Spinach, red cabbage, kale, under a gray, wide sky. In Lutkemeerpolder, between Amsterdam and Schiphol, the last vegetables of the year are harvested. When turnips and radishes come up in the spring, the air is probably halved, and the people at Pluk horticultural company are looking at the massive walls of a distribution center. Cables are laid along a new road. Buses run back and forth. Ahead is already such a dark box.
Trijntje Hoogendam, in the shop at the nursing home De Boterbloem, must not say anything, she says. This was the agreement when the municipality, after great opposition and interference from the ombudsman, promised that the farm would not give way to companies just yet. Pluk allows De Boterbloem to use an additional three hectares, while the surrounding fields are now being prepared for construction.
Natasha Hulst is allowed to talk. She does this on behalf of Voedselpark Amsterdam, a civic club fighting with the activists from Behoud Lutkemeer for the last piece of fertile farmland in Amsterdam. The last clay polder, everything else is peat meadows around Amsterdam. They are for agriculture. Before short food chains. Before a green landscape. Against the drowsiness. Against land speculation. And thus against the municipality, which changed the zoning plan from agricultural to business park.
Amsterdam Food Park has now raised half a million euros through crowdfunding in the hope that the municipality will pay half. The Lutkemeerpolder can become a hub for food, the plan is, for Amsterdammers from all over the city, but also for other urban farmers. With gardens, fields, shops, maybe a small distribution center for food from the region. Community Supported Agriculture, they call it. Agriculture by and for society. “But it shouldn’t be the unthinkable hipster project,” says Hulst. She talks about the principle of common people, common lands, which in ancient times were common, which were run by the whole village. “There’s nothing ideological about it, it’s just a practical way of arranging things.”
Hulst refers to something else seemingly old-fashioned: the green ‘skegs’ that were part of Cornelis van Eesteren’s general expansion plan for Amsterdam at the beginning of the last century. The green bays in the city meant that all city dwellers could go outside in nature. In times of crisis, says Hulst, these wedges can supply the city with food. Very relevant if you think our food should be closer to CO2emissions from transport.
The remarkable thing is: the city council (PvdA, GroenLinks, D66) also wants all that. There is a ‘food strategy’, a ‘green main structure’, a ‘climate neutral roadmap’, a ‘circular agenda’. Read the coalition agreement: more green, protection of the wedges, urban agriculture, a more climate-resistant landscape, preservation of biodiversity, bringing food closer to Amsterdammers.
But in Lutkemeerpolder? Not now. Contracts have been signed, the money is counted and stopping now will cost the municipality almost 100 million in preparation costs, lost income and claims from investors – although opponents say there is no evidence for this. Furthermore, says Hulst, it will also cost a lot to build. “Because you already know that a new road has to be built to handle a thousand traffic movements here every day.”
And it is therefore about what can be expressed in money, because damage to the landscape, biodiversity, soil and air quality is not in the budget. And fertile clay is worth nothing.
What are we talking about, you might say. A stamp of 43 hectares, sandwiched between roads and businesses. Always noise. And a club of privileged Amsterdammers who have made campaigning their hobby. In addition, companies and distribution centers on the outskirts of the city are necessary to reduce emissions in the city, says a spokesman for the councilor. “And it’s not like the entire polder is being built up.” 21 hectares are free for nature and 10 hectares for agriculture. And two thousand fruit trees are to be planted on the business park.
Read more about Lutkemeerpolder:How the polder became a business park
On the other hand: If so many people far beyond Amsterdam are concerned about a piece of land, then it is not a problem that is not in my backyard. Then the local squabbles stand for something bigger.
It is significant that Land van Ons has also become involved in the Food Park. Land van Ons, a citizens’ cooperative that buys up agricultural land throughout the Netherlands to restore biodiversity and the landscape. And as last year in Zeewolde made a throw to the ground, where Facebook mother Meta had devised a data center. A club that knows what it’s all about in three words: Don’t sell valuable farmland to a company or developer with deep pockets. Keep it for the community, make ‘the country ours’.
The Lutkemeer polder is facing greater dissatisfaction, says founder Franke Remerie. “Everyone sees that things need to change, but our administrators are stuck in the old way of thinking.” Always following the demand for more. Consume more, live more, pack more. The big problem: “It simply gives too much for the municipalities to designate agricultural land as a business park.” The more land you sell at the higher square meter price, the better. Distribution centers are a blessing in that they eat up square footage.
But what kind of message is that? “You ask citizens to behave more sustainably without setting a good example yourself? It bothers not only a small elite, but large groups of citizens. That they themselves have to go ahead, but are powerless because they have no money to buy the land.” Not only in Amsterdam, also in Nuenen, Venlo – wherever boxes appear. Or more broadly: anywhere politics prioritizes short-term profit over a long-term vision of what you want to be and what you want with your food supply, as a municipality, as a country. That it is the green parties who kill the discussion by hiding behind the costs only makes it more cynical.
Also read: How can the dosage remain manageable?
They have not yet given up on the Lutkemeerpolder. They hold on to what is left. You can still do a lot on the edges. Or, Remerie’s idea, maybe you could lift one of those boxes and grow mushrooms under it, or let pigs run free. Although it is always about money, Voedselpark and Land van Ons continue to talk to the shareholders of the development company, which is largely owned by the municipalities of Amsterdam and Haarlemmermeer and the province. Remerie: “You can wait for the government to solve it. But do we let it happen, or do we put the shovel in the ground ourselves?”
Four NRC editors – Hanneke Chin-A-Fo, Bas Heijne, Folkert Jensma and Martine Kamsma take turns discussing what strikes them about their specialization here.