Lutkemeerpolder: The Last Organic Farm of Amsterdam Fights to Survive
Published Mon Jun 15 2020
The area of the Lutkemeer is not easy to find. You need to hop on tram 1, get off at the last stop, walk along the road, past industrial areas, until you reach a small cycle lane. Then you see them, the large fields referred to as the Lutkemeerpolder. These fields have been the battleground of a long dispute between grass-root organizations of farmers and citizens and the municipality of Amsterdam, which hopes to use the land to extent the adjacent Schipol airport.
The Lutkemeerpolder is home to the last arable organic farm in Amsterdam, the Boerderij de Boterbloem, and is characterized by a unique, very fertile soil consisting of sea clay. The citizens who have organized and mobilized to protect the Lutkemeerpolder -like Kees- emphasize its undeniable significance in the face of the climate crisis: these fertile fields play a vital role for biodiversity, local food production and C02 and water storage.
After the municipality first vocalized its new development plans in conjunction with the Schipol Area Development Company in 2009, Kees recalls how the farmers -in an act of resistance- continued to work the land. “In the first years the municipality did not stop them from doing so, but are now making it more and more difficult for the farmers to continue with their work. They forbid them from staying in their farms and don’t allow them access to the land.” A lot has happened since the re-zoning plan was first drafted: Amsterdam has declared a state of climate emergency, the GroenLinks (GreenLeft) party is in the majority coalition in the municipal government, and the Corona crisis has exposed the importance of local food production. “We thought these three things combined would be enough to convince them to halt this stupid plan. We made newspaper headlines, held demonstration, occupied the land, and yet we have not managed to stop them. The fate of the Lutkemeerpolder didn’t even create any visible opposition within the GroenLinks party structure.”
The GroenLinks have however presented the farmers with a deal: in exchange for their acceptance of the industrial park, they can continue to live in their farms and are allowed to work on a small piece of agricultural land. “The idea of the GroenLinks is allowing the Lutkemeer community to retain a taste of farming: you can still keep a few plants, a tiny shop with some local produce, but most of your food you can just buy at the supermarket, there is food flying to Holland from all over the world, so there is no need to plant it here, to plant it yourself.” Kees disagrees with this view, he believes that local food production should be supported and stimulated, since supply chains can be disrupted, for which Corona is a perfect example.
The current pandemic, in Kees’ opinion, was particularly hurtful to the movement. “The Corona crisis disarms you. It has given the state so much more power to decide what you can and cannot do.” In the past months the grass-root organization has experimented with alternative ways of protesting, for example asking people to visit the Lutkemeerpolder and leave behind posters, flags, forks, anything to show solidarity to the land.
Amsterdam’s ‘greens’ are looking to introduce a doughnut economy in Amsterdam and make the inner city car free, a plan which has gained international visibility. The green-left municipal government has announced that the industrial park will follow a ‘circular’ model by catching and re-distributing rain-water, and transplanting the sea clay soil onto the roof. Kees is however critical of this plan, which he considers to be a typical act of greenwashing: a feigned commitment to environmentalism in order to profit from popular endorsement. “ ‘Sustainable’ is not used as frequently now, the term got deflated and too many corporate structures started endorsing it. So ‘circular’ is now the new word. But this land here is the most circular you can get!” The doughnut economy model, while a slight improvement to the neoliberal eternal growth doctrine, only entails a minute political and economic adjustment, laments Kees.
Past and Planned Civil Actions
“Grass-root civil action is the only thing we have,“ explains Kees. Amsterdam has a rich history of grass-root civil action, with some ending successfully, such as the struggle over the Niewmarkt Buurt, which started the squatter movement. However, Kees also notes that many have failed.
The municipality is currently planning to initiate work on the ground by September 1st. Kees and his colleges, friends, and fellow activists are ready to defend the Lutkemeer. “If we cannot create any delay or cancellation, then here will be the fight. In fact, this is the bridge where they will come with their trucks and their millions of kilos of sand and we will stop those trucks and there will be fighting.“ “We did an action last year. With children and adults we shoveled away the sand they brought. In 50 people together we removed the big iron steel plates which the trucks to drive over. By now we are all very emotionally attached to the cause. There are many animals living here, and this battle is vital in regards to climate change, food and agricultural issues. Sustainability shouldn’t be about making nice plans and a doughnut economy, it should be about preserving things.”
“We made newspapers, we demonstrated, occupied, all these things that grass-root organizations do. And up until now it did not stop them. As a grass-root organization, hope is the only thing we have. We need to try, and perhaps we will fail and lose, and it will be lost forever. But maybe we win”.