Utrecht University, Amped and Local2Local have been collaborating in the local food domain since the spring of 2014, through initiatives, pilots and projects, together with Green Office Utrecht, Stichting Groentetas, student communities, faculties and partner organizations.
Amped and Local2Local facilitated many internships, research projects and provided students the opportunity to work, gain experience and exchange knowledge in the local food chain in the Utrecht region. This was premised on the idea that the transition to a sustainable and regionally connected food system can’t be achieved without socio-cultural change and an active leading role by the next generation. In 2020 these activities converged into the formation of Local2Local Talents, to support and grow their roles in the food transition.
In the weekly Talents Portraits series we introduce young people who have been part of this journey and would like to share their experiences, learnings and views on the future of food.
This week we feature Maarten Klop. Maarten studied Global Sustainability Science at Utrecht University and first got in touch with Local2Local and Amped at the launch of Operation Food Freedom back in 2018. Watch the video interview and/or read the extended interview below.
Please introduce yourself
“Hello, my name is Maarten, I’m 25 years old and I love nature and people, and I found food as the thing that connects both.
I grew up in Kenya, The Netherlands, the U.S. and spent some time in South America. I saw beautiful nature and met great people in all those places. I had a very happy childhood which instilled a responsibility to do something useful with my blessed life, preferably with people and nature.
This led me to study Global Sustainability Studies at the University of Utrecht, with a focus on ‘Water, Climate and Ecosystems’ and ‘Societal Change’.
I learned just how messed up we are on a worldwide scale. All the indicators had turned red. This was demotivating for a while, until I learned two things:
- Food forests offer a way of farming with nature: increasing biodiversity, water storage capacity, etc. We can restore ecosystems, provide healthy food and create resilience on a local scale;
- The world is not going to end all at once. Unfairly, crisis after crisis will hit us until we find a way to live in harmony with nature. So there is a point to building an alternative society.
So I thought, let’s start! With some friends from university we formulated a dream: a grid of autonomous food forest communities which learn from each other and where everyone has equal opportunity to contribute. Fun, safe spaces.
We just didn’t have an idea how to do it all. We figured we needed money and people. So why not start with a sustainable festival to inspire people and show that working on solutions and living in a sustainable way actually makes life more fun!
This is how I reached out to the people at Fort bij ‘t Hemeltje in Houten and asked: can we organize a festival here?
At Fort bij ‘t Hemeltje I got the opportunity to set up a project with Stichting Compazz and William Pouw looking at improving organic fruit farming with the help of a transparent solar cover, a project which we named FruitVolt. Throughout this project William showed me the key that farmers hold in their hands to solve the world’s ecological and social issues I had been learning about locally.”
How did you get in contact with Amped/Local2Local & what made you decide to join?
“I got in contact with Amped & Local2Local when I signed up for the launch event of Operation Food Freedom back in 2018. There, organic fruit grower William Pouw showed me that healthy soils store more water, make healthy food, and that farmers can increase biodiversity and make our landscapes more beautiful and resilient.
Shortly thereafter I realized that food connects people and nature, and that understanding this might just be our savior.
Local2Local’s large network of farmers (400+), the collaborative mindset, the system thinking approach and ability to work on local projects and strategic international projects made me decide to stay at Amped and local2Local.”
What have you worked on, how did you experience this, what did you learn?
“As I mentioned, FruitVolt was very interesting. I learned project management skills, how to apply for funding and build a cross sectoral consortium of professors, farmers, technicians, consultants and many more experts.
Vereniging Flevofood is a short food supply chain initiative in the province of Flevoland and a partner of Local2Local. I learned how to organize stakeholder events and facilitate inter-regional, multi-stakeholder collaborations.
Grounded Community – I learned how to build a diverse and motivated community. This involved positioning ourselves with governmental institutions and building a network of ambassadors and experimenting with creating the space and support for community members to co-create and celebrate a regenerative culture through food, education and art.
Apple and pear harvest – after graduation and the first Grounded Festival in 2019, I needed work, so I got a job as a pear harvester. In the following years I organized this same opportunity for about 20 people per harvest season. This is now called Harvest Heroes.
Blockchain pilot project – I learned about the potential of measuring different values (water storage, health, organic matter in the soil) and building new sustainable business models around that. At the same time I learned that it’s very complex and that the way of collecting and sharing data needs to be made easier for the farmer and the data needs to be relevant for citizens.
Local2Local Talents – I helped set up a platform to connect motivated young people to work and/or do research in the food transition. It was inspiring to see the interaction between them and the region. But it was also a lot of manual work. Creating talent profiles, onboarding farmers and other employers and then manually meeting and matching. During covid it was also hard to keep the talents community (informally) together. And we learned at the same time it needed a lot of legal work to function as what is perceived as a detachment agency.
The learnings from Grounded, Local2Local Talents and our work on building a regional, regenerative food system can now be applied and developed further.”
What are you doing at the moment?
“Currently I’m mentoring students who do research on the food system. Since joining Amped/L2L, I have mentored more than 250 students and I want to apply my experience to help build the Academy and create a smarter process. Inspiring young people at events, activating them with meet and match software for practical jobs, and offering the opportunity to apply for the Academy, which will be set up to connect students and young professionals with long term projects, in collaboration with the partners in our ecosystem. This also involves getting training from the experts in our ‘swarm’ of collaborating organizations.
We’re also creating products with sustainable impact, via our reversed marketplace called Let’s Get Local, together with our farmers and producers, buyers, and students. With this approach, Amped and Local2Local aim to build a connected ecosystem of learning regions.
Being a cheerleader for the Grounded-community, I manage partner relationships, try to spot opportunities, empower people, do the everyday management, such as finance, hr, event planning, and marketing.”
Where are you heading? What are you aiming for?
I want to restore ecosystems, make life more fun, and establish social justice based on equal opportunity, make real human connections and use our shared values to make the world more beautiful.
I aim to be an active part of what I call the silent revolution of regions, by leading, inspiring and learning continuously.”
What is your (ultimate) dream?
“It is my ultimate dream to build self-sufficient communities, where everyone has the equal opportunity to participate, find their place and be part of a community of regions. In my mind, the journey of learning and co-creating in a regional context should be able to solve any problem.
All of these places will have community kitchens, food production and a real connection with the local farmers, spaces to create and build, to work with wood, metal, arts & crafts, etc and cultural stages to host events, concerts, speakers and whatever people deem necessary.
I want to spend my life building this interregional network of passionate creators and establish the blueprint for a ‘SafeGround’, inspire many people to initiate these SafeGrounds themselves and connect them so that they can learn from each other.
The idea is to use this SafeGround-network to build the Academy and mobilize the army of love to build regional and regenerative societies.”