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6/9/2021 / Issue #038 / Text: Tobia Jones

Amsterdam’s Solidariteits Netwerk BuurtTuinen (Sonebutu) emerges

Our story begins on the common grounds of community food gardens dispersed across Amsterdam. We are the caretakers and custodians of edible sanctuaries for more-than-human communities in our neighbourhoods. As an intuitive and gut-felt response to the neoliberalisation of life, we cultivate resilience, nourishment, and hope for greater realizations of healthy alternatives.

Together we grow and share food to counter social isolation and disease-making dependence on corporate industrial food systems. We share land, labour, and love as we cultivate mutually-supportive polycultures. We regenerate local ecosystems and sow the seeds of climate-responsible cultures that honour the wisdoms and practices of peasant and indigenous cultures. We distrust the false solutions of green growth and ecological modernization with their mantras of “consume more, trust in high-tech, and endorse extractivism elsewhere”.

We estimate that there are more than 100 buurttuinen in Amsterdam where neighbours and friends grow and share food in open and public spaces. Almost all of these gardens are denied collective and community land rights necessary for long-term flourishing. Instead, we subsist on temporary contracts or informal agreements with the Gemeente that guarantee our precarity. We centre our solidarity to the gardens and surrounding homes who are most at risk of displacement and gentrification.

Our resilience and resistance are rooted in collective processes of care, solidarity and reciprocity. We take most inspiration from the gardens in our network that uproot and heal from our city’s neoliberal and neo-colonial legacies. We are heartened by gardens occupying and inhabiting land intended for lucrative property development and gentrification. Gardens reflecting the social diversity of their neighbourhoods. Gardens able and willing to nurture everyday alliances across house owners and social renters, generations, genders and racialised cultures.

We are community food gardeners in solidarity with the struggles for the Lutkermeer polder, undocumented people and who welcome the arrival of the Zapatistas this year. We are gardeners of skill-sharing, knowledge-exchanging and food culture preservation and celebration. We seed food-consumer cooperatives, support small-scale farmers and contribute to food autonomies near and far. We are gardeners that value consensus, who can hold assemblies, and love to cooperate beyond individual plots.

From our past struggles against profit-greedy developers and anti-social planners we learnt that solidarity networks are invaluable. Without solidarity we cannot counter the commercialization of common spaces nor can we prevent our gardens from being (ab)used for Gemeente-led gentrification (“greentrification”).

With the support A SEED, Eetbaar Amsterdam and Fonds voor Nieuw-West we accessed modest funds to complete a form of action research that started with 16 community garden evaluations in 2020. We listened to their challenges and successes and made an inventory of our past and potential future collaborations.

Listening carefully to each other, it was quite easy to identify common challenges we face as a network of voedsel buurttuinen. Politically, our most common challenge is securing long-term land access. We are in favour of taking land and earth out of private property and restoring them to the commons with community land rights and responsibilities. We feel the best way of achieving this political need is becoming a civic movement strong enough to access resources and inspire social and ecological transformations of Amsterdam’s green spaces.

The Commons Network is one of a number of organisations that offered their solidarity to us. They valued our bottom-up process and informed the Fearless Cities programmers to support our proposal to do a series of 8 skill-shares in 8 gardens responding to our common challenges. Sadly, with corona restrictions, we could not do open workshops so made open-access videos instead. We are grateful to have our knowledge and skills valued and to receive financial solidarity.

Since ceremoniously planting our ‘Solidariteitsnetwerk Buurttuinen’ in spring 2021, most of us are occupied with the day-to-day care of our neighbourhood food gardens, families and communities. Spring and summer are the most care-intensive seasons for our gardens and as we mostly grow and share food in our spare time. This means less time for organizing and exchanging, although we have been sharing seeds, seedlings and compost with each other.

Now, with the restrictions waning, we are excited to realize our first series of solidarity bike tours. Our first tour was in Nieuw-West on Sunday August 30 where we visited 4 gardens in the network, listened to their challenges and made solidarity offerings and requests. Three gardens live within Gemeente’s Schinkelkwartier master plan of gentrification which destines the living gardens to cement.

In response, we started a bottom-up, democratic re-design process of the common green spaces within the Schinkelkwartier into vital social and ecological lifeways (corridors). We are offering to weave the living local threads into the Gemeente’s sterile master plans so they can fulfil their public resource commitments to green “rigorously” (and radically), transform our urban green spaces to respond adequately to the climate emergency and counter rising trends of social isolation and loneliness.

We stand together against the distant top-down designs from the glass castle of Weesperplein 8 that designate green to be an ornamental background to extract from and use for green city marketing. We stand together in learning to co-design closely with diverse users of our local greenspaces. We centre direct democracy, wellbeing and ecological regeneration to respond maturely to the multiple crises we must overcome.

As fellow citizens, we need each other and our differences are a generative asset, not a ‘wicked problem’ to avoid. With the enforcement of Netherlands’ Omgevingswet set for January 2022, heartful and dignified citizens have real legal opportunities to be in the decisive designing and planning phases from which we have historically been excluded; i.e. to go beyond tokenistic participation.

We feel and respond to a need to nurture a community of grass-rooted co-designers. We must anticipate and counter the threat of an emerging paradigm of undemocratic ‘multi-stakeholderism’ where corporations and private interests dominate the future decision-making of our common and public spaces in Amsterdam.

With this initial positioning, we invite you to be in solidarity with our efforts to cultivate skilful and dignified co-designers. We start with a broad and open imaginary of community foodscapes that (re) connect and protect a great variety of initiatives that grow and share food in healthy ways.

Every 3 weeks to the end of 2021 we’ll introduce you to some of our network members who are pioneering practices of co-design. They co-design with people and places to reanimate and regenerate endangered solidarities between indoor and outdoor food communities, city and hinterland, forests and farms, cultures and ecologies.

We invite you to listen and learn together with us, share ideas, experiences, resources and suggestions to common challenges that speak to a need to go beyond the contexts of our community food gardens. A common need to protect, connect and reclaim civic power that is so urgently needed to heal Amsterdam and enable healthy alternatives to flourish.

To access our first co-design challenge and add your ideas, use this link: If you would like to join our network’s e-mail list, receive a report of our 10 most common challenges (including ecological, economic, social and technological) and/or a guide on how we seeded this P2P solidarity network please send an email to