Foodscapes in times of uncertainty – blog 3

Food related initiatives that started during the COVID-19 pandemic. By Fenne Oppers and Thirza Andriessen

Due to the pandemic and its associated measures, a number of food needs are challenged. Access to sufficient food has become more difficult for certain groups in several ways; e.g. due to the risk of getting infected when going to a supermarket (especially for elderly people), because of stockpiling behavior which made it difficult for care workers to get sufficient products in supermarkets at the end of the day, and because of financial shortcomings due to income drops as a consequence of the economic impacts of the pandemic (CBS, n.d.). But also food related needs, such as the social aspect of eating together in elderly homes, have become restricted due to the pandemic. So, in several ways people are challenged to fulfil their food (related) needs. This has partly been reflected in an increased number of households experiencing food insecurity in the Netherlands since the corona pandemic. People who experience food insecurity are often supported by food banks. However, the food distribution by food banks has also been challenged due to consequences of the pandemic, for example by means of an increased number of clients, reduced food supplies, and a drop of volunteers.

In response to both these difficulties to fulfill food (related) needs and a challenged food aid system, several (bottom-up) initiatives originated in the beginning of COVID-19 to help people who struggle to get sufficient food on the table. But what exactly triggered the origin of these initiatives? What are their aims? How do they interact with recipients? And what do these initiatives show us about food (related) needs of citizens during this crisis?

To create a better understanding of food related initiatives that arose in times of COVID-19, I used Social Innovation Theory – a theory that looks at new solutions to social problems, with the benefits of these solutions shared beyond the confines of the innovators (Tracey & Stott, 2007). Social innovation is about an idea or initiative, driven and organized by citizens, that is different than the contemporary way to handle a social problem (Anheier, Krlev & Mildenberger, 2018; Cativelli & Rusciano, 2020; Moulaert et al, 2013), in this case food insecurity and other food (related) needs that arose during the corona pandemic. This made me formulate my research question as: What characterizes local food related initiatives that originated during the corona pandemic as social innovations?

In order to grasp innovative food related initiatives originated during the pandemic, I conducted both online research and interviews with initiators of several initiatives. The online research consisted of analyzing websites of initiatives, websites of newspapers and social media platforms, which enabled me to map out initiatives and to acquire a first understanding of the motives and way of working behind them. Semi-structured interviews with initiators helped me to acquire more detailed information about four initiatives.

This research has shown that food related initiatives in the Netherlands during the corona pandemic originated in response to new or increased food (related) needs. The initiatives studied in this research vary in the societal issue they mainly focus on, reflected by four categories:

  1. Some maintain a predominant focus on poverty relief – e.g. “give a meal for free to someone who does not have the money”;
  2. Others on reducing social isolation – e.g. “The idea that the outside world is still there for you and that you can call for help or for a listening ear makes you feel less alone.’’;
  3. Supporting safety – e.g. ‘’How can I help the older generation who can’t have young people do shopping for them, come into their house, you know, pick up things for them, give it to them. What can be like the most… the safest way for, to help them.’’;
  4. Or limiting food waste – e.g. ‘’The initiative is truly meant to help out producers and suppliers in the food service”.

While varying in their main focus, initiatives in this research often combine multiple aims. For example, an initiator of one initiative explained about his organization that it is intended to “give a meal for free to someone who does not have the money” – reflecting an aim for poverty relief on the short term – but also to use “a meal as a tool to come into contact with the target group that is hard to reach’’ – reflecting a focus on reducing social isolation.

Additionally, two recurring logics were noticed throughout their origin, aim and way of working: solidarity and charity. First, a logic of solidarity has been noticed in relation to aims as contributing to the common good, and ways of supporting social interaction and a sense of community. One initiator stated on the Instagram page of the initiative: “I believe in solidarity. In Amsterdam-Oost we take good care of each other.’’ Secondly, a logic of charity is reflected by origins of initiatives based on feelings of empathic concern responded by strong motivations to help vulnerable or disadvantaged people by means of a charitable gift. Accordingly, initiatives holding a charitable logic aim for offering direct relief on the short term.

This research has investigated the origin, aim and way of working of various food related initiatives that started in times of COVID-19, based on the perspectives of initiators. Yet, experiences of their recipients remain unknown. Further research could investigate these experiences and how these align with the aims behind the food related initiatives.


Anheier, H., Krlev G. & Mildenberger, G. (2018). Social Innovation: Comparative Perspectives. New York: Routledge.

Cattivelli, V. & Rusciano, V. (2020). Social Innovation and Food Provisioning during Covid-19: The Case of Urban-Rural Initiatives in the Province of Napels. Sustainability (12-4444).

CBS. (n.d.). COVID-19 impact on labour and income. Retrieved from

Moulaert, F., MacCallum, D. & Hillier, J. (2013). Social innovation: intuition, percept, concept, theory and practice. In Moulaert, F., MacCallum, D., Mehmood, A. & Hamdouch, A. The International Handbook on Social Innovation: Collective Action, Social Learning and Transdisciplinary Research (1st ed., pp. 13-24). Cheltenham, UK; Northampton, USA: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Tracey, P. & Stott, N. (2017). Social Innovation: A Window on Alternative Ways of Organizing and Innovating. Innovation, Organization & Management (19-1) 51-60.

75th Anniversary: 27) From farmers in the countryside to urban citizens keeping an apple tree

The blog series celebrating 75 years of Rural Sociology often discusses farming, professional food production or the countryside. Rural Sociology’s research interest is broader than that, however. Over the years attention for urban areas and their eaters – either or not involved in food production – has grown. Hence, staff members of our group have studied urban allotment gardening, urbanites sharing food and making yoghurt, and urban composting. In sum, the city has taken its place next to the countryside as an important research area, and our research is no longer limited to the professional food producer. 

My own research in Almere, conducted in 2019, serves as an illustration. With WUR-colleagues Jan Eelco Jansma, Hans Dagevos and Jan Willem van der Schans, I studied food prosumption in Almere. We defined a prosumer as someone who grows or collects (part of) his/her own food, for instance in a community garden, by growing it in the backyard or by wild foraging. Our goal was to understand the concept in theory and practice and to clarify who is involved in prosumption and what these activities entail. In order to do so we conducted a literature review, interviewed people involved in prosumption as well as experts, and sent out a questionnaire (n=835).

The concept of prosumption fits certain processes we witness in today’s society, including the motivation to take responsibility and to ‘do it yourself’, in order to be less dependent on larger companies. Although the word prosumption is hardly used in the literature, the phenomenon of citizens engaging in food production is studied and described, for instance with regards to the shifting and partly overlapping roles of producers and consumers in Alternative Food Networks.

We were surprised by the number of respondents who are involved in prosumption one way or the other. Two thirds of our questionnaire respondents grow basil in the window sill, harvest their own apples or pick blackberries in the woods. However, the scale in which they do so is only small: the acreage respondents use for prosumption activities is limited, and just a small part of people’s diets results from these activities. Hence, people are much less involved in time-consuming activities as community or allotment gardening than in small-scale activities like having a few plants in the backyard.

We found that motivations to be engaged in food production mainly relate to the fun of gardening. People enjoy being outside and to produce something that they can eat. A few people were motivated by a distrust in the supermarket, health, and sustainability, but these motivations were for most respondents subordinate to the pleasure of engaging in a hobby. We did find that people who are involved in prosumption more often take ethical considerations into account when shopping for groceries, but we couldn’t make any statements regarding causality. 

Despite the limited scale of food prosumption activities as found in our research, the conclusion that a large number of respondents participates at least to some degree in food production, shows that prosumption is something ‘normal’, suggesting that people may not be as far removed from food production as often thought. The next step is to better understand what needs to be done to interest people more for food and the food system, and to connect to their main motivations in order to change the food system to become more sustainable.

See our published paper here and the research report (in Dutch) here.

75th Anniversary: 17) Multifunctional farming in development: education at the care farm

Multifunctional farming (an umbrella term to indicate a combination of agriculture and services to society, has been a research subject for the Rural Sociology Group for decades, as multifunctionality is one of the diversification strategies employed by farming to sustain their farms and connect with various groups in society such as consumers or tourists. The first multifunctional activities were nature conservation, agritourism/recreation, care farming, farm shops/short chains, farm education and agricultural day care. These activities, however, are subject to constant change. This leads to new research topics and new collaborations for the Rural Sociology Group. Continue reading

Foodscapes in times of uncertainty – blog 2

The Transformative Power of Gardening: food literacy, connection and environmentally sustainable choices during COVID19

By Jessica Breslau and Sofie de Wit

Sparked by the covid19 pandemic food supply chains have been disrupted: food is more scarce, expensive, and difficult to access than before (OECD, June 2, 2020). Simultaneously, the pandemic has increased the number of people participating in home and community gardening (Polansek and Walljasper, 2020). One of the reasons for this transition may be people losing their jobs, having less disposable income to spend on food. Additionally, as people spend more time at home due to the crisis, home gardening became more accessible. Some scholars also identified gardening as a therapeutic act that brings tranquillity during times of stress (Bratman G.N. et al. 2019). As such, the current global circumstances remind us of the therapeutic and educational potential of gardening, particularly regarding individuals’ relationships to their food and how this translates to food consumption patterns (Kellaway, 2020; Wang and MacMillan, 2013).  Continue reading

Thesis/stage: Effect van onderwijs en zorg op de boerderij

Er zijn te veel leerlingen die uitvallen in het onderwijs. Het aantal zogeheten ‘thuiszitters’ blijft de afgelopen schooljaren stijgen. Om deze leerlingen niet in de steek te laten zijn in het land vele initiatieven ontwikkeld om op een (zorg)boerderij naast zorg ook onderwijs te geven. Uit enquêtes en interviews die het afgelopen jaar zijn gehouden blijkt dat de ervaringen vaak positief zijn. Bij meer dan 90% van de leerlingen leidt de plaatsing op de boerderij tot een positieve ontwikkeling. Het aantal leerlingen dat na enige tijd weer naar school gaat ligt boven de 50%. Continue reading