By Thomas Macintyre
Walking down the street in the neighbourhood of ‘Zeehelden’, in Den Haag, the Netherlands, you might be lucky enough to come across an non-presumptuous brick building with a blue door. You might decide to leave the cobbled street and take a peek inside. You would not be disappointed.
Inside, at the far end of the room is a basketball net, mundanely hovering over the room. The building was once a school gymnasium, but with the centralisation of schools and the passing of time, this building has been inactive for some years. Until now.
For now there are tables bulging with fruit and vegetables, someone is playing a guitar, a guy with a mohawk is selling cheese, and a woman is selling luscious plants. In one corner someone is rummaging through second-hand clothes, and in the other corner, a kitchen is vibrantly buzzing with people young and old preparing food.
This initiative is called Lekkernassuh (translated as “Good munching” ), and is under the umbrella organisation ‘Foundation Local Food The Hague’ which provides the old gymnasium hall as a place for transition initiatives. Lekkernassuh was started 3 years ago with the goal of creating a community space from which to support local actions towards more sustainable living.
Today is a Wednesday, the day of the market, and project member Cristina is taking my son Mateo through the routine (see photo below). Members of the initiative sign up on the Lekkernassuh website to the weekly vegetable basket, and when they arrive, walk past the selection of vegetables weighing the allocated amounts for each vegetable. Volunteers who make a contribution in the organisation, one way or an other, pay 10 euro, while everybody else pay 12 euro. The result is a basket of fresh, local, organic produce.
My personal interest in the initiative Lekkernassuh is in the areas of education and sustainability. I am interested in new forms of learning-based change, which break with unsustainable lifestyles, providing innovative ways of living more consciously and responsibly with the natural world. By going to a community initiative like Lekkernassuh, buying ecological food without packaging, meeting a wide range of people, and perhaps learning something new represents a clear break from the individualised trip to the local supermarket. But to really understand how deep and interconnected everything was I would have to go see where all the amazing food comes from!
Cristina and fellow project leader Sebastian took my family and I to visit two of the initiatives which provide food for the Wednesday market. The first was the biodynamic farm Hoeve Biesland, where we met Linda the “Groenteboerin” – the female vegetable farmer (middle, photo below).
Linda showed us around the small farm which is run on biodynamic principles, whereby farming practices follow the cycles of the moon, no pesticides are used, and natural fertilizers, often in the form of manure, are locally sourced. This small farm is positively overflowing with green, purple and yellow vegetables, growing in tidy rows along a slim canal. Volunteers on the farm sit at a table drinking coffee, and there are no big machines to be seen – there is a family feel about it all. Walking through the rows of vegetables Mateo gets excited by an “octopus vegetable” – a parsley root – which Sebastian says he will prepare for us that night with pineapple and cheese.
The next project we visited was “De Zoete Wildernis” (the sweet wilderness), run by urban farmer Suzanne Monnier. On land put aside for a local development project, Susanne has initiated a permaculture garden based on principles of designing ecological processes which provide natural food while increasing biodiversity. It was great to see and feel the vibrant energy of Suzanne as she showed us around her productive garden, to see where the mushrooms were being cultivated, to eat wild blackberries, and imagine vegetables from the garden ending up in the Lekkernassuh market. On the development site there will also be 12 ‘tiny houses’ – literally small houses inhabited by people looking to downsize their lifestyles and be more connected to nature and everyday life. You can see the first one built in the second photo below.
Perhaps the highlight of my visit to Lekkernassuh took place the following day. Cristina took me back to the old gymnasium of Local Food The Hague, where members of The Conscious Kitchen, an initiative that focuses on the prevention of food waste in The Hague, were having a meeting. In September 2016, this group of dedicated volunteers began to collect leftover food from the city market. Every Thursday this food is prepared at the gym in the form of a delicious free meal open for everyone. Today the core group of The Conscious Kitchen were in a planning session, organising the logistics and responsibilities of picking up food from the market, and bringing it back to the gymnasium. It struck me as amazing that people would volunteer time to organise the collection and preparation of ‘waste’ food so as to create a community dinner.
And I feel that this is the underlying point of Lekkernassuh and Local Food The Hague: It is not just about the food. Beyond the vegetable boxes on Wednesdays and the Conscious Kitchen on Thursdays, the space of Local Food The Hague has evolved to provide community-based workshops, theatre groups and music performances. It was inspiring to see international students mingling with local residents, children collecting vegetables, and the delicious meals being prepared by volunteers. Through developing the gymnasium into a community space, Local Food The Hague is giving rise to many new expressions of people coming together to build community. And at a time when there is so much disconnection between people, nature, and the greater planetary spirit, we need such spaces to be inspired, to learn and transform, and to simply enjoy the small pleasures of life. For as the basketball net overlooking the gym reminds us, “If it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable.”