News - November 6, 2013

Farming in a poor neighbourhood

Albert Sikkema

Organic farmers should start focussing on disadvantaged neighbourhoods so as to get the children there eating fruit and vegetables, says Jaap Seidell, professor of nutrition at the VU University in Amsterdam. Good idea, says Jan-Willem van der Schans, researcher at the LEI and co-initiator of Eetbaar Rotterdam [ Edible Rotterdam].

‘The discussion on nutrition and health is very relevant, in Rotterdam as well,’ says Van der Schans. ‘You get all sorts of projects there in which local farmers and amateurs in the city collaborate on producing and processing food. One of my favourites is Hotspot Hutspot, in which West Indian girls are taught to cook with fresh local ingredients. This gives them a chance to learn about food and cooking and avoid putting on so much weight. The project even has a pop-up restaurant in a disused building.’

Who funds this kind of urban farming?

‘Hotspot Hutspot’s restaurant is sponsored by a housing association which makes the building available. Housing associations are the secret sugar daddy of urban faming. The principle is that the farmer earns more by supplying the city directly, while the consumer in the disadvantaged neighbourhoods still gets a bargain. I have seen examples of this – immigrants who buy bulk quantities of dairy and vegetables from farmers from the outskirts of Rotterdam.’

Are organic farmers at an advantage over their conventional colleagues?

‘One advantage is that you are not even allowed to spray crops in the city. But there are also organic farmers who feel that people should pay more for organic produce. Needless to say, you won’t reach the disadvantaged neighbourhoods with that elitist attitude. On those neighbourhoods the issue is access to sustainable and healthy food.’

How does a farmer make that connection with the city?

‘You have to enjoy opening your farm to immigrants and linking up with a food or cookery project in the city. That’s how you start. Then you hope to get more custom in the neighbourhood where they have got to know you. And you get goodwill in the city, which is handy for getting permits. In the long term it can lead to paid consultancy work because the farmer understands the business.’