Right from the country to the school desk

The lunch at the primary school De Toermalijn is healthy, fresh and locally harvested and processed. With the initiative ‘Learning food’, Marianne Geurts and John van Helden, together with initiators and partners, establish a new food chain in Limburg.

John van Helden was about five years old when he bought a piece of land from his father
must grow vegetables. His grandfather and father, both outdoor vegetable growers, taught him the first tricks of the trade.

“Despite all the effort, from paying attention to the soil and plant care to the harvest, this yielded little money,” says Van Helden. ‘It even seemed that the better you tried as a gardener, the less you were left with at the bottom of the line.’

With his experiences as a child, Van Helden is now trying, together with his partner Marianne Geurts, to establish a fairer food chain. Regionally, with a ‘fair price for the producer’, with as few residual flows as possible, healthy and delivered immediately. The first step in the ‘Learning Food’ concept, which has since been developed, is to provide packed lunches to primary school students. Vegetables, fruit, bread, meat and dairy products, directly from eleven producers in the area.

What’s really different about us is that it starts with the food producer

John van Helden initiates Learning Food

Pick up orders

The initiators work together with Rendiz in Panningen, where people with a distance to the labor market put together the food packages. Early this morning, Van Helden collected the orders from the farmers and horticulture companies and delivered them to Rendiz. On Wednesday and Thursday, the packages go to De Toermalijn primary school in Tegelen. Allergy or dietary needs are considered for each student.

Van Helden and Geurts have applied for affiliation with the Healthy Primary School of the Future, where children get a lunch instead of their own lunch or snacks in accordance with the guidelines from the Dutch Nutrition Center. ‘We’re actually an alternative to catering, and we want to expand that step by step,’ says the gardener’s son.

Everyone knows the stories of growers trapped in a power bloc of commerce and retail, Van Helden says. ‘I think you can only break through it by building a chain from the bottom up. Start with the manufacturers and give them a fair price. We then add value to the products by processing them and delivering them at an affordable price. ‘

The child in the center

The first plans have been prepared on the Brightland Campus under the leadership of Marianne Geurts. ‘We work with different people from the agricultural sector, processing and education. It gives a nice synergy ‘, explains Geurts. ‘We want an open and transparent food system and put the child first.

‘The first pilot project has now succeeded, and by the autumn we will be expanding with more schools, which we will have to deliver. We are also in talks with several municipalities. The concept is also suitable for healthcare institutions, company canteens or sports clubs. ‘

Learning-eating is therefore reminiscent of other concepts, such as the LOF program in Limburg or the national program for Young Learning Food, to make children and young people aware of food and food choices. Van Helden: ‘What’s really different about us is that it starts with the food producer. Whether it’s a baker or a milk producer, they have a product that comes from the region, it has a history and it has to have a good price to survive. ‘

10 kilos of peppers

One of the manufacturers is Zuivel van Nu, which also supplies to supermarkets, retail, catering and hospitals. Another participant is pepper grower Nicole Litjens. Kwekerij Litjens has three locations in Limburg and grows on more than 18 hectares. Each week, they deliver 5 to 10 kilos of peppers to Learning Food.

‘For us, it is very small quantities, but we think it is a sympathetic idea,’ says Litjens. ‘It is important that children and young people know where the food comes from. We also have regular pupils from primary and lower secondary school, upper secondary education and vocational education at our horticultural company. ‘

Learn about healthy food early

‘The sooner children come in contact with knowledge about healthy food, the better,’ the gardener continues. ‘They could also be the employees of the future for our company. Learning food is also a way to let children taste our products. ‘

Litjens wonders how the initiative will continue to run in the long run. ‘We all put in voluntary hours, and that’s fine, but you need a revenue model, even if it’s through government subsidies.’

‘It will take time to further develop such a concept,’ Geurts and Van Helden acknowledge. ‘We are already explaining what we serve via a food truck in the schoolyard. We notice that Learning Food is very well received, and that without the great extra effort we can supply around twenty schools and in that way also generate money. Then it’s time for your own car and an employee. ‘

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