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Resilience Reflections #1: The Value of Old-fashioned Community Farming

Recognising the urgent need to respond to rapid societal and environmental change, resilience is one of the University of Twente’s spearheads. As an academic institution, we have a role to play in strengthening the resilience of the social, technological and environmental systems that support us. In this weekly series, UT researchers share their personal reflections on current events and trends that impact our daily lives, exploring their implications for resilience. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own. In this first issue, Cheryl de Boer talks about the importance of community farming.

As part of my “day job”, I am establishing connections among individuals at the University of Twente to help us better contribute to addressing the climate challenge. Given the University of Twente's high-tech focus, this involves in many cases identifying opportunities for new technologies to facilitate a societal transition that both mitigates and adapts to the changing climate. I also try to take steps in my personal life to do the same. However, these are often quite “low-tech”. Recently, I joined a local “Herenboederij” (a Dutch farm cooperative in which the members are the owners and the harvest is distributed among them) where together with about 250 other families of all sorts and sizes we are seeking to address the increasing need for connection and responsibility towards our food supply, or at least part of it.

Community farming of this sort is not new, but its resurgence can be partially attributed to heightened uncertainty resulting from climate change and its potential impact on the food security of many. The debate between old-fashioned community farming and intensive agriculture has gained prominence. While intensive agriculture focuses on maximizing yields through technological advancements, the value of community farming, with its time-tested practices and emphasis on sustainability, is certainly appealing. What I find particularly valuable are the additional environmental and societal benefits that community farming can deliver.

Community farming places a strong emphasis on preserving biodiversity and promoting soil health and fertility. By maintaining a variety of crops, farmers create a resilient ecosystem that can better withstand the uncertainties of climate change. Diverse plant species provide a natural defense against pests, disease, and extreme weather events. In contrast, intensive agriculture, which often relies on monoculture, heightens the risk of crop failure and strains the supporting ecosystem.

Perhaps just as important for the local community farm is its contribution to the resilience of the community. At the recent opening of our local Herenboederij, I couldn't help but be overwhelmed by the sense of community that I felt among the members. Bonds are being built that will support local social systems, especially during times of crisis or disruptions in global supply chains. So while the debate continues — high-tech versus low-tech, small-scale versus large-scale, local versus global — I think it’s important to focus on building connections and learning from each other.

Cheryl de Boer is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation, and Quartermaster of the Climate Centre at the University of Twente.  

dr. C.L. de Boer (Cheryl)
Assistant Professor

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