Amsterdam as a Cornucopia: An Ambitious and Achievable Vision for Regenerative Urban Agriculture in Medium-Sized Western Cities
Demonstrating a holistic case for the role that urban metros can play in a circular and regenerative food system, with Amsterdam as a case.
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Small company (under 50 employees)
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
Waternet (Amsterdam’s Public Water Utility).
Food-E (An EU-Funded project to further Low-Cost urban food production technology).
FRESH (A Netherlands-based accelerator building circular and regenerative ventures that target systemic challenges in the food system).
Food Council MRA (A community of practice led by regional authorities focused on improving the regional food system).
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
Amsterdam Metropolitan Region (MRA)
What country is your selected Place located in?
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
We believe the region has so much raw potential to be a leader on the global stage for pioneering sustainable urban agriculture. Amsterdam (and The Netherlands more broadly) is a global thought leader in design, water management, horticulture, and urban planning. There are a significant amount of committed and collaborative stakeholder relationships already in place between the city, public and private utilities, housing corporations, property developers, SMEs, and community groups. The ingredients are there, and we see the momentum picking up.
Metabolic has called Amsterdam home since the earliest days of our organization when we set up shop here seven years ago. Amsterdam is also where 90% of our employees live. We love this city and it’s an intrinsic part of our everyday lives.
We have already done a significant amount of work for and with the city of Amsterdam and are familiar with the region from a technical, environmental, economic, and political perspective. Seven years ago, we created a plan for a ‘Cleantech Playground’ in Amsterdam North, which included two adjacent developments of different character that could pioneer circular urban developments. Those two developments--De Ceuvel (http://deceuvel.nl) and Schoonschip (http://schoonschipamsterdam.org/)--exist today and have become international examples for urban design and engineering. We have worked on many projects for Amsterdam since, from piloting circular water and sanitation systems, to creating masterplans for new proposed urban areas, and conducting experiments with future horticulture systems. By being part of building new neighborhoods and initiating technology pilots in the city, we have explored what is possible and explored the nuanced barriers for change. We understand the context and can work with key stakeholders to implement pathways forward.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Amsterdam is the official capital of the Netherlands. While most of the national government is located in The Hague (some 45 minutes away by train), Amsterdam is the cultural and economic capital of the country. The Metropolitan Region of Amsterdam (MRA) is one of the most international cities; only 55% of the population is native Dutch and residents represent over 175 nationalities. Some 2.4 million people, more than 14% of the Netherlands’ population, live within the MRA.
The region is wealthy and urban and has a thriving economy. The MRA has a unique place in the world given its relatively small size; it serves as a global hub for engineering, architecture, and fashion. It is also a hub for data centers. On the flip side, there is a constant housing shortage. Amsterdam is a regional and international gravitational force that entices a lot of people to want to move here, which in turn is having gentrification effects and pushing poorer groups out of the city.
There is a significant amount of production of food in the region--greenhouses for vegetables and fruits, fields for cereals, and a significant amount of dairy. Not only does the Netherlands have a significant agri-food sector responsible for 7.4% of the nation’s GDP and 626,000 jobs (8.7% of employment), but Amsterdam sees itself as an important world leader in the field.
The infrastructure and logistics of big agribusiness are, for better or for worse, in place in the MRA. There is also quite a lot already going on within the region with regard to innovation in urban food systems, including the MRA Food Council, which seeks to advance a community of practice for the region, and various EU 2020 projects, such as FoodE and Repair, which focus on developing elements of circular food systems in Amsterdam (both of which Metabolic has been involved with).
The Dutch enjoy simple cuisine, which traditionally includes potatoes, vegetables, and meat. Although because of the internationality of Amsterdam, there are many ethnic alternatives. And even traditional Dutch diets are changing, as two in five Dutch people say they are eating less meat and 17% say they are vegetarian or vegan.
The land is entirely flat due to the fact that the region was reclaimed from the sea reportedly as early as the 10th century AD. The climate is temperate, with cool summers and moderate winters, and it rains constantly (200 days out of the year experience rain). Because of the numerous canals stretching from the center city to all around the region, Amsterdam is often called the Venice of the North.
The people who live in and around Amsterdam are eclectic, but generally the population is proud to be at the intersection of geographies and systems--part of a city that shows the world how society can succeed by embracing both a capitalist system and taking care of its people and the environment.
What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Amsterdam currently (2020) faces a number of challenges, most of which will be much more acute in 2050. They are as follows:
Linear Nutrient Cycle
Cities are giant nutrient sinks, and Amsterdam is no different. Large amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen flow through the regional municipal waste stream as food waste and human waste and are not recovered. A recent study by Waternet, Amsterdam’s public water utility, shows that only 16% of phosphorus in the municipal wastewater is recovered. A main barrier to recovering nutrients is stringent health policies that forbids most handling and use of human waste as a source of nutrients. Struvite from municipal wastewater was only marketable once the Health Agency granted it a new status. However, many legal and economic barriers persist.
Although Europeans are healthier than their American counterparts, and vegetarianism and veganism is on the rise, diets and nutrition are worsening in the Netherlands. From 2000 to 2016, adult obesity rose from 9.7% to 14.5%. With busier lifestyles and the ubiquity of fast food, Dutch diets have increasingly been integrating already-made food and processed food in daily routines. Processed foods usually contain high levels of fat, sugar, and salt, and low contents of dietary fiber and micronutrients.
Most people who know the Netherlands wouldn’t guess that it has issues with a lack of water. Water is everywhere and it feels like it’s raining all the time. But increasing drought in the summers is a real issue, as the entire infrastructure in the Netherlands is devoted to flushing water to the sea, not storing it for use. Drought will increasingly be an issue the Netherlands must contend with, and it has strong connections with other issues, like salinization.
Given that much of the country is under sea level, salinization (or ‘saline seepage’) is a real issue for the region’s farmers. This issue is exacerbated by rising sea levels and increased drought, creating pressures on using different crops and agricultural practices that can adapt to the growing salinity of the region.
Oxidation of peat soils
Peat soils are one of the world’s major stocks of carbon, but due to mineralization caused by the drainage of these lands for agriculture, these soils are decomposing. As they decompose, they become a major source of CO2 and N2O. The EU is actually the world’s second-largest peatland emission hotspot (just after Indonesia).
The economics of food insecurity will likely make it so that prices are driven up by reduced supply and increased demand, meaning that most populations in cities like Amsterdam will be able to withstand much of the challenge until it becomes severe. But the MRA, like most urban regions, will find it difficult to withstand serious shocks to global food supply chains--whether due to a pandemic or economic collapse--and thus requires more embedded resilience.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
The first step to realizing the vision would be to implement a community co-design process, whereby citizens, communities, and key stakeholders provide both their uninfluenced input and reflection on initially proposed concepts.
The next step will be to use GIS and other analytical tools to map out a draft vision for how it will affect the geographical area, which we would take back to the stakeholders before embarking on the most pivotal infrastructure and programmatic elements of the vision that people are aligned behind.
Visions can be powerful; they can present a feasible and attractive reality while alleviating the discomfort of the unknown by providing a clear end-state to move towards. But they can also be forgotten if not attached to clear initiatives. Our goal with this vision will be to use it as a starting point for discussion with key stakeholder groups, with an eye on a few initially assumed intended outcomes:
1. Key initial collaborations
Strong collaborations form over years. Our goal will be to create links that weren’t there in the first place, and strengthen links that were, especially with key stakeholders.
2. Key initial ventures
For the most obvious and attractive ventures, such as an urban farming company with the water utility as a shareholder and supplier, or a Regeneration Bank, it’s important to get started early.
3. Key initial financial instruments
Programs that support regional farmers to make the investments in more sustainable and productive farming systems and others that enable interagency experimentation alongside civil society groups and SMEs.
4. Key initial policies
Eliminating food waste, loosening laws restricting the recycling of human waste, tightening rules around nitrogen capture and reuse. Initial policy action can set the stage for future progress.
The current vision is designed to address each challenge stated above through a number of interlinked interventions.
Linear Nutrient Cycle is addressed through loosening regulations around reuse of human waste while strengthening regulations around the collection and reuse of food and green waste, the implementation of decentralized bioprocessing facilities, closer integration between harvested nutrients and urban farming systems, and the advanced design of waste separation systems at household and building level.
Rising Obesity is addressed through widely available and affordable healthy and fresh food, custom nutritional kiosks, and prescribed nutrition fully embedded into the regional healthcare system.
Drought, Salinization, and Oxidation of Peat Soils are addressed through the widespread use of agroforestry in the surrounding area--regenerating soils and necessitating much less water use.
Food Insecurity is addressed by producing an estimated 75% of the necessary food supply within the Metropolitan Region of Amsterdam, providing stronger regional financial flows alongside a robust resilience to rising instability in global food supply chains.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
Amsterdam has experienced a renaissance of social enterprises and bottom-up initiatives addressing everything from community food banks, composting, and gardening initiatives to cross-institution experiments in furthering city-wide systems. Projects receive financing from the Regeneration Bank, which makes grants and zero-interest loans widely available to organizations that can identify key gaps and play a role in filling them. New metrics beyond finance have been put in place to measure the contribution to natural and social capital and efficiently provide access to finance meant to generate those kinds of returns.
Jobs are plentiful. High-tech urban farms are always hiring more technicians, where technical job training is provided in partnership with the city and national government. The polycultural systems of the more traditional farms outside the city are producing a lot more food but require more labor. The plethora of food initiatives within the city are hiring more facilitators, teachers, trainers, ecologists, and engineers to fulfill their mandates.
Automation has been selectively and carefully adopted, protecting workers in the agricultural sector but enriching their jobs and what they’re able to do--empowering them to be both more productive and creative. Farmers do less back-breaking work but oversee a lot more activities, from soil enrichment to crop processing to market interaction to teaching.
Health outcomes and quality of life metrics have skyrocketed. Constant contact with nature, as well as the best air quality of any city, has reinforced the intrinsic health benefits from bringing nature fully into the urban environment. Custom nutritional guidance and the ubiquity of stores that enable “nutrition on-demand” has spawned a global industry and reduced medical expenses by half. Health benefits have become so great in Amsterdam that people increasingly come from other countries for health retreats.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
What could it mean for a country like the Netherlands, already a world leader in horticulture, meat and dairy, water management technology, and civil engineering, to provide leadership on metropolitan agriculture systems in a way that regenerates the surrounding landscape?
What could it mean for a city like the Metropolitan Region of Amsterdam (MRA), already a progressive leader in urban planning, citizen engagement, and regional governance, to showcase a working model of integrated regional farming systems and a series of urban interventions co-designed with local citizens?
Given the many interlocking pieces of our vision, we will take a geographical tour starting from the center of the city and moving out to the periphery.
We start inside the city center, where there’s minimal space for high-yield urban farming but a significant amount of people and nutrient flows.
High-tech urban agriculture would be relatively limited, providing no more than 10% of the local food needs. But it would become an important part of the urban character and provide strong marketing opportunities for new supermarkets and commercial buildings that are built to handle the weight--primarily in the neighborhoods of Amsterdam North and Amsterdam Bijlmer.
The urban environment is filled with greenery--from the fruit trees that line the streets to the green roofs on over half of the buildings to the food forests and community gardens that seem to pop up everywhere. One of the important things about bringing food production and agriculture in general into the city center is the synergies you find with environmental services: urban greening, water retention, heat dissipation. Urban landscaping in the city is also designed for enhancing biodiversity and creating pollinator habitats. Fruit-bearing trees are emphasized throughout the city--placed along sidewalks to assist in water retention and air quality improvement.
Local farming inside the city center is also about bringing people closer to food and nature. Food forests within public parks provide both passive and active education and programming, reaching children, families, and the elderly. Community gardens are expanded and completely integrated into the justice, health, economic, and social systems. Activities within them are prescribed as forms of therapy, drug rehabilitation, PTSD, and job training. They form a new medium where young children and the elderly can structurally interact.
Amsterdam has infrastructure in place for both avoidable and unavoidable food waste, coming close to essentially eliminating the concept of waste. A dense network of social initiatives that connects restaurants, households, and grocery stores uses an online platform to show in real-time where avoidable food waste is in the city and has a logistics system that matches supply with demand, enabling food to be consumed before it’s spoiled. Unavoidable food waste (peelings, shells, etc.) is well separated in households, restaurants, and offices using smart design and behavioral incentives that keep food waste out of the trash and compartmentalized for future processing.
As we move out of the city center, we approach the commercial and industrial areas where we see innovations in technology and business models really come into view. Regional utilities and knowledge institutions, including the region’s public water utility, Waternet, have become key stakeholders and part-owners in a new advanced urban farming business, which remains under majority public ownership.
The regional urban farming company transforms rooftops of data centers and warehouses, unused areas within ports, and aged energy infrastructure into highly productive urban farms. High-value crops, fish, and algae are produced adjacent to decentralized biorefineries that transform municipal wastewater into materials, proteins, and feed. These ‘living machines’ are a new kind of hybrid social business, structured like an efficient enterprise but in service of the public good--circulating not just nutrients but financial flows. They make maximum use of the advanced and increasingly decentralized water and sanitation systems in Amsterdam, as well as the enormous amount of IT and energy infrastructure.
Although less flashy and emphasizing the use of low-tech solutions, the peri-urban area has the greatest potential to produce food, provide new jobs, and increase resilience and ecological health of the metropolitan region.
Permaculture and agroforestry play an enormous role. Once hesitant to apply its principles, regional farmers now embrace the practices, partly due to a generous government loan program that has given farmers the trust and the resources to make the significant but necessary changes. Livestock (though greatly reduced) retains an important role in a circular and regenerative food system--and critical to effective agroforestry--eating weeds and food scraps and producing natural fertilizers.
On some farms, additional investment has enabled large horticulture domes that utilize modern technology to host advanced polyculture systems, akin to a completely engineered rainforest geared for high-yield production of food, materials, and other biological products. These large domes would contain nested climate zones that integrate with advanced water, nutrient, and energy systems.
There is a broader focus on circular and regenerative agriculture at specific sensible locations. There is coordinated planting of seaweed near sources of runoff to capture nutrients. The seaweed is harvested, decontaminated, and turned into fertilizer. The ocean (and more specifically the IJmeer lake) is actively farmed instead of just fished. Dutch expertise around water management and engineering plays a strong role here as offshore wind platforms and former rigs for mining and energy extraction are combined with aqua permacultures, whereby algae and crustaceans are farmed while removing toxins.
Harvested streams of chemicals, nutrients, fibers, and carbon are used for regional chemical, dye, textile, and material production. These ‘biomakeries’ utilize various steps of fermentation and green engineering to produce many of the base ingredients of a regional sustainable bio-based economy. and Agriculture products used in textiles.
Finally, ecotourism has boomed in the region. Farms now resemble robust ecological systems as opposed to a factory. Most farms have various attractions, including great organic restaurants, workshops to make your own products, and tours of the farm, its methods and how it integrates low-tech, high-tech, and ecological design principles. Families, relevant professionals, and government delegations are drawn to the area to learn and experience a different approach to agriculture.
Like the energy crisis before it, Amsterdam along with thousands of other municipalities around the world woke up to the nutrient crisis and every agency and institution leaned into the challenge. The nutrient cycle is now completely closed; food waste has been largely eliminated, green waste is entirely recycled, and all human waste is utilized in a way that is food safe.
Human waste has been fully utilized, as the regional water becomes a key actor in the regional supply chain for agriculture by providing nutrients and organic soil enhancements alongside a reliable water supply. Urine separation systems have been retrofitted into every home and office building, and are required in all new buildings. The urine is brought through struvite reactors and other systems that recycle phosphorus from wastewater into new agricultural inputs. Vacuum toilets have been installed in all new buildings, reducing the water necessary for flushing toilets while also making it easier to remove the moisture content in feces for composting and safely reuse it as soil enhancements.
Diets and Nutrition
Technology has been utilized to understand people’s custom nutritional needs and to service those needs. New forms of affordable health food stores enable people to understand their unique nutritional needs with a simple on-site blood test. 3D printed meals and supplements can be produced and picked up in many stores and supermarkets, and can also be easily prescribed by health professionals.
Algae has become a major component of diets, animal feed, and energy, as it can be grown in places like the Netherlands where there is an overabundance of nutrients and fairly low light supply. Algae has been integrated into flour and embedded into 3D printed ingredients to provide a sustainable and healthy protein source. The Netherlands has become a major exporter of both algae and systems and methods used to produce it at scale.
Canals and waterways
All over the Amsterdam metropolitan region, floating rafts line the canals, filtering the water with plants and oysters using natural aquaponics. The rafts incorporate plant varieties tolerant to brackish water and are farmed by locals.
Sensing and monitoring
Flows of energy, water, nutrients, and food are visible to all citizens. The ubiquity of data collection and visualization has made significant progress in how people understand their own role in the larger system and offers guidance at key moments during the day to enable sustainable behaviors. Amsterdam has found an appropriate balance between gathering data and ensuring people’s privacy by making it so people own the data that they produce, that the data is anonymized, and people have clear oversight about where and how their data is being used.
The Food Council of Amsterdam helps connect regional actors to stimulate deeper collaboration locally, and also helps connect regional pioneers with international markets to help disseminate and adapt working solutions to other contexts around the world.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?
Describe how your Vision developed over the course of the Refinement Phase.
Generally speaking, we expanded the number of partners we were working with while narrowing the amount of projects we aimed to take forward. We started the refinement phase with a holistic and broad vision for the Amsterdam Metropolitan Region and it was important to us that we maintain a bigger picture view and avoid zeroing in on just one or two projects. We also wanted to ensure that the vision snuggly fit the regional context while also offering a replicable roadmap for other regions to follow. So we strived to find a balance.
We tried our best to avoid wishful thinking by ensuring that the projects we selected had genuine support behind them from organizations that were committed to their implementation. In the refinement phase, we also wanted to avoid locking ourselves into specific suppliers or proprietary technology. While it helped with the near-term feasibility, it boxed us in and relied on old economic thinking.
Please provide the names of all organizations you meaningfully partnered with to develop this latest version of your Vision (they contributed at least 10 hours of time to the Vision development during the Refinement Phase).
Metabolic - Uses systems thinking, data science, and demonstration projects to transition to a truly sustainable economy.
ReNature - Uses regenerative agroforestry to revive degraded landscapes and improve existing farms.
Waternet - Amsterdam’s public water and sanitation utility and regional waterboard.
Soil Heroes - Provides farmers with financial incentives and other key resources to transition to regenerative farming practices.
Fresh Ventures - Venture building studio based in The Netherlands built to address systemic challenges in the food system.
Tuinen van Hartstocht - Small organic farming group providing healthy food, relaxation, education, and community building to about 150 people from Amsterdam and surrounding villages.
Space and Matter - A spatial design and urban planning studio that conceptualizes and implements circular regional development.
Describe the specific steps you took during the Refinement phase to include different stakeholders to develop your Vision, including a description (age, profile, and total number) of the stakeholders engaged, and how you engaged with each.
COVID-19 had a significant effect on our refinement activities. The crisis was theoretically an opportunity to look ahead and re-imagine the future with new urgency. Instead, almost every organization we were in contact with was forced to look inward and be more conservative in how they spent their time and energy.
To mitigate this challenge, we focused on intermediary organizations that were experts in their field or specific area and who had frequent access to a broader range of stakeholders. We sent simple questions to our partners and parts of our network, especially those working with farmers, to collect key pain points and dream projects. This gave us a significant amount of bottom-up input as we settled on a final vision.
We spoke to Cityplot, a group of about 15 farmers based in Amsterdam, as well as Tuinen van Hartstocht, a group of about 5 farmers. We learned that some of their main concerns were centered around land prices and land ownership, restrictive zoning laws that restrict planting trees and shrubs on farmland, and easier access to national and EU subsidies. Most of the farmers we spoke to were young, however; we did not get a chance to get the perspective of aging farmers.
We spoke to Boeren en Buren (translates to ‘Farmers and Neighbors’), which has a network of over 50 local farmers and producers. Most members indicated that efficient market access was their biggest barrier, with related issues regarding IT and distribution.
We spoke to Waternet, Amsterdam’s public water utility, which works with hundreds of organizations and dozens of relevant initiatives in the Amsterdam Region. They highlighted the need for market-oriented solutions and sound business cases. We also spoke with the city’s environmental department and its food council to understand what has been tried before and what they think is critical.
What signals and trends did you draw from to inform your Vision? Please provide data or examples that back up each signal or trend.
In 2050 Netherlands, according to the OECD, average winter temperatures will be 0.9 - 2.3 °C hotter and seas 15 - 35 cm higher than in 1990 (80% chance). The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency predicts biannual extreme summer droughts alongside long-lasting heat waves and extreme precipitation. Yield losses and higher food prices due to droughts are expected to be common.
After the Dutch Climate Act, which stipulates that by 2050 greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 95% relative to 1990, the government proposed a progressive carbon tax of 30 euros per tonne of emissions in 2021, which will rise to 150 euros per ton in 2030. 40+ countries raised $44 billion through carbon pricing in 2018, capital which is essential to incentivize sequestration and build sustainable infrastructure.
McKinsey states that half of today’s work could be automated by 2055 or earlier, and that 49% of the time spent by farm, crop, nursery, and greenhouse workers is automable. By 2050, NL Study Centre for Technology expects autonomous systems will be as prevalent as computers today; Deloitte warns that low-skilled workers in the agricultural sector are amongst the group with the highest risk of automation in the Netherlands.
Universal Basic Income
Dalia Research reports 68% of Europeans across 28 EU countries said they would vote yes if UBI was put to a referendum. In March 2020, Oxford found over 70% of Europeans backed the idea of basic income following the economic turmoil caused by COVID-19. At the UN, senior officials have promoted Basic Income for troubled economies while Pope Francis endorsed the initiative worldwide this past April.
The FAO has claimed that sustained functioning of local food markets, value chains and systems, and smallholder farms have been critical to ensuring the food supply to urban environments’ most vulnerable populations during COVID-19. The pandemic signals risks threatening global supply and pressures stakeholders to ensure resilience through effective distribution and local food production.
Comparing the 2007-2010 and 2012-2016 period, the RIVM found Dutch meat and dairy consumption has dropped by 8% and 12% respectively, while fruit and vegetable consumption has gone up 8%. More recently, in a 2019 Dutch survey by Natuur en Milieu, 43% claimed they ate less meat than they did 4 years earlier, 47% agreed that “eating meat is an outdated practice,” and 37% already identified as flexitarians.
The percent of the Netherlands population living in cities rose from 85% (2008) to 91% (2018). In 2050, the UN predicts 68% of the global population will live in cities. Due to continued urbanism, local food production will reduce transportation needs, maximize freshness, and reconnect people to the food system. Accenture expects today’s population of 200 M. urban farmers who supply food to 700 M. people to grow significantly.
Describe a “Day in the Life” of a key food system actor within your food system in 2050 (e.g., farmer, chef, supply chain actor, food policy actor, etc.).
Like a growing number of people in 2050, Frenzi has multiple part-time jobs that stimulate her different passions and interests. For the past 5 years, she has served as both a food policy actor for the region of Amsterdam and a farmer.
Frenzi starts her day off, however, as a mom. She wakes up early and prepares breakfast and lunch for her 2 kids with the help of her partner. Breakfast consists of regionally sourced fruits and cereals, while lunch is usually more tailored to the specifics of each child’s nutritional needs.
Frenzi’s role as a modern food policy actor is to transmit an understanding of the many different points of view in the region. On a typical day, she spends about three hours at some of the many places within the regional food supply chain--supermarkets, small-scale producers, farms, banks, distribution centers, wholesalers, restaurants, permitting offices, certifiers. Today, Frenzi starts by biking over to a new cooperative supermarket in Amsterdam East, observing consumer choices and asking staff about avoidable food waste.
After the supermarket, Frenzi makes two more stops, one at a company making bio-based delivery containers, and another at a restaurant. She asks them about their suppliers, if they’re finding what they need, and if they’re aware of existing programs and initiatives they can take advantage of.
On her way to lunch, Frenzi swings by one of the many government co-working spaces around the city to type up her notes and make some phone calls. She joins a working lunch with a group of farmers and bankers to explore how financing can be made more available and how perceived risks can be minimized.
Frenzi always tries to be there when her kids arrive home from school at 2:30. In the late afternoons, she acts as both a farmer and a connector between the FarmLab and the community farm in the Green Light District where she lives in Amsterdam North. She spends most of her time at the FarmLab, training new farmers to work with data.
Environment | How will your food system of 2050 adapt to climate change and remain resilient?
Coping with Rising Sea Levels
If current emission trends continue, the IPCC predicts 84 centimeters of sea rise by 2100, and as much as 5.4 meters by 2300. The government’s Delta programme estimates nearly 60% of the country’s area is susceptible to large scale coastal and river flooding, of which 26% is below average sea level. The Dutch waterboards believe that they can cope with at most 1 meter of sea level rise; Amsterdam is already 2 meters below sea level. By 2050, it predicts accelerated sea-level rise resulting in salinization, flood risk, and losses of arable land.
By 2030, 125,000 hectares of soil will have become salinized in the Netherlands resulting in unusable agricultural land. External salinization is caused when salt from rising sea levels penetrates in a system via surface water while internal salinization, accelerated by rising sea levels, occurs when differences in levels between sea and lower-lying polders cause salt seepage. In our system, food producers exposed to increased salinity will cultivate salt-tolerant crops like sugar beets, spelt, and barley. In farming systems on the coast, scaling mariculture--an aquaculture practice involving the use of seawater used since 1870 in the Netherlands---will be needed. To keep freshwater available, researchers at Wageningen university have suggested setting up freshwater reservoirs throughout the country.
Adapting to Drought
By 2050, the OECD predicts the Netherlands will experience longer periods of drought coupled with an increase in freshwater demand in summer due to higher temperatures and evaporation.
For rural producers with the MRA who have transitioned to regenerative practices, increased organic carbon matter through sequestration has enhanced their soil’s ability to hold water both increasing resilience during drought-stressed years and reducing nutrient runoff and flooding downstream. Usage of perennial crops with deeply rooted systems, such as fruit trees, alfalfa, grapes, and asparagus, has reduced plants’ need for constant topsoil moisture in annual crops. Farmer education around climate-smart practices will influence shading and painting trunks to decrease the effect of excessive heat, adjustment in cropping calendars, and implementation of other agronomic management.
In the city, urban vertical farms will have scaled drastically decreasing freshwater needs to grow the same amount of crops. EIT Food, a body of the EU, states that vertical farming uses up to 95% less water than traditional agriculture because the only water that is extracted from its system is the water from inside the crop during its harvest. By EIT’s comparisons, for one kg of lettuce, water usage is 250L for open field, 20 L for soil-based greenhouse, and 1 L for vertical farm production. Vertical farming approaches will help us reduce the water demand needed within the MRA to produce food, allowing freshwater resources to be used in applications burdened by drought.
Addressing Nutrient Imbalances
Aside from climate change, the importing of synthetic fertilizers and animal feed is depleting global nutrient stocks, which are accumulating in importing countries such as the Netherlands. A study by Wageningen University has found that over the past 20 years, the Netherlands has had the highest surplus of nutrients in Europe, leading to eutrophication in water systems. The way our food system tackles nutrient challenges is three-fold.
First, it reduces the leaching of nutrients on agricultural land. The large number of cattle in the Netherlands leads to a lot of manure, which leaches into the environment. Our food system decreases the production and export of meat and dairy, leading to less need for cattle and thus less manure leaching into the environment. The use of deep root perennials in perennial agriculture would complement the reduction in mined phosphorus by increasing nutrient retention. Additionally, aquaponics systems in high-tech vertical urban farms enable food production that closes the nutrient cycle.
Second, we would reduce the leaching of nutrients in urban environments. Centralized wastewater treatment centers would enable the extraction of nutrients in the urban water system and their use as struvite fertilizer. Nutrients in urban wastewaters would be further reduced through the use of decentralized urban biorefineries closing nutrient cycles across the city.
Finally, we would recover residual nutrients in larger water systems using seaweed farming at strategic locations. This would enable the capture of residual excess nutrients, and the seaweed can then be used to provide micronutrients for food fortification or in fertilizer and feed production.
Diets | How will your food system of 2050 address malnutrition in all its forms (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, metabolic disease) for the people living there?
While the Netherlands is ranked 8th in the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index, the Dutch diet is still far from ideal. The Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics found that class I obesity has increased from 4% in 1981 to 11% in 2018, while a study by RVIM found that 5-10% of the current Dutch burden of disease is linked to unhealthy diets.
What would a 2050 healthy Dutch diet look like?
The EAT-Lancet Commission has developed scientific targets for a healthy diet. It outlines ranges of healthy intakes by food groups, which would optimize human health if combined in a diet. As such, each food group has healthy intake boundaries, which allows us to form a healthy diet that is adapted to the local culture and geography of the Netherlands.
Shifting the Economics of Healthy Diets
Certain food items in the current Dutch diet fall outside of healthy diet boundaries. For example, animal products make up an unhealthy proportion of the Dutch diet. One-fourth of food consumed in the Netherlands, by volume, is from animal origin. For a healthy 2050 diet, consumption of beef, lamb and pork needs decrease from its present 54kg/year to 10 kg/year to fit below upper boundaries of a healthy diet. Both eggs and dairy consumption will have to decrease, by 67% and 75% respectively. The consumption of sugars and starchy roots will also have to decrease.
On the other hand, healthy foods such as legumes, vegetables and nuts--currently present in low quantities in the Dutch diet--should be increased to address both caloric and nutrient intake needs. To achieve this vision of a healthy diet, our 2050 food system will focus on incentivizing the consumption of healthy foods and disincentivizing the consumption of unhealthy food.
To achieve this, we will need to reorient agricultural priorities so that healthy food becomes cheaper and more accessible, and animal products become expensive and less accessible. Taxes on carbon will make meat and dairy more expensive and thus decrease demand. Meanwhile, creating a more robust landscape of vertical farms, agroforestry, and other forms of regenerative farming will boost supply of healthy food, ensuring their accessibility.
Second, our system needs to facilitate plant-based diets that can conveniently achieve all nutrient requirements for a healthy diet. While food fortification is often used in developing countries to help people meet minimum nutrition requirements, it can also be used in developed countries to make it easier for plant-based consumers to reach the requirements of a healthy diet. According to Healthline, vegetarian and particularly vegan diets tend to lack vitamin B12 and Vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, iron, calcium and zinc. All of these nutrients can be accessed through plant-based sources, but both the knowledge and convenience of providing all nutrients in these diets can be complicated.
To make it easier to access these nutrients in everyday foods, our food system would produce the inputs for plant-based meat and other animal product analogues, as well as provide access to customized food fortification that fits individual nutritional needs. Micronutrients for food fortification will be mainly derived from processing seaweed, which can provide vitamin B12, proteins, iodine and omega-3 fatty acids. Plant-based calcium could be provided by turnip greens, a calcium-rich by-product of turnips, which is seldom used in the Netherlands despite the fact that Netherlands is the world’s biggest exporter of turnips.
According to gro intelligence, seaweed annual yields average 19.4 metric tonnes of dry weight per hectare. With the extraction of micronutrients from seaweed combined with the intensified production of mushrooms, the MRA can be self-sufficient for over 75% of its nutrient demand, even if it has to rely on the wider region to meet its caloric needs.
Prioritizing and Simplifying Healthy Choices
Third, we need to make the healthy choice the easy choice for the individual consumer. A 2019 Multiscope survey of Dutch residents who reduced their personal meat consumption found that health concerns (75%) trumped concerns about environmental impact (40%). We need to enable every resident of the Amsterdam region to be able to clearly see how they can meet their unique dietary needs while achieving a sustainable food system as a beneficial side-effect.
Customized nutrition profiles should be widely accessible, offering tailored and individualized information flows that show what diets should and can be adopted to maximize human health. Combined with tasty plant-based food and meat analogues fortified according to personal nutritional needs, our food system will make achieving sustainable and healthy diet the easy, exciting, and convenient thing to do. Nudging people to adopt a healthy and sustainable diet is not about telling people what to eat, rather it is about making it easy and appetizing to make the right food choices.
Economics | Where and what will the jobs be that support living wages in your future food system of 2050, and how will these jobs impact gender equality?
Carbon Tax and Tariff
A carbon tax is imperative to disincentivize carbon-emitting industries and provide funding for innovation and infrastructure required to create a regenerative food system. While difficult to implement across the entire EU, fortunately, with the goal of reducing the Netherlands 1990 emission levels by 49% by 2030, a progressive Dutch carbon tax has been discussed for industries whose production processes emit carbon into the atmosphere. By 2050, following on the work of the Science-Based Targets Network, such a policy could extend out to other planetary boundaries, such as biochemical limits on nitrogen and phosphorus, thus encouraging strategic stewardship across multiple boundaries.
Since 2019, the EU has also discussed leveraging such tariffs which economically pressure non-abiding nations to enforce stricter climate policies. Tariffs will further strengthen the cost competitiveness of regional products that are produced within planetary and regional boundaries. (The Dutch government would, in turn, step up its foreign aid to help countries make investments in green infrastructure and production). But as EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has acknowledged, “There is no point in only reducing greenhouse gas emissions at home if we increase the import of CO2 from abroad.”
To sequester carbon in soils, farmers need to transition to regenerative agricultural practices. According to Cienega Capital, which invests in regenerative agriculture, there is usually a transition period where yields are lower and farmers experience strains on their already difficult financial situation. When progressive crop insurance and generous subsidies are not enough or just too onerous, the MRA should establish a regeneration bank that provides zero-interest loans to farmers to make an ecological transition. Regional specialization would reduce risks by allowing the fund to account for grace periods due to the seasonality of the MRA’s food system, revenue estimates based on locally produced crop types, and better attraction of co-financing via slow money initiatives that attract non-return seeking local investors.
Producers can also be paid for sequestering carbon in their soils. As farmers experience diminishing returns in carbon sequestration following their transition to regenerative agriculture, a regenerative crop price premium, analogous to organic premiums, will incentivize producers to continue regenerative practices. The region could create its own affordable certification scheme that bypasses expensive and byzantine processes to ensure farmers engaging in sustainable practices are able to get a premium for their goods.
Current farmers in the MRA stress that finding access to land is difficult. For systems like agroforestry, farmers need a minimum of 10-20 years to achieve peak production and see the financial return on their investment. Qualification for young farmer subsidies in the EU and the Netherlands is only possible given an official education or familial precedent, and young farmers outside of this group need to typically lease land from others, a process that often makes qualifying for even basic subsidies impossible.
By 2050, our system will have established a regionally-governed, non-profit foundation that purchases land when prices are low or when available capital is available, and then leases that land for long-term periods to farmers on the condition that they employ regenerative practices. A similar model is working within many Swiss foundations, like FPLC, which purchases private real-estate and leases it back to public-benefit organizations.
Although there is not currently widespread support for the idea, part of the proceeds from carbon taxes and tariffs could be used to finance a monthly basic income. As different regions in the Netherlands--not the national government--handle many of their own subsidies and unemployment benefits, the regional government could provide a monthly basic income to all legal residents to cover (and rise with) the basic costs of rent and food. Entrepreneurs, innovators, and the growing number of people who find farming attractive would be empowered to put their time and energy towards these valuable activities.
While the Netherlands places high in gender equality, 3 M. women (33%) are still not financially independent, less than 30% of senior positions are held by women, and 200,000 Dutch residents, mostly women, experience domestic violence annually. Contrary to universal credit systems, a basic income is paid directly to individuals, regardless of familial situation. A basic income will empower women’s financial independence and remove current sanctions’ threat for not accepting inappropriate work. For working Dutch mothers, it would allow them greater opportunities in the workforce, in power positions, or through entrepreneurial endeavors by making childcare more accessible.
Culture | How will your 2050 food system ensure that the cultural, spiritual and community traditions and/or practices in your Place flourish?
A Plant-Based Twist on Traditional Dutch Cuisine
According to the RIVM, the Dutch consume more dairy products and snacks than any of their European counterparts. Classically Dutch fried snacks (Bitterballen, Kroket, and Frikandel) and Dutch cheeses are based on a large and unsustainable meat and dairy industry.
How could the Dutch diet reduce its share of meat and dairy without undermining Dutch culture? Our food system will provide all the elements to produce plant-based alternatives to staple Dutch dishes without compromising taste or experience. Two key ingredients in this transition are the iron-containing compound heme and amino acid glutamate. Glutamate is responsible for the umami taste (one of the five basic tastes) which provide the mouth-watering sensation of meat. Glutamate is present in both mushrooms and seaweed, both of which are produced in our food system. Oyster mushrooms grown on coffee waste are already being used in the Netherlands to make plant-based bitterballen, and glutamate extracts are being sold by Dutch nutrition company DSM to as an ingredient in meat substitutes. Moreover, advances in meat substitutes are needed in the Netherlands. The NL Times reported the number of meat substitutes in the Dutch supermarkets increased by 51% between 2017 and 2019. Aside from glutamate, micronutrients that are commonly deficient in plant-based diets could be used to fortify meat and dairy analogues to assure healthy diets. Our 2050 food system will therefore enable a sustainable and healthy diet while preserving Dutch food culture.
Windmills as a key element for a resilient and regenerative food system
During the Dutch golden ages, windmills turned the Netherlands into an economic powerhouse by harnessing the country’s strong winds to process crops, drain water, and cut wood to build ships. After the industrial revolution, the number of windmills began to decline. Some were replaced by pumps for drainage and engines for sawmills. Others crumbled from the neglect and destruction caused in WWII. However, many windmills survived and remain operational with the help of civic organizations, such as De Hollandsche Molen. Windmills remain excellent sustainable tools to process cereals and perineal grains.
Perennials such as Kernza--which are drought-resistant, adept at sequestering carbon, and reduce nitrogen leaching--are key to the health of our food system. However, processing them is somewhat of a lost art. Patagonia, for example, had to build their own mills to process perennial grains as they no longer existed in the US. In our food system, windmills will be refurbished to process perennial grains in the same way some did in the past, but with a modern twist. Now, through the use of high tech materials, the windmills will be made much more efficient. This concept has been proven to work by the traditional Dutch windmill “Noletmolen” built in 2005, which can generate 200 horsepower at the windshaft. It has also been shown that traditional windmills can be equipped with new technology which could make them quite efficient. Our food system will bring a symbolic breath of life into the sails of windmills, preserving their historic purpose and contributing to a more sustainable and healthy MRA food system where cultural tradition flourishes.
E-cargo Bikes a practical and typically Dutch solution to urban food distribution
Our food system will address urban food distribution in a typically Dutch way by embracing the rise of e-cargo bikes. Carlton Reid, the 2018 winner of the transport category at the British Journalism Awards, believes e-cargo bikes (not drones) are the future of urban delivery networks. DHL’s e-cargo bikes are already zipping through Amsterdam with loads of up to 350 kg. Cargobike companies such as Danish Butchers & Bicycles have reported 20-25% increase in sales trajectories over several years. Their maneuverability makes them incredibly fast in cities as they can go through one-way streets and avoid congestions, reducing delivery times over an automobile by as much as 75%. With the ban of petrol and diesel engines in Amsterdam coming into effect in 2030, the e-carbo bike is the perfect and culturally adaptive solution for zero-carbon mobility in MRA.
Technology | What technological advances are needed to transform your food system into one that meets your goals and embodies the values of your Vision in 2050?
The Netherlands has a strong agri-tech innovation history; while global innovation is needed to surmount these issues, Dutch universities such as Wagenigen, specialized in agriculture & forestry, and TU Delft, specialized in robotics and design, bring promise to the technical problems we are facing.
Ecosystem Monitoring and Control
As the dominant means of production, conventional agriculture has continually degraded soil quality and contributed to atmospheric carbon emissions. Through regenerative practices, our soil is capable of sequestering carbon in the ground while still feeding the world. To compensate farmers for sequestering carbon, it will be important that current soil carbon matter measurement techniques evolve by 2050. With current technology, such as the US governments’ satellite-based COMET or on-the-ground sampling approaches like dry combustion, we are able to capture only surface level sequestration with a large tradeoff between precision, time, and costs. Future advances will need to enable timely and precise methods that also identify deeper sequestration efforts such as deep-rooted sequestration present in agroforestry systems. Evolution in satellites, algorithms, drones, and IOT sensors will enable us to accurately compensate those practicing regenerative agriculture and avoid fraud while improving our capacity to monitor and proactively make decisions based on plant, air, soil, and water quality. Current progress, like Wageningen’s aerial remote sensing research, has already been promising. Further progress to ensure IT security and low-cost availability will be critical.
Zero-Carbon Urban Mobility
Urban mobility will be disrupted via low-carbon transportation and automation. In parallel with present legislation banning petrol and diesel cars and motorbikes from Amsterdam’s streets by 2030, companies have begun readjusting their distribution processes. Amsterdam-based Picnic, the Netherlands’ fastest growing startup, has expanded their small electric vehicle food delivery system across more than 100 cities in the Netherlands and Germany since launching in 2015.
Scaling charging infrastructure, increasing batteries’ energy density, and prolonging batteries’ longevity through effective battery management systems and redesign for reduced battery degradation will be needed to enable the transition to low carbon mobility.
Synchronized automation of vehicles will also allow us to optimize entire routes, taking into account traffic and weather, reducing delivery time, energy consumption, and traffic accidents. Further development in autonomous driving, such as TU Delft’s current work on pedestrian anticipation and Google’s work to further predictive capabilities through reinforcement learning, will ease societal worries and gradually help realize the advantages of autonomous vehicles.
To meet expected demand within the MRA, advances in either artificial cell-based meat production or plant-based meat are needed. Cultured meat production, currently being commercialized by companies like Memphis Meats and Mosa Meats, is promising. While the price of cultured meat has drastically reduced over the last few years, further technical progress in scaling the differentiation phase in bioreactors must be reached to make the technology commercially scalable. An alternative path would be the advancement of plant-based meat, which has grown in popularity in the Netherlands throughout the last decade, but which is often criticized for not being any healthier than meat (and is sometimes less healthy). Plant-based meat will need to improve its health and nutrition value, as well as its taste and texture. To do so, advances in food science to match texture profiles, such as those led by former Stanford professor and Impossible Foods CEO Patrick Brown, are still needed.
Breakthroughs in food-printing technology, such as Spain’s NovaMeats, which uses similar methods of tissue and organ printing, will enable us to create parity in texture and flavor. Food-printing will more generally allow for shortening supply chains, reusing nutrients effectively, and saving on processing and production time. For example, Upprinting Holland uses residual food flows to print ready-to-eat food while utilizing leftover byproducts. However, before food-printing is ready for scale in our system, food scientists will have to further understand how to maintain flavor profiles while raw nutrient solutions are mixed and potentially heated through extruders.
Urban food production, such as vertical farming, will also be critical to building local food resilience within the MRA. Even though vertical farming has gained popularity worldwide, better humidity control, reduced energy costs, and a reduction in energy load, through for example the use of microgrids, are needed to ensure cost viability.
Policy | What types of policies are needed to enable your future food system?
Minimizing Regulations that Restrict Closing Nutrient Cycles
Without policy change, our food system won’t have the ability to tackle nutrient imbalances.
First, regulations that restrict closing of nutrient cycles should be minimized or lifted. For nutrient cycles to be closed, nutrients extracted from wastewater or non-edible organic waste should be converted into valuable products that can be reused (e.g. struvite fertilisers or bio-based materials). Current policy in the Netherlands is based on linear economic thinking and outdated technologies that cannot assure the reuse of ‘waste’ to high safety and environmental standards. As such, production residues and reusable substances in waste flows are stuck in the same legislative regimes as waste, which compromises their reuse. Fortunately, as shown by a report on a government-wide program for a Circular Economy in 2050, legislation is being planned to overcome this barrier.
Second, legislation should be in place to minimize food waste from retail, catering and households. As was done in France in 2016, policy should be put in place to prevent businesses from wasting food that is edible, and policy which prevents the reuse of food waste should be adjusted.
Increasing policies that support regenerative farming
Many barriers are faced by Dutch conventional agriculture farmers who want to transition to regenerative practices. Both crop insurance systems and farming subsidies systems provide perverse incentives for maintaining conventional systems that degrade farmland.
Crop insurance is subsidized bidirectionally by the government, wherein the government plays the role of reinsurance agent for the insurance company while it pays a significant portion of the farmer’s premium for that insurance. A regionally instituted crop insurance program, designed for actuarial flexibility to allow for farmer diversification and experimentation of regenerative practices, would help relieve the financial risk farmers take in transition to regenerative agriculture. Since crop insurance programs are heavily dependent on governmental subsidies, instituting them at the regional level would allow taxpayers to indirectly benefit through tangential improvements of their regional ecosystem.
Dutch subsidies can also be used by farmers to build trust, confidence, and knowledge in the transition to regenerative agriculture. The current Dutch system of subsidies rewards economies of scale and production value per hectare without accounting for soil health, water quality, GHG emissions, and biodiversity. In the US, farmers who transition to regenerative agriculture often first do so by testing out deeply regenerative agricultural practices on a tiny fraction of their land. Dutch subsidies for innovation and agriculture, on both a regional and national level, could be tailored to fund such pilots as useful leverage points.
For urban areas, many of the issues around noise and light that create tension between residential areas and productive horticulture can mostly be solved with technology, engineering, and design. The most important policy change is inserting food production spaces into the exploitation model of area development. Currently, only parks and green space are required as recreational functions. Not only do the sizes of these green spaces need to be increased, but there should also be a mandate for biodiverse green spaces used for production. To make it feasible to increase green space, business models can be formed around food production
For rural areas, current zoning policies for specialized rural farming enterprises in the Netherlands make it difficult for farmers to diversify their stream of income. According to the Council for the Environment and Infrastructure, mandatory measures within the current complex network of laws and regulations act as a curb on both innovation and sustainable development within the Netherlands. Instead, the council advised that shifting to mandatory targets instead of measures would allow farmers to innovate using sustainable methods while still meeting demand for food. Such policy changes would bring about flexibility needed to discover further regenerative practices that farmers can incorporate within their processes.
Describe how these 6 Themes connect with and influence one another in your food system.
Addressing environmental challenges requires policies that embrace working alongside nature, not against it, and valuing ecosystem services in real terms. It requires technological and policy advances that incentivize both vertical farming and agroforestry systems. And it requires policy changes and economic incentives for shifting away from dairy and meat production, as well as for closing nutrient cycles by enabling the reuse of organic waste from food and wastewater.
Achieving diets that are healthy and within planetary boundaries requires smart economic policies that make healthy food cheaper, and unhealthy food more expensive. It requires improved technology in nutrient fortification and customized nutrition. Better diets will require seriously scaling up regional seaweed and mushroom production, and cultural shifts away from meat and dairy consumption toward plant-based substitutes.
Regenerative practices, such as agroforestry systems and cover cropping, present an opportunity for agricultural production to sequester atmospheric carbon into the ground, building soils that are more fertile and resistant to drought and nutrient runoff. Implementing these practices requires a financial system capable of easing transition uncertainties while disincentivizing short-term-focused, intensive production that harms ecosystems. Dedicated funding is allocated to transitioning farms while carbon tax and tariff policies place cost burdens on businesses that create externalities alongside their products.
Technical advancements help us to monitor and measure things so that we know how to financially reward different actors and different activities. It also brings about automation, which complements workers’ skills. However, automation will replace some jobs, which is why basic income laws are passed to guarantee MRA residents a monthly income allowing those who need retraining to contribute to society as they see fit elsewhere. A basic income also incentivizes more people to get involved in regional politics and policy-making, rebalancing power dynamics in favor of the broader populace over special interests.
Food printing and food science will allow us to close nutrient cycles locally and create food with an even smaller carbon footprint while energy innovation will enable scaling low-carbon transportation infrastructure. Overcoming technical hurdles in the scaling of advanced vertical farming systems and biorefineries will strengthen local supply chains and encourage the innovation of new technologies. Other technological advances allow us to discover waste-derived natural fertilizers, like struvite, which lowers the region's environmental impact and boosts its economic and geopolitical resilience.
Describe any trade-offs you may have to make within your system to attain your Vision by 2050.
Regional Resilience vs. Global Sustainability
When it comes to assessing purely the environmental impacts, it’s often better to source food from highly regenerative farms, often from far away, than it is to prioritize local purchasing. It’s also more efficient. But from the standpoint of local resilience and regional economic development, sourcing food locally has compelling advantages. Our vision, on the whole, is willing to sacrifice efficiency and global environmental impact in favor of a resilient regional agrifood system.
Automation & Technological Progress vs. Regional Resilience
Likewise, there are nuanced tradeoffs to make between automation and resilience. Even if we approach technology as an empowering and complimentary force rather than a supplementary one, it could erode quite a few important jobs. And if we rely on advanced machines, perhaps many from international companies, that require global supply chains to fix or replace, the resilience of the regional food system could be at genuine risk.
Cultural Continuity vs. Food System Within Planetary Boundaries
The Dutch eat a lot of meat and dairy products, and they produce even more for export. The consumption of meat and dairy stretches beyond mere diets or cultural tradition; it has rooted itself in the economic and political fabric of the country. But it’s clear that there is a place for meat and dairy in a sustainable food system, the volumes that are both consumed and produced for export in the Netherlands have to be drastically reduced to be within planetary limits. Our vision acknowledges that this will not be easy or politically expedient, but it does see it as both a necessity and inevitability.
Economic Benefits vs. Ecological Benefits
As carbon sequestration methods and measurement techniques advance, our ability to identify the holistic economic benefits from ecosystem services increases, and our assessment of economic benefits becomes more long-term, economic and ecological benefits will converge. But they are unlikely to completely overlap, at least not by 2050. Our vision acknowledges the need for sound business cases but holds a bias towards embracing ecosystem services, strategically giving certain lands back to nature, and taking a more holistic view of value generation.
Certainty vs. Action
There is an understandable inclination to build more models, gather more data, create more consensus, and reduce risks further. But we can’t allow for analysis paralysis; our vision calls for making decisions without all the data available just yet, recognizing that we will make some mistakes along the way but that it’s better to take action, learn, and act again. In that sense, only failures (and successes) can progress past theory and create additional certainty.
3 Years | Describe 3 key milestones that you would need to achieve within the next three years for your Vision to be on track?
Our focus in the coming years will be to flesh out and realize the projects that have been committed to by existing partners.
Spatial analysis, stakeholder engagement, and consortium building
1. Conducted a spatial analysis in an iterative process with a broader stakeholder community. Identifying different scenarios of what activities are smart to place where, how logistics should be organized, and the role different stakeholders can play.
2. Identified missing stakeholders to complete the picture and bring them into the fold, including public-benefit organizations involved in nutrition, logistics, financing, and operating vertical farming systems.
3. Built strong, lasting consortiums around each core trajectory with additional funding that provides focus and priority for partner contributions.
Simulation of advanced urban farm (Biomakery)
1. Created a simulation engine that assists the design and decision making for building an advanced vertical farming facility
2. Ability to test different technologies and micro-chains to understand efficiency of resource transformation
3. Ability to test different policy proposals and market parameters, such as different levels of carbon taxes and nutrient restrictions, for how it affects business cases
Regional agro-ecology FarmLab & Transition Fund
1. FarmLab has broken ground and is being implemented in the Amsterdam region
2. An educational program that will be located at FarmLab is already established and has educated 30 regional farmers
3. A fund that enables farmers to transition to regenerative agriculture without risk of financial ruin is piloting with it first beneficiaries
10 Years | What progress will you need to make—by 2030—that would set your Vision up to become a reality by 2050?
We’ll need to see the following take place by 2030:
FarmLab has identified and propagated suitable regenerative agriculture solutions that are high in nutrition, have a business case, suit regional contexts, and contribute to a regional circular economy. FarmLab has inspired at least two copycats in other Dutch regions. Financing has enabled at least one-fifth of regional farmers, and one-fourth of the agricultural land area, to transition to regenerative agriculture practices. A progressive carbon tax has kicked in providing additional financing to those sequestering carbon. Sequestration tools have improved allowing us to better measure deeper carbon capture at the roots of mature trees. A community of practice between regional farms has been created, and includes the participation of at least 30% of the region's farmers.
Vertical farming revolution
Vertical farming has evolved beyond its days of lettuce and herbs to produce a diverse amount of crops in urban areas with a reasonable business case. The concept of the Biomakery has been prototyped and tested at various scales. A smaller scale version has been implemented in the Dutch horticulture sector to test assumptions around finances and yield. 5-10 operating ventures have been created to fill gaps within the Biomakery, its broader value chains or technology needs, and its symbiotic relationship with FarmLab.
We have also found or created aligned regional partners for three big topics currently missing from our vision:
Nutrition & Health
Custom nutritional profiles that maintain privacy, and a sophisticated medical and policy understanding of how food and agriculture can be tied into human health.
Helping solutions like Amsterdam-based Foodlogica to scale up to meet the challenge will be essential to achieving overall carbon targets.
Solutions like Denmark-based Rahandel will be necessary to bring together small scale producers and local consumers.
If awarded the $200,000 prize what would you do with it?
We would use the prize money to conduct feasibility studies, generate specific concepts, bring stakeholders together, and/or take initial action, depending on the strategic needs of each trajectory. We would distribute the funding across the 7 projects as follows:
20k - Stakeholder and project coordination
Who: Metabolic, ReNature (minor)
What’s happening: 1) Co-creation and organized stakeholder involvement, 2) Bringing new key stakeholders into the fold, 3) Further fundraising activities
30k - Spatial analysis, regional planning
Who: Metabolic, Space & Matter, Waternet (minor)
What’s happening: 1) Scenario development, Posing trade-offs to stakeholder groups and learning from their preferences
45k - Agro-Ecology FarmLab
Who: ReNature, Soil Heroes, Metabolic (minor)
What’s happening: 1) Farm design: Species, location, size, approach, 2) Research design: Priority questions, collaborations, 3) Education design: Transferring knowledge to regional farmers, 4) Further fundraising: Building momentum for the project
40k - Urban Farm Simulation
Who: Metabolic, Space and Matter, Waternet (minor), Food-E (minor)
What’s happening: 1) Open source technology & methods assessment, 2) Technical feasibility study of simulation, 3) Prototype of simulation, 4) Further fundraising
30k - Transition Fund
Who: Soil Heroes, Metabolic Ventures, Fresh (minor)
What’s happening: 1) Design of fund for transitioning to regen agriculture, 2) Design of fund for land ownership security for farmers, 3) Further alliance building
25k - Small farmer soil health program
Who: Tuinen van Hartstocht, Metabolic Foundation, Soil Heroes (Minor)
What’s happening: 1) Establishing a microbiology lab and student intern program to assess on-farm soil and ecosystem health, 2) Identifying ways regional farmers can replicate learnings
10k - Venture Program
Who: Fresh, Metabolic
What’s happening: 1) Custom design for Amsterdam context and partners, 2) Establishing information flows to identify and act on gaps
If you are chosen as a Top Visionary, The Rockefeller Foundation would like to share your Vision widely with a global audience. What would you like the world to learn from your Vision for 2050?
The first and most critical thing we would like to convey is that much of what we are proposing is possible to do today. Agroforestry might be magical, but it’s not magic. Advanced vertical farming systems that incorporate mycology and aquaculture, and serve a broader circular bio-economy, are possible to implement right now. There are typically enough young people and impassioned regional initiatives to take on many of these challenges. Technological progress will certainly help make things easier, but it’s not essential.
The challenge lies in operationalizing the concept of holistic value creation and bringing people around the table towards a common goal. Sometimes an external force can add that needed pull-factor, and what Rockefeller and its partners are doing here is laudable. But hopefully cities, philanthropies, citizens groups, and influential NGOs are inspired to pick up a similar mantle.
The second thing we would want to emphasize, even if it seems obvious, is the importance of listening to experts, users, stakeholders, and beneficiaries when designing regional interventions. For example, even after being engaged with food systems transformation issues for the past decade, we still started out with plenty of silly assumptions and bad ideas. With an open mind and a commitment to reach out to different people and review a lot of the excellent work that has already been done, in most cases it felt straightforward to make informed and inclusive choices.
Please share a visual that communicates the structure and operation of your food system in 2050. Describe the visual.
The first graphic attempts to visualize how we see the different forces at play, how some of our core proposals fit into that picture, and how these forces and activities connect and influence each other.
The second graphic is an overview of the partners involved in our submission, the projects and skills they’re connected to (as well as what we feel is missing), and a connection to outcomes framed as high-level categories of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).