Voedseltuin IJplein is an urban community garden located in Amsterdam Noord overlooking the IJ. After volunteering at Voedseltuin IJplein, these are the observations of Blake, Zuzanna, and Callie.
By Callie Jacks
I hate biking.
It was a small shift in the conversation but the implications were striking. We were sitting with the garden volunteers in a circle near the glass house, drinking tea after a morning of weeding, watering, and harvesting. Starting with small talk– “What are you studying?” or “It’s so hot.”– we quickly moved to talk of the garden. A volunteer taught me the Dutch names for various herbs and vegetables while I watched another teach a young boy how to gather weeds for compost. Later, we moved to the topic of living in Amsterdam and the magic of biking everywhere. It was then that a local denounced the city’s most popular mode of transportation. Laughing, we began a lively debate. What’s so bad about biking? Before she drove off on her scooter, the local told me the best way to prepare the fresh endive I was taking home.
The biking conversation seems inconsequential, but it highlights the small differences that we encounter between humans. In the current world’s current political state, sometimes even the smallest of differences are insurmountable. However, in the refreshing atmosphere of Voedseltuin IJplein’s microscopic community food system, with growing produce as the starting point, any conversation seemed possible and welcomed.
A community food system is a food system in which the elements of food production, processing, distribution, and consumption are consolidated to improve environmental, economic, and social health. Voedseltuin IJplein is a perfect example of a community food system as it is completely responsible for all four elements. What’s more, Voedseltuin IJplein fosters a unique social scene, which is my favorite part of any community.
I’m amazed that while growing, picking, and eating food, people are able to transcend the differences of language, age, and education to participate in spirited discussions about everything, even biking.
Working with the Community
By Zuzanna Skoczek
Voedseltuin IJplein garden would not have seen the light of day without Paul Schreerder. Named “godfather” of the neighbourhood, Paul is a social worker and former alderman. After years of working with Amsterdam food banks, resolving problems of Vogelbuurt dwellers, and dealing with systemic obstacles, he came up with a new concept: an urban garden established and run by volunteers that supplies a local food bank with fresh, seasonal, and organic vegetables. Maybe he read all those books that say such gardens help build social capital, mutual trust, and reciprocity?Urban gardening receives more and more attention these days, both from media, non-governmental organizations, and individuals alike. Most of these gardens provide a space for individuals to grow produce for themselves. But would you work in a garden set to fulfill other people’s needs?
Maria, who I met at the food bank (while volunteering for the garden), comes to this spot every week and knows everybody. She is cheerful, easy going, and open-minded. She is Nigerian and speaks to me in Dutch when I ask her what will she make out of a huge zucchini she just got. When I tell her she can eat it raw, she immediately invites me for dinner to prepare it both ways– hers and mine. Unfortunately, the date is set after my departure. Never mind this, she explains that fresh vegetables provided by the Voedseltuin IJplein are a valuable addition to her plate. The produce also helps her understand what grows in the Netherlands and how can she make use of it. Not everybody I met at the Foodbank supported the idea so wholeheartedly, but there’s another method sewn for them in the garden– personal beds, where one can grow the crops of his/her choice.
Paul says it takes about an year for a person to become involved in the community – no matter if it’s sewing, gardening, or chatting. People are rather reluctant and it’s no surprise, as many of them face severe problems at homes. Once involved, people thrive and you can see it even in food bank, where they volunteer for or participate in the events organized for the community. t’s visible in the data.When asked if they feel at home with people who live in their neighbourhood on a scale 1-10 they say 7.1 on average.
Combating Contemporary Anxieties
By Blake Carver
Modern humanity need not worry about catching the plague or having their lives upturned by hungry neighboring tribes, yet people today still harbor feelings of anxiety as if Hannibal himself was at the gates. This brand of skepticism of our fellow man, or neo-cultural-pessimism as the Dutch sociologist Van Ginkel defines it, is cultivated by political parties that would implement the fear of the “other” as a distraction from the real and insidious form of corruption that comes from within a ruling party (see: Trump 2016). This scapegoating creates a wedge between every day citizens who, counter to the persuasions of politicians, are simply in pursuit of life liberty and happiness.
So, what’s a pessimist to do? This blog issues a call to anyone with a desire to improve the unanimous mental state of mankind to consider community gardening as a means to improve the social cohesion of all citizens of earth. We argue that a garden acts as the best device for bringing a divided community together as it is related to the one common necessity all living beings on earth have: the need to eat. To a hungry person, the stature of their rescuer matters not. A meal shared between people of any kind bridges the gap of anxiety and instead nurtures feelings of love and stability.
As my hose methodically traversed the patch of pumpkins that Wednesday’s garden director, Arnold, had instructed me to water, I thought of how strange a pumpkin would appear to someone who had never seen one before. The gourd’s coarse, seemingly inedible exterior may perturb the unfamiliar, and yet pumpkin pie is revered as the central dish in American gatherings of thanks and unity. This reminded me of a post I had seen on national geographic. The video, titled “Face-Off With A Deadly Predator” is not a story about a struggle between beings (the message many media headlines today try to convey). Instead, it was about breaking stereotypes and improving understanding. The video follows a leopard seal, who typically are labeled as violent and irrational, as it attempts to teach an ocean photographer how to catch and eat the seal’s favorite food. Over a period of 4 days, the predator brings the wet-suited photographer prey not only as a means to feed him, but in an attempt to teach him how to hunt. This acts as a reminder that food is central to all living things, and that by sharing our food ways with each other we harbor love and combat fear.