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.
Despite its name, Noord-Holland is in fact found towards the west of the Netherlands, at approximately 2 meters below sea level. With cool winds making their way from the North Sea, Noord-Hollands Summers are warm but tolerable while winters look damp, mildly cold with intermittent much rain.
With cities like Amsterdam, Haarlem and Alkmaar, the province has centres that are densely populated and intensely urbanized. That being said, you’ll still find over 10% of the cities like Amsterdam to include nature reserves and parks. Despite being “the big city”, you can’t help but feel like it’s a cozy village where everyone knows each other.
As you walk through the hustle and bustle of newly initiated social enterprises, start-ups, coffee companies and university campuses you’ll surely smell the sense of optimism and hope. “It’s tough, but together we’ll make it”; How can I serve you?”; “We can turn things around”; “Let me help”; “There’s a solution here somewhere”. There’s an expectation for good things ahead.
Agriculture, Horticulture and general farming have a significant role to play in Noord Holland – and beyond – to say the least. Over 50% of the Netherlands land is used for these purposes. Interestingly the Dutch are also acutely aware of their significance in this area across international borders. They’re the global leader in tomato, potato and onion exports, for example while being the second largest exporter of vegetables overall in terms of value.
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
GHG emissions are rising. This owes to two forces. Firstly, more livestock is being farmed (and being farmed more intensively) which means the density of emissions from cows, for example through their burps or manure, is on the incline. Second, Because the land available to farm livestock is already limited, larger herds can only be sustained by feeding them grains like soy and corn that are imported from South America. Due to the limited available arable land in South America however, forests are being cleared to harvest said grains which is one of the heaviest contributors to carbon emissions.
The amount of meat consumed per capita is increasing in Noord-Holland – currently at approximately 79.1 Kg per annum. Types of livestock meat favoured are pork, followed by poultry, beef, lamb and others. Generally the population regards itself as being healthy, however, the World Trade Organisation recently found 52.5% of the adult population (> 20 years old) to be overweight and 18.8%, obese.
The economy of meat in North Holland is very supply driven. 100,000’s of cows are slaughtered every year in the hope that the meat they deliver is sold in supermarkets across the region. However, because only particular cuts of meat – Sirloin, Ribeye and Fillet, for example – have become valorised, the rest very often goes to waste on supermarket shelves.
Because the number of local butchers in the region has fallen, beef farmers have become increasingly reliant on supermarkets to push their supply. This has given supermarkets a very dominant transactional position, demanding lower and lower prices in exchange for the meat they buy. This race to the bottom in regards to price is only accelerated by swaying consumer loyalties towards those with lower weekly prices.
When you go to a supermarket to buy minced meat, as things stand there is no region-wide technology in place to be able to trace your meat back to the particular livestock from which it came. Scandals in this area are common in this part of western Europe. In the UK for example, the Food Standards Agency found over 20% of the meat it tested in supermarkets and restaurants to include meat from animals not mentioned at all on the labelling.
Food and Agricultural Minister Carola Schouten outlined her vision for the closed loop agricultural sector in 2040. While in the face of the heavily industrialised farming systems currently in place in The Netherlands her expression is undoubtedly courageous and progressive, the lack of a clear framework for implementation makes it too broad, general and open to interpretation.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
In 2050, none of Crowdbutching.com’s network of farms in Noord-Holland will be using grains like soy or corn to be nourishing the livestock on their land. This will completely eliminate the link between beef farming and the carbon emissions related to deforestation. Rather, livestock like cows will only be fed on non-arable grassland and food residue streams (e.g. potato peels or turnip ends) – not crops fit for human consumption. As a result, cattle will be playing the crucial and unique role of converting vegetation that man cannot eat, into nourishing Animal Source Proteins that he can. According to ecologist Simon Farlie, in his book “Meat: A benign extravagance” sicking strictly to this modus operandi would mean that the number of livestock on the planet would fall by approximately 50%.
We no longer have such a high reliance on Animal Source Proteins within our day-to-day diets. Instead, protein is sourced through a much richer complexion of different vegetable based foods. What’s more, because the type of beef that is consumed comes from cattle that have been grazing on a rich mixture of grasses and food residues, the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids are much higher in the average diet within Noord-Holland.
The economy of meat has been ubiquitously tipped upside down in Noord-Holland; rather than being supply-driven, it is now demand-defined. Specifically, before being slaughtered, livestock units are sold off using a crowdfunding model – and only slaughtered once all stakes of the cow have been sold off. By cutting out the supermarket middleman in this way, two outcomes have come about. First, no meat goes wasted on supermarket shelves, and second, due to limited demand, the price of meat has increased – giving higher margins to farmers.
The inability to trace back beef is a thing of the past. Using blockchain technologies every piece of meat in Noord-Holland can be traced all the way back to the specific unit of livestock from which it came. Not only is provenance now protected but also the specific journey the meat has taken – for example, both the slaughtering and processing practices it has passed through. End-to-end, the most transparent meat money can buy.
Rather than just a vision for a closed loop agricultural sector, this farming system and those like it are the dominant farming models. While the self-sustained characteristics of closed-loop farming have always made economic sense in theory, it is fiscal policy which has cemented its market strength. Specifically, subsidies towards those who employ these farming practices and taxes imposed on those that don’t – due to the environmental impact.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Outside of its urban centres, Noord-Holland is characterised by a rich biodiversity of plants, insects and wildlife that find nourishment through healthy soil, fresh air and clean water.
A hallmark of Noord-Holland’s landscape now though, is that the ecosystem within nature reserves now sustains both wildlife and livestock in tandem. Cows roam freely across hectares of wild grassland and forestry alongside droves of pigs who together root and forage for nature's most nutritious and delicious sustenance; mushrooms, legumes and clover to name just a few. Cattle and pigs are just part of a much greater food chain including red squirrel, fox, and badger, as well as roe deer and birds including buzzards, European green woodpeckers, and the Grutto.
What does this all mean? Rather than feeding them on crops we could be consuming ourselves, Livestock now do as nature herself surely intended — converting grasslands and shrubbery we can’t consume into omega 3 rich, proteins we can; all within natures confines.
What’s more, we’re now letting livestock give back to the environment too – releasing the pitter patter of manured organic matter across reserves. No more need for artificial or chemical pesticides – just nature helping nature. Not only does this system allow for the ecosystem –and livestock farming specifically– to follow nature's lead, it also allows for the livestock themselves to follow a social life as She intended. In small herds of 15-20, all year round, living life in the great outdoors.
The landscape is truly shaped by an interweaving of agriculture and nature.
Besides nature reserves, livestock farming also takes place within what are called ‘mixed farms’. These are farms that primarily focus on producing crops for locals, but use cattle – specifically the organic matter (manure) they produce – as means to promote and sustain the fertility of the land on which they’re farmed.
Grass lays are planted on arable lands and once set in, a small herd of cattle will rotate their grazing across its different patches as each day passes – a method known as ‘rotational-’ or ‘mob-grazing’. Here the cattle are led to a confined, new patch of grass at the end of each day, when the sugar levels in the grass hit their peak after collecting the sun’s energy in the hours before. For a whole day, the cows will gorge on everything and anything their long tongues can grasp on, only to move on to the next patch a day later.
About 3 days after being moved onto the next patch, worms have already started to gravitate towards the rich manure left behind by the cattle, and feeding has begun on what is partially decomposed organic matter that’s still filled with their crucial nutrition. At this point, the chickens are then brought in to grub on the worms – a process that by now has converted a part of cattle’s waste into a high-protein meal for the chickens. The other part of the cattle waste has been worked or lightly trampled into the soil with the claws of the chicken – a process that naturally fertilizes the soil.
As this cycle continues across the land and it becomes more and more fertile, the grass overlay is removed and crops are harvested on the land.
Livestock in this setting thus play two crucial roles: firstly to provide nourishment for our other sources of animal proteins (e.g. Chickens), and second, to naturally nourish the land on which we farm our crops. If we truly want to rely on a more vegetable based diet, this latter role of livestock is crucial to its health and sustainability.
Because meat is no longer produced in vast quantities on industrialised feedlot farms, market forces of supply and demand have meant that prices have gone up, and as a result meat has truly become a treat. It’s cherished – whatever the cut – and almost always enjoyed on the most special of occasions when the whole family gathers around the dinner table.
Our familial psyche has turned from being completely self focused, to one that is much more conscious and proactive about its impact and influence on its context or setting. Instead of just asking “what do I feel like eating?” the question has turned into “what is the impact or implication of what I eat?”. In the case of meat, this practically now looks like taking responsibility for the whole carcass of the cow – rather than just pick-and-mixing the cuts we feel like. We eat nose-to-tail, making sure everything is made use of and nothing goes to waste. If we’re going to slaughter an animal for its meat, we’re going to make sure it’s respected before and after slaughter.
As the perception of meat as a good has changed, price and convenience are no longer king when it comes to Mum’s shopping choices – consumers have entered higher consciousness. They’re now willing to pay higher prices for higher quality meat products, and they’re willing to go above and beyond to get it. Meat has become a premium good, much like we used to only say about wild salmon.
Society & culture
Following the generations who grew-up as knowledge and information grew closer and closer to their fingertips through the expansion of the world wide web, this generation now expects this proximity of info as a default when making shopping choices. The story of the meat that we buy is almost the centrepiece of the centrepiece, and we very much want to be part of it. How long did the animal live?; where was it born?; where was it reared?; what did it eat?; What was its favoured hill?; and what was its temperament like? With the expansion of technologies like BlockChain, we can verify the transparency of the story behind the steaks on our plates. But crucially, we’ve gone beyond just numbers and texts on a screen or sticker when it comes to traceability – we’ve actually gone back to the ways of old; knowing the faces and names of the farming families that rear our meat.
Rather than being on the outskirts of society, farmers are now very much part of its significant fabric again. They’re known once more for their crucial role in providing sustenance. What’s more, farming families are financially incentivised like never before. Not only does this encourage them to continue their nature inclusive practices, but beyond that it encourages them to innovate – think bigger and better when it comes to their craft; shepherding nature to also provide for man. Indeed, the significance of farming for prosperous families doesn’t just lie in the past, but also now the future.
The grass roots changes so far portrayed have not occurred without help, however. Both policy and corporate change have been paramount to the necessary turnaround.
In terms of policy, the government in Noord-Holland has long imposed strong requirements on the acreage per livestock unit, and on livestock solely being fed pasture or food residue streams – for example. Crucially, rather than waiting for market conditions to change or be optimal for these impositions, the Government took it upon themselves to define the market conditions themselves and proactively point them towards good. Mottos or vision statements of the past have become pragmatic, step-by-step battle plans that lead the way forward for everyone. Importantly though, Instead of creating bureaucracy like bygone eras, they’ve instilled a new and self-correcting modus operandi. A type of intuition in their constituencies that thinks outwards, rather than just inwards, simply rather than over-complexly and solutions focused not just problems minded.
From a corporate perspective, many companies have reached a point of enlightened self-interest when it comes to meat production. Understanding that doing good will do good by them in the long term. Leading the way, however, are corporations that look even further and exist to permeate values of excellence, legacy, service, passion – all with courage – within the meat business. Rather than using natures resources to see happy customers, they’ve turned the model around to one that makes customers grateful; acknowledging the privilege of being in the food system they find themselves in.