/// Reflection

Saving the Stadstuin

How to build an economically liable future for an urban food haven?

MijnStadstuin in Amsterdam is a significant urban food haven. The place offers space for ever-popular allotment gardens, as well as a small food forest and hop production for a local brewery. Combining community engagement with entrepreneurial activities, MijnStadstuin has become an ecological innovation lab for urban food production. Yet, in December 2022 the organisation was declared bankrupt. Leaving engaged Amsterdammers and entrepreneurs in fear of losing their precious urban nature anchor.

Urban commons such as MijnStadstuin are confronted with the tricky challenge to run and manage a community-based initiative within the neoliberal system it aims to question. At the tipping point of “break it or make it” some of our experts are supporting the MijnStadstuin community in its transition towards an economically sound organisation.


Four hectares of DIY food production in Amsterdam is not something you want to let slip away. Nienke Schachtschabel, engaged volunteer (and future board member) at the food forest hosted by MijnStadstuin, manages to express the shared love for this place: “Why am I so invested in this project? Because I love this place, I love these people!” 

With passion Nienke stresses the importance of finding a place that offers such a strong and direct connection to nature. And to each other. In addition, this place provides a unique opportunity to foster and maintain such a place in the long term. “These kinds of urban food production activities often can only stay temporarily and get eventually suppressed by more profitable activities. With MijnStadstuin we had a long-term lease from the municipality, one that could be prolonged and which could eventually lead to a buyout. We want to make sure this ecological and community-oriented -and afterall also still a business- place can stay.”


How come then, that this beautiful place got at risk? Something somewhere in the passing on from the founding management to the follow up governance got skewed. Despite the fact the last managers were professionally engaged the finances grew negative. “To me, the biggest mismatch was the feeling we, as community members and engaged entrepreneurs, had that the people in charge didn’t share our connection to nature and with each other,” thus Nienke. “We are looking into what went wrong, yet we mainly want to invest energy in the question on how to continue from here. We go for it, we look ahead!

So -like many urban commons initiatives- also the former MijnStadstuin is looking into the question on how to set up a healthy, efficient and financially liable organisation structure that also respects the community aspect and which breathes the love for nature that binds the community together. Three main directions have been taken to revive MijnStadstuin.


First, a return to the roots. One of the driving founding members, Robin Van Asperen, has re-joined the community, helping to reset the vision and stepping in into a joint process to engrain the DNA of the project in the organisation.


Second, a new cooperative structure is being set in place. “We are moving in the direction of a more horizontal, yet still very clearly structured, governance model. In the cooperative every partner gets an equal share.” Rather than a pyramid with MijnStadstuin at the top, this organisation will now be placed at level next to -instead of above- those of the other part-taking non-for-profits and entrepreneurs. (Did someone say self-organisation?)


Third, a solid business plan is at stake. One that takes into account the diversity of actors involved, the real financial risks and that leaves space to invest in community and nature -after all the essence of MijnStadstuin. We don’t think it is a coincidence that they have asked Marco Kooistra, our financial expert, to advise them in this complex business transition.


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