Operation Food Freedom (2018-2024)

Operation Food Freedom didn’t fall from the sky, but evolved as an important project from a continuous process of collaboration and co-creation in our rollout of robust, regional and regenerative food systems. It is interesting to explore its origins and its development to where we are now.

In 2014 Amped initiated the short food supply chain cooperative Local2Local in Utrecht, together with 20 local farmers. Our business market approach was to collaborate with institutions and (civil) organisations, to practically reestablish the relationship between the makers of our food and the people who eat it. Selling directly to consumers proved to be far more challenging in a consolidated food market.

Starting in 2014, we set up pilots and activities in the Utrecht Science Park and involved Utrecht University, the UMC, student associations, Green Office Utrecht and Stichting Groentetas.

What characterised these activities was the cross-pollination. Nothing stood purely on its own, but was often influenced or helped further by the inspiration, knowledge and contacts gained and shared. What we were working on was a self-activating, student-driven food network. In the first two years, we worked very hard to plant the proverbial seed, it just needed enough water and sunshine. Parallel to that, we also established practical partnerships with HKU, HU, HAS, Avans and Aeres colleges.

That was the first thing we wanted to make possible; fresh, affordable food from close by for the students, student houses, residents and employees at the Uithof. To do this, we conducted inventories in the communities of Utrecht Biologists Association, student associations STORM, Anteros, Helix and BOCS, and we partnered with Stichting Groentetas to help them with fruit and vegetable deliveries. The inventory also aimed to create pickup points together. This succeeded at three locations in the heart of the Utrecht Science Park. This was the start of a close relationship with Utrecht Science Park for the delivery (via catering) of local products and the integration of education and student communities into the process.

The second goal was to seriously involve the next generation with the regional food transition.

Our partnership with UU attracted students from Earth Sciences and Global Sustainability Science studies in particular, young people who like to put theory into practice or test it. Hands in the mud and proactive. Two projects we are proud to highlight: Get Wasted, the organic pear vodka made from waste streams i.c.w. fruit grower William Pouw, Buzzed honey beer to help and finance more beehives, and the vegetable garden i.c.w. farm Dijkzigt in Rijswijk, whose harvest (from full organic soil) served to fill the Groentetas for students. Many, many more projects followed.

One pivotal project was our students’ initiative Working @ the Farm.

Two knowledgeable UU students, Cristina and Danika, inspired by Amped’s co-creative approach, suggested that our collaboration with farmers needed more structure and student leadership to truly strengthen the food transition movement locally and regionally. Connecting students and young professionals directly to agriculture and the regional food system literally and figuratively makes all the difference.

Crista and Danika conducted surveys of students and farmers to find out if there was enough support for this idea. They organised a meet & match event to get to know each other, and exchange ideas, wants and needs. It was a great success. The Working @ the farm project was born, and could present itself at the Operation Food Freedom launch.

Students could gain knowledge on the farm, conversely also put what they learned into practice, perform (research) assignments, do paid (seasonal) work or volunteer.

Highlights: the Harvest Heroes during the #supportyourlocals-campaign, the collaboration with Seizoensarbeiders, assisting Reinaerde residents with farm activities, the surveys conducted for key projects, marketing support of several farmers in the Krommerijnstreek, and the energy that spilled over to the island of Texel, together with the farmers of Dapper.Texel and de Krim, leading to the Regeneration Workshop Texel and Wads Smaakhuus.

The Working @ the Farm projects we set up in collaboration with connected student communities (HAS, UU, HKU, HU and Aeres) and strategic partners were the proof of concept for the formalisation of Amped’s student programs and the eventual launch of Local2Local Talents (2020), the platform for young talent to find their role in the food transition.

In 2018, Amped developed the concept of Operation Food Freedom to orchestrate cohesive regional development, where local agriculture intertwines with nature, society and our cultural heritage. Operation Food Freedom (OFF) is about food safety and security; healthy food from and for one’s own region, now and in the future, supported and developed by all participants.

“Operation Food Freedom is working toward a future where local food supply becomes a foundation of the regional economy and society. For and with its citizens. Here, the forts of the Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinie form the connection between the city and the surrounding agriculture and nature, where citizens and producers come together, knowledge is shared and we stimulate awareness about the power of our local food chain.”

Together with fort entrepreneurs, Local2Local-farmers, Province of Utrecht, Municipality of Utrecht, University of Utrecht and other partners, we launched the Utrecht version of this concept in September 2018: Utrecht Food Freedom.

Utrecht Food Freedom was a first step to see if we could bring together and harness that abundance and realise a thoroughly connected and supported local food network.

Over the preceding two years, the relevance of the short/regional food chain had already increased significantly, but anno 2024 it is going through the roof.

Amped’s strategy to make the local food chain viable has been based on collaboration and co-creation. Economically, ecologically and socially. But above all, not reinventing the wheel, but inspiring and activating by way of strengthening what is already there, learning from the lessons of others and by adding what’s missing. And what is already there is abundance, not scarcity.

Several beautiful things developed since that launch, and one of them is the Grounded Community, initiated by Maarten Klop, which contributed significantly to the growing food movement in the region.

Grounded connects people to celebrate a tangible sustainable culture and is a diverse educated community driven by the common goal of regenerating our social and ecological system. Grounded fosters connection, competency and autonomy by empowering people to create value-based initiatives. Grounded engages people in culture and empowers them to co-create food, education and art projects. Together we can have fun, without causing harm.

Grounded originated in part from the student community and young people who came into contact with Amped and Local2Local. In 2020, Grounded was able to develop Fort Lunet I. It is fantastic how this movement has shaped their mission in a relatively short time and with so much conviction.

Food Heroes
Operation Food Freedom starts with the Food Hero, who wants to have a direct and positive impact on the neighbourhood or community.

There were already a lot of Food Soldiers. Such as the more than 700 students who have done internships, projects and research, assignments, or even found careers at Amped & Local2Local in recent years. It is not for nothing that they themselves were at the root of Working @ the Farm, Grounded and Local2Local Talents.

In early 2023 Operation Food Freedom started a trial in the small town of Horssen, near Nijmegen. Its Food Heroes were very dedicated and inspired, the customers were very happy with the service, but retention efforts and logistical challenges prevented the hub from overcoming the economic threshold.

On June 7th 2023 OFF Overvecht in Utrecht kicked off. After the start of Operation Food Freedom, Amped struck up a conversation with Mark Verhoef of De Sociale Pionier in Utrecht Overvecht and it was clear to him that OFF fit very well with his mission in the neighbourhood. In Overvecht, Mark has been working for years to connect people in the neighbourhood to create a nice living environment.

“I have enjoyed living in Overvecht with my family for over 20 years. I’ve worked in welfare work for a long time, I like to work in the garden, it brings me peace of mind and it produces something too. My dream is that my own environment is a beautiful, friendly, sustainable place to live and work. I like to contribute to this.

Access to fresh, healthy food in particular is increasingly difficult for more people these days. With Operation Food Freedom Overvecht, I can offer people in the neighbourhood lots of fresh food for little, straight from the farmers.”

In September 2023 our collaboration with Hogeschool Utrecht led to the opening of OFF Boerderij de Uithof in the restaurant atrium of its main faculty in Utrecht Science Park, later followed by the opening of the student-run Grounded Kitchen!

In late October 2023 the student-run OFF Wageningen kicked off, initiated by Hannah Ras and 3 friends, who later took her experience and joined Amped to be the project coordinator of Operation Food Freedom.

A little later, in February 2024, Nanouk de Jong started OFF Zeeburgereiland in Amsterdam.
“I live in the beautiful Baaibuurt on Zeeburgereiland: a biodiverse urban oasis. As a member of the Baaibuurt Collective, I strive for a future that is regenerative: where life thrives, ecology is healthy and the food web is in balance.”

This was quickly followed by the launch of OFF Gein in Amsterdam-Zuidoost at the end of April, set up by Annet van Hoorn, who is very active with building communities in the urban farming movement in Amsterdam and had become part of Amped’s rollout process in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area a few years earlier. Annet: “In our district we have many neighbourhood restaurants, cooks and people who like to cook because it reminds them of their homeland. It’s a nice idea to know which farmer your fruits and vegetables come from and that they are affordable. By eating better, people become healthier. I like to contribute to that.”

Operation Food Freedom is currently part of the City of Amsterdam’s In Residence programme, to help grow our hubs in Zeeburgereiland and Amsterdam-Zuidoost.

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