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The Making of a Food Policy Network

Arnold van der Valk on Food Council MRA.

Food policy networks are innovative governance instruments that aim to stimulate food system transformation. The first example of a food policy network in the Netherlands was established in 2014 at the city of Rotterdam. By 2020 it had practically dissolved due to a lack of funding and political neglect, much to my regret. The regret stems from my involvement in the conception of the second specimen of such a network in the Netherlands, i.e. a food council for the metropolitan region of Amsterdam (Food Council MRA). The demise of the Rotterdam food council seemed a bad omen.

Until-retirement in 2017 I researched the performance of food policy councils. Through my academic work I became befriended with dr. Wayne Roberts the (retired) director of the Toronto Food Policy Council. He encouraged me to establish a food council at Amsterdam, taking into consideration lessons learned at Toronto over almost three decades. With financial support of an entrepreneur, two provinces, four municipalities, and Rabobank, the organizing committee i.e. Jeffrey Spangenberg and Arnold van der Valk managed to congregate some 300 people from all ranks of society including politicians, bankers, scholars, social workers, entrepreneurs and foodies. On December 7th, 2017, at the Berlage Beurs - a reputed conference venue - Food Council MRA was born. Its future looked bright.

Soon enough the founders were confronted with an array of obstacles, many quite similar to the ones that Cristina Grasseni and her team have explored in the Food Citizens? programme. Conflicts of interest, conceptual confusion, lack of funding, internal struggle, greenwashing, political manipulation and much more. In retrospective the pioneering years between 2017 and 2023 compare to an Echternach procession, first three steps ahead and then two steps back.

January 2023 a (near) miracle happened, the European Commission approved a 12 million Euro Horizon proposal under the acronym of FoodClic. Food Council MRA partners with the foundation Voedsel Verbindt and Amsterdam municipality thus are able to spend a substantial budget for the entire Amsterdam metropolitan region. The goal of the FoodClic programme is the creation of strong science-policy-practice interfaces in order to develop evidence-based and integrated food policies and render planning frameworks food-sensitive. The programme focuses on the conception of resilient urban food environments and empowerment of deprived and vulnerable groups in eight European urban regions. One important lesson from five years of pioneering work is that cooperation is the road to success for civil initiatives such as our bottom up food policy network.


Boer, Alanya den Boer; Arnold J. van der Valk, Jaqueline Broerse c.s., Food Policy Networks and their Potential to Stimulate Systemic Intermediation for Food System Transformation, in: Cities 2023 (forthcoming).

Valk, Arnold van der (2019), A Hybrid Food Policy Board for the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area, in: Urban Agriculture Magazine, nr. 36, October 2019, pp. 15-17.

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