This blog was written in the context of the T-Learning initiative as a reflection on activities taken forward in 2017.
By Cristina Temmink
Lekkernassuh, meaning ‘good munching’ in a city dialect that is only spoken in The Hague, The Netherlands, was introduced as a name and concept in March 2014. It all began with one woman who started buying fruit and vegetables from local organic farmers and gardeners and selling them directly to consumers. Since then, Lekkernassuh has been on an extraordinary journey towards a ‘fair, local, sustainable and community-based food system’.
It took some years for a community to grow around this initiative. Today, the community comprises roughly 2500 people of which 800 are registered as members and 200 fetch a weekly vegetable package. We hold the vision and inherent values of a ‘fair, local, sustainable food system’ as our guide, without a clear plan or ultimate outcome in mind. This state of ‘not knowing’ keeps us alert, open, and reflective, and stimulates continuous learning.
We consider the social component of our work at Lekkernassuh to be the most important, recognising that all societal systems are made up of our own ideas and values and shaped by our behaviours. If we want to contribute to societal transformation, we need to create ‘transformative spaces’ where we start to ‘model’ and embody what these larger societal transformations could look like; spaces in which creativity flourishes and new ideas come to life. Lao Tse’s quote “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished” guides us in this approach. Many of the people drawn to Lekkernassuh have experienced, in one way or another, their creativity being crushed in spaces with unhealthy competition – where stress, judgement and a constant sense of ‘hurry’ leads to quick decision making, shortcuts and collateral damage. Lekkernassuh is an attempt to honour the complexity we are dealing with by slowing down and adjusting to nature’s pace. It is an attempt to pay attention to our personal and collective capacities and experiences as we experiment with alternatives, and to make them explicit.
We are carrying out two major experiments in the way we organize internally at Lekkernassuh: the creation of a horizontal organisational structure, inspired by holacracy, and the integration of a community currency called Timebank.cc
Structurally, we organise ourselves in circles; each circle focuses on a different domain of work, such as administration, buying products, hosting the market, and communication. All circles- their members, domains, and tasks- are made visible to the broader community so that anyone who wants to engage can easily do so, and empty spaces can be spotted. Each circle has a facilitator who serves as the main contact person and maintains the connection with the other circles. Most decisions are decentralised; people are invited and encouraged to make their own judgements and decide when others need to be consulted.
Up to this point, Lekkernassuh has functioned under the formal umbrella of the Local Food The Hague Foundation. However, we now feel we have reached the maturity and strength to be financially and legally independent and so are in the process of registering as a formal entity, most likely a cooperative association. Doing so will enable us to apply for and receive funding to support our activities and learning processes. In order to become a legal entity, a board has been formed. The new board members are very inspired by the vision of Lekkernasshuh and seem to understand the challenge to support and protect the self-organising, organic structure and functioning of Lekkernassuh, rather than to control it. During the last board meeting they defined their role as ‘being the backbone of the organisation and maintaining external contacts (for licences, taxes, subsidies, PR) while staying in tune with its internal life, but with minimal intervention or facilitation.’
Overall, Lekkernassuh seems to have matured enough in terms of its capacity to ‘scale deep’ and ‘seed change from within’ to hold the space when focusing more outwards in the coming year. How exactly this will evolve and how the internal changes and deep learning will contribute to broader change in the food system will be our focus in 2018.
The Timebank experiment has involved integrating Timebank into the organisation of Lekkernassuh so that Timebank hours can be used as a means of payment to buy food at the market. Hours can be earned by working on the market, contributing to one or more of the organisational circles, and/or participating in the wider Timebank community. Timebank.cc was created to supplement the Euro, not fully replace it. It facilitates cooperation by enabling exchanges based on time rather than conventional money, where one Timebank hour equals one hour of work and everyone’s time is equally valued. Similar to Lekkernassuh, Timebank.cc is an open community; anyone is welcome to join. It has an online platform which works like any online bank in that one can digitally transfer hours from one user to another user.
After months of preparation and calculations around the feasibility of people buying vegetable packages with time instead of money, Lekkernassuh started the Timebank experiment in early February 2018. Based on our assessment, we concluded that Timebank will support our progress towards a fair, local, sustainable and resilient food system. Our underlying assumptions, which we will follow-up on, are:
- For any systems change to happen, we need community. Integrating Timebank means that people are more closely connected and cooperating. It emphasizes that caring for each other should be the core of the economy. We are only one month into the experiment and have already observed that the number of active people in the community has increased.
- The possibility to pay with time has made it possible for people with more time than money to access good, organic, locally-produced food. It is therefore a highly inclusive system.
- Our aim is to eventually include farmers in the Timebank system. This would enable them to make use of labour offered and Lekkernassuh could partly pay for vegetables in hours instead of Euros. And in doing so, ‘city people’ and farmers would work closer together, connecting people to the land our food comes from.
- The more attractive it becomes for people to get their food at Lekkernassuh, the more our membership will grow. The market share of organic food is less than 3% in the Netherlands, which means that the vast majority of our organic food is exported. We want to help farmers shorten the food chain and deliver their goods as directly as possible to the people who eat it.
- By integrating Timebank, we aim to take out the concept of ‘profit’ completely. Each way of making a contribution is compensated for in an equal and similar way – time for time.
In mid 2018, we will hold an evaluation and reflection session to more consciously surface the learnings that emerge from the Timebank experiment. This will also be the moment to share the outcomes of this experiment more broadly, which will be a first step in ‘scaling out’ to contribute to broader system transformation.
Debates, power relations, tensions
The debates and tensions in 2017 were various. First and foremost, as a community- driven initiative, Local Food The Hague/Lekkernassuh has been 100% volunteer-driven. And with the introduction of Timebank, the possibility of Lekkernassuh becoming an income-generating social enterprise has been discarded. No one in Lekkernassuh can make a salary out of collective activities such as the market. This was an explicit choice to guarantee the purity of the experiment. However, this decision has deepened the existing tension between our ability to keep Lekkernassuh going as a collectively-run initiative and our need as individuals to make a living. Most core group members have jobs or are independent consultants, and are only able to attend to Lekkernassuh activities in their spare time. Recently, the coordinator of Lekkernassuh for the past 3 years, had to step back after accepting a job to sustain his young family. This has meant others have had to step in to fill the gaps, thus increasing their workload. Although we are confident that we can broaden the circle of financial support to keep Lekkernassuh going, we will have to make a special effort to seek out parties who are willing to invest in the more relational, reflective, and experimental dimensions of Lekkernassuh, the less visible but most important part of our work. Transformative and transgressive learning seem still a luxury that few are willing to invest in, despite how critical they are for developing solutions to our most pressing societal challenges.
Another internal debate, related to this tension, was around investing our limited time and human resources in (deep) learning – which is time consuming – when fundraising for the needed renovations in the Gym is a pressing issue. Some members were defending the importance of having conversations about our values and their embodiment in our day-to-day workings as this would strengthen both the initiative and the space, while others got irritated by the slowness of the process and found it too inward focused. However, recently after a core group meeting, one of the sceptical members wrote an email with the title “Thank you all!”, saying that he had left the meeting with a big smile on his face and that he now recognises how special this process is and how we are becoming a very grounded organisation: “It is like a puzzle that maneuvers slowly towards a resolution, and where people jump in when there is a hole or a need, and no one needs to pretend to be something they are not. Sometimes it’s stiff, sometimes it’s slow, and sometimes it asks a lot of people. But for the first time in all these years I feel we are getting strong and the world is not yet rid of us. And the world can be happy about that.”
Strategies for “scaling deep” relate to the notion that durable change has been achieved only when people’s hearts and minds, their values and cultural practices, and the quality of relationships they have, are transformed. For more see: https://mcconnellfoundation.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/ScalingOut_Nov27A_AV_BrandedBleed.pdf
Thanks to Sebastiaan van Zaanen for parts of the writing, Sara Pape for input on Timebank, Frederik van Oudehoven for sharing the email he sent us, and Tana Paddock of for editing support. In addition, thanks to Thomas McIntyre and Martha Chavez for their ongoing support and feedback in the writing of this piece.