The loss of farmers is not a problem as long as productivity rises.

How can we move beyond this conversation stopper?

Matryoshka doll farmers

Tuinderij De Stroom
“Andre is the arable farmer and we shift with him in his crop rotation. We move with our 3 hectares every year within his 100 ha farm.”

Farmers of Tuinderij De Stroom for Future Farm Films

One of the most common problems that starting agroecological farmers face today is the lack of affordable access to land. However, this struggle occasionally leads to unexpected alliances with larger-scale agricultural practices. In the province of Gelderland in The Netherlands, the market gardeners of Tuinderij De Stroom found access to 3 ha of land within the crop rotation of  an existing 100 ha organic arable farm Ekoboerderij De Lingehof. Just as a Russian Matryoskha doll fits within a larger doll, the one farm – De Stroom – operates inside the larger one – De Lingehof. The cooperation not only creates much-needed access to land for new practices, but also brings many additional benefits, such as the sharing of infrastructure (washing facilities, place to eat...) and interconnected services (purchase of agricultural products for vegetable packages, ploughing for the horticultural activities, availability of labour at peak times...)., but also closing cycles and establishing equilibriums (e.g. manure and composting, shared rotation schemes, etc.) and sharing knowledge and techniques between different generations of farmers. Moreover, this farm-within-a-farm model could be more systematically pursued as a valuable transition strategy in light of the lack of succession within farming families. Retiring farmers can build up the trust with the new entrant farmers to hand over their life’s work in good conscience, while the new entrant farmers get the time and literally, the space to acquire the experience to manage stepwise larger amounts of land.

Building Block: Farming the Fragmented Land

Building territorial governance capacities

Bio-städte, Ökoregion

The paradigm of the eco-regione or bio-region comes with the desire to reconnect the urban agglomeration to the ‘natural’ regional geography that precedes urbanisation ( Dynamics of urbanisation overwrite a pre-urban geography, threatening the hydrological integrity of the region, the soil structure, the nutrient cycles, the biodiversity, etc. Particularly inspiring is the way in which many eco-regional initiatives start from self-imposed ecological and territorial boundaries and re-think urbanisation as part of the care for the landed resources within the particular region.

In the German and Austrian context we can witness many Öko-region initiatives. Most of them have their origin in the promotion of organic farming (not in agroecology per se). The focus on organic farming cements the link between regional policies and soil care (ie. Ökoregion Kaindorf and the Humus+ project). Soil and farming are recognized as the necessary basis for an ecological regional geography. These initiatives do establish a strong connection between resource sovereignty and an understanding of territorial control built around place-based solidarities between actors within a region, and move well-beyond protectionist and identitarian regionalist logics. They give farmers a potential place within regional constituencies, and indirectly a place in the territorial governance of urbanisation, a place often denied to them within urban and metropolitan territorial governing bodies.

Building Block: Agroecological Park

Growing community spaces

Wolve’s Lane Community Hall

In 2017 a consortium of community organisations took on management of the 2.5 acre Wolves Lane Centre, a council owned ex plant nursery site containing a number of large glasshouses in Haringey, North London. The vision for the site is to develop a thriving community food project with opportunities for collaboration with and involvement of Haringey residents in education, enterprise and health and wellbeing activities. This is also reflected in the consortium of actors behind the management – or better, stewardship – and process of renovation for the site, ranging from community-based actors (Ubele Initiative), organic growing and training (OrganicLea) and local food distribution organisations (Crop Drop) to land advocates (Shared Assets) The consultative design process lead to a development plan for the Wolve’s Lane Centre (see also here) that includes public events/community building connecting people with the outdoor and indoor growing spaces, allowing reallocation of glasshouses currently used for this purpose and  fit-for-purpose new facilities for community learning, community hires and operational activities. 

Wolve’s Lane is inspiring in light of the search for an agroecological urbanism, as it reveals how residual urban infrastructure – in this case, a former municipal plant nursery – is re-interpreted as a community-driven space where agroecological principles permeate a series of local initiatives and construct a set of solidarities between groups pursuing different social and ecological agendas.

Building Block: Territorial Food Hub

Taking root in neighbourhoods

The Huerta Urban Agriculture Programme, Rosario

Rosario’s municipal Urban Agriculture Programme is founded on the concept of the ‘huerta’- a garden park where residents can be assigned a plot of land so that they can grow vegetables for consumption and for sale. The huerta provides a focal point for the development of ‘productive neighbourhoods’, in which agriculture is integrated in social economy programmes focused on construction and maintenance. The huertas also provide nutrition, education and employment for residents, who can sell directly or through markets and specialist retail outlets which are also supported by the Urban Agriculture Programme. They are also spaces open to the community who can enjoy the garden parks, purchase the locally produced crops and find out more about food growing in general. These public gardens - located on both public and derelict private land - form part of a decentralized model of municipal management and aim to provide both a growing space and a market within each neighbourhood. The 2 hectares Parque Huerta Oeste, inaugurated in 2020, is the most recent of 7 garden parks in the city.

Building Block: Territorial Food Hub