West of Amsterdam is De Stadsgroenteboer, which in English translates to “The Urban Green Grocer''. In 2019 Lisa Fellmann along with four friends began a small-scale farm with the goal of building a community around food.
Lisa was kind enough to let me come and have a look at her farm in January. We talked about her role as an urban farmer and her path to get there. I feel lucky to have visited her farm and have gotten a glimpse into the possibilities of growing food within the constraints of a small, urban plot of land.
Lisa took a gap year after high school where she traveled for ten months to gather new experiences and insight. “I felt I hadn’t seen enough of the world to decide,” she explains. Lisa was raised in Switzerland with a deep connection to the outdoors and food and traveling gave her space to reflect on her interests, “At home, we always do a lot from scratch and I didn’t know other things,” she elaborated. While traveling, Lisa volunteered on organic farms around the world which stirred her curiosity in culture and food.
Lisa returned to Europe and studied gastronomic sciences in Italy. “There I met a group of friends and we had the idea as we were all, the whole day, thinking about the first step in (food) production, which is growing it and taking care of the soil. So we had this dream-idea of a farm.” After studying in Italy, Lisa moved to the Netherlands to get her master's. The opportunity presented itself to start a farm with friends and De Stadsgroenteboer came to life.
“For the whole team I think it’s just because we like to eat good food and we thought it’s fun to just grow it and of course it’s also being outside,” she said while discussing what led her to join her friends in becoming a farmer. “You become strong. You can feel you used your body but at the same time I also feel really energized.” The curiosity and the excitement of an active lifestyle brought the meet together.
“For me personally it’s also a bit of a mission to show that small-scale farming is also financially possible,” Lisa explains. Now, only a few years old, De Stadsgroenteboer grows over 60 varieties of produce and runs a successful Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) system. De Stadsgroenteboer is very organized to make it financially sustainable. Organization is key to maintaining the land and being able to support the farmers working on it. Lisa continued, “We are a pretty organized team. I think it's also a place where you come and you feel like this is so nice to work here and not like all the things aren’t organized. It should be motivating.”
De Stadsgroenteboer is focused on experimenting with small-scale, environmentally-friendly, urban agriculture. “You face a lot of problems that you didn’t come across yet in your studies. Applied, you just need to make different decisions. Maybe something is sustainable or not but in the field it is different,” Lisa describes, “You need to sometimes take these more business decisions. For example, we wanted to get leaves to cover the beds because it is so sustainable and good for the soil but then you need a certification for the waste stream. Then if you want to do it properly, it becomes a bit bureaucratic.”
Lisa works on a farm with the hope of making it an accessible dream to others and building a community-based approach to environmentalism in food. “I would just be happy if people sit around a table and share a meal and just make it fun. And through this, I believe that they can realize a lot,” Lisa shares. Sitting around a table together could serve as a bit of time to, “connect people with each other but with the environment and where they live.”
Skye McKinney is originally from Atlanta, Georgia, and is currently studying in Amsterdam.
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