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Common management

food commons


Commons are democratic communities (communities) that jointly manage a common good, without much dependence on the government or the market. The aim is often to create local added value and to achieve social impact. Commons are not for profit but can generate income for the participants. Well-known examples of resources that can be managed jointly are: energy, (windmills, solar panels) knowledge (open source, Wikipedia) and food such as fishing grounds, grassland, fields, means of transport and communal gardens. 

The city council of Amsterdam has been embracing the philosophy of the commons since 2018 based on the assumption that this idea contributes to the democratization of society, strengthens the social fabric of the city, adds economic value at neighborhood and district level, helps to integrate newcomers and contribute to the transition to a sustainable food and energy supply. Food Council MRA is involved in setting up and supporting food communities in Amsterdam. Food is a relative newcomer to the field of subjects to which common self-management is declared applicable. At present, the food supply within the Amsterdam metropolitan region, from farm to fork, is largely provided by the business community.

Commons and the food system

Although hard to imagine; Is it possible to view the food system through the lens of the commons? Within this representation, food supply is seen as a coherent and complex system. The production and consumption of food within this system are at the root of serious ecological and social problems such as nitrogen and CO2 emissions, obesity, malnutrition, exploitation, immunity to antibiotics, accumulation of pesticides, desiccation, soil depletion and waste. These problems are closely related and produce a downward spiral, as it were. They form a tangle that is difficult to untangle. It therefore makes little sense to try to tackle the food-related problems one by one, without taking cross-connections into account. A systems approach offers a solution. 

This approach is similar to solving the Rubic's Cube puzzle. A systems approach to food supply focuses on issues as diverse as production methods, food culture, public space design and healthcare.

Looking at the food system through the lens of the commons can help to approach food as a common good and part of a comprehensive solution to the crises that plague the wider social system. Viewed in this way, renewal of the food system can contribute to a solution to the climate crisis, growing inequality, unhealthy lifestyles and intolerance. We can imagine our food as a common good managed by a community according to democratic rules. Where this succeeds, we speak of food democracy.  


In practice

That is not to say that the food chain will immediately and completely change from a fully market-driven system to commonplace. This process takes place in steps, starting from the bottom up at the neighborhood level and slowly scaling up to the regional and national scale. The creation of cooperatives as a legal vehicle plays a central role in this process. Management of (parts of) the food system as a common property has the advantage that it is managed by a community according to democratic principles. That is food democracy. Communities protect their resources from allotment, exploitation, alienation and encroachment by private companies and governments.  


Food Council MRA promotes the establishment of food cooperatives in which producers, buyers, transporters, households and processors of food waste work together. This is one way to give stakeholders ownership and control over their own local piece of the food system.


Existing examples

Points of departure for a renewal of the food system in the Amsterdam metropolitan region are listed below. The list is by no means complete and is constantly changing. Many initiatives (niches) are dying again because they do not fit within the current political, economic and cultural preconditions.  


  • Consumer cooperatives that source food from local farmers (VokoMokum, Voedlink, Foodcoop Amsterdam, Boeren voor Buren)

  • Land Funds (Jerusalem artichoke, Land van Ons)

  • Cooperative farms (Genboeren)

  • Partnerships between producers and consumers (Zuidermarkt Fund, Chocolate Caravan) 

  • Community gardens (more than twenty in Amsterdam)

  • Valuation of food surpluses (Buurtbuik, Taste before You Waste, Food Bank, Boeren voor Buren)

  • Collaboration between local residents, food producers, compost makers and catering (Kaskantine)

  • Neighborhood houses and gardens where people cook and eat together (Meevaart, Anna's Tuin en Ruigte, Resto van Harte)

Want to learn more about Commons and food communities?

read  the article by  Arnold van der Valk  Beatriz Pineda Revilla  and  Sarah Essbai  about food communities to learn more about this topic. Or immerse yourself completely in the commons with this e-book from the Hellinger Institute .

Image by Elaine Casap
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