food procurement in three European cities (Rotterdam, Turin, and Gdańsk) and the pair co-authored Collective Food Purchasing Networks in Italy as a Case Study of Responsible Innovation [3] in the Glocalism Special Issue Feeding the Planet. Energy For Life [4].

Food For Good

Food For Good [5] is a city-garden in Utrecht, whose day-to day running is currently coordinated by Liselot Thijssen and Rineke Konink. Liselot (in the photos) holds not only agricultural and management experience but also social science qualifications, exemplifying the role of the organization that sits firmly on the boundary between social and agricultural work. In 2021 Food For Good became part of Utrecht Natuurlijk [6], a foundation that is funded primarily through nature, environment and education subsidies with the aim of bringing the population of Utrecht into closer contact with its green spaces and nature. Utrecht Natuurlijk currently manages five city farms and six city gardens, offering a host of activities from introductory courses to vegetable production to bat- and bee-counting expeditions.

Food for Good is sited in a large park on the edge of a heavily populated estate in Utrecht. It currently hosts around 90 volunteers, who together work the land and maintain the area under the guidance of the resident experts. The aim is to use as many recycled materials as possible, many of which come through the city council: the compost is made from the grass cuttings and garden waste gathered during council maintenance; branch offcuts are used in fence-making, with larger trunk pieces cut up and dried for use in the log burner that heats a shepherd hut style office. Tables, cutting trestles, the solar-drying house (for herbs) and much of the garden furniture is made from similar recycled materials.

The building and maintenance work are very much part of the social fabric of the organization. The gardens produce food but the goal is to build a sustainable natural as well as social space. The food production side allows the provision of a box scheme, with 8 participants receiving a food box every week that the season allows (delivered by bike). Other production (vegetables, fruit, flowers, honey, herbal teas, jam and pickles, candles and a host of other specialties) are made available via a stall by the gate, with vegetables also bought by VOKO [7], a local food collective.

The focus is on developing a broad range of skills through co-production. Examples abound, from the purpose built and designed drainage systems that one of the volunteers planned and constructed to the woven fence that surrounds the garden, from maintenance of the delivery bike to plumbing.

Visiting Students. The European Sustainable Towns Challenge

Hankins and Grasseni led a group of students from Nottingham Trent University round the garden upon invitation from Food for Good via Utrecht University. The students were drawn from several disciplines, including psychology, business studies, social inequalities studies and sustainable food studies. The group was visiting several European cities including Gent, Antwerp, Brussels and Lille, experiencing different social entrepreneurship projects working on sustainable food.

Their aim is to gather ideas and examples that they can propose to the city council of Mansfield in the UK, who have funds to invest in developing sustainable practices around food. The tour of Food For Good opened the students up to a particular vision on using and building social space. They were especially interested not only in how the project is funded, its aims and self-perception of 'good', but also in what the visitors take from the experience.

Several topics arose during the discussion:

The importance of coordination between and within different entities;
The close cooperation with mental health services;
The advantages that grouping projects together brings in terms of gaining expertise;
Personal and individual choice in how to live the space;
Bricolage as a process;
The importance of green social spaces in densely populated areas;
How existing policy initiatives could be targeted and driven (Nottingham Trent University has a no food waste policy that could be built upon);
Individual (volunteer and health-worker) impressions of positive results.

And as in all good socio-educational interactions there was plenty of mutual learning.

See the photos below.


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Links in this document:

  1. 1] /schedabiografica/Jonathan Hankins
  2. 2] http://www.foodcitizens.eu
  3. 3] https://glocalismjournal.org/collective-food-purchasing-networks-in-italy-as-a-case-study-of-responsible-innovation/
  4. 4] https://glocalismjournal.org/issue-2014-1-2-feeding-the-planet-energy-for-life/
  5. 5] https://www.utrechtnatuurlijk.nl/locaties/stadstuin-foodforgood/
  6. 6] https://www.utrechtnatuurlijk.nl
  7. 7] https://vokoutrecht.nl/english/
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Food For Good
Articles by:  Jonathan Hankins
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