“VAN TUIN TOT BORD” (From Garden to Plate)

From garden to plate


“Van Tuin Tot Bord” (From Garden to Plate)

“Van Tuin Tot Bord is a great initiative to combat loneliness: People look forward to it all week”

What an important social asset !”: quote from a local resident.

1. Background:

Van Tuin Tot Bord (From Garden to Plate) is an initiative organised, for and by, local residents in their own neighbourhoods. Van Tuin Tot Bord (VTTB) welcomes everybody and believes that all have the right to a healthy lifestyle. VTTB  promotes the clear message that food is a means to unite people across society. The project started 2015 in Nijmegen, a medium-sized city of 180.000 inhabitants in the southeast Gelderland in the Netherlands. Over just a few years, VTTB, has developed into a distinctive initiative at neighbourhood level with a focus on inclusion and healthy nutrition. In 2020 VTTB expanded and is now active across three urban districts of Nijmegen.

VTTB aims to contribute to the creation of social, green and healthy neighbourhoods where local citizens can volunteer to work together in a pleasant environment, undertaking activities which they enjoy. They can help in the vegetable garden, the kitchen and in the neighbourhood restaurant. The project provides meeting spaces where residents can feel accepted and welcome – this particularly includes people from vulnerable backgrounds e.g. people with few social contacts (such as elderly or asylum seekers), from a migration background, households with low-income, with physical or mental disabilities and those with addiction issues.

Through VTTB, people have the opportunity to come in contact with others from the wider community. Local volunteers also expand their social network, increase social cohesion and foster meaningful experiences. Acceptance and understanding of people from vulnerable backgrounds grows through such mutual connections.

The organisation also promotes awareness of healthy lifestyles, in which fresh seasonal and healthy vegetables play a key role. VTTB includes the whole local food chain and residents gain awareness about the origins of their food. They also become acquainted with vegetarian meals and acquire inspiration to cook and eat more healthily. The VTTB also collaborates with other local stakeholders, businesses and the Municipality. It is financially supported through diverse funds as well as by the Municipality and the Province. Another source of income is from providing the meals themselves. VTTB hopes to increase its share of income to 25-30 % from the sale of meals, services and products.

2. In practice:

At present VTTB has three neighbourhood restaurants which utilise produce from the gardens. In 2020 there were around 50 volunteers involved in VTTB and almost 1500 visitors to the neighbourhood restaurants. Local residents engage in diverse activities including the cultivation of vegetables, cooking, helping in the restaurants and undertaking shopping excursions. Some volunteers undertake ‘behind the scenes’ management tasks, such as the maintenance of the website.

The vegetable gardens are located across three urban districts, the largest being 300-500 m2, with the land usually under municipality ownership. Produce from the gardens is used for the preparation of food with excess being sold to locals. The vegetable gardens also form an attractive meeting place for neighbours with social dinners regularly occuring outside. The gardens themselves, are maintained by small groups from the area, around half of which comprise people from a vulnerable background. They meet weekly on a regular basis from the end of February until November.

The neighbourhood restaurants: are to be found within local community centres, where VTTB rents cooking facilities. The meals are vegetarian and are cooked as much as possible with ingredients from the garden. Other costs, including the ingredients and the renting of the kitchen, are covered by income generated from the sale of meals.

VTTB also provides special opportunities for children and youngsters through, Van Tuin Tot Bord Junior. These kids activities are organised in the vegetable garden and children can also learn cooking in the neighbourhood restaurant. The collaboration with the neighbourhood restaurant is very successful because children and parents have the chance get in contact with each other and vulnerable members of the community.

3. Significance for the neighbourhood:

With the coming of VTTB, there are diverse opportunities for local residents to get involved in activities in their neighbourhood and new opportunities to meet people. In addition, VTTB contributes to the greening of the urban districts.

Local health and welfare providers are happy to refer citizens to VTTB. Most of the locals join VTTB because they want to participate in enjoyable activity in their locality, meet new people or to learn about cooking and food growing. For many of them, working with vulnerable neighbours is a meaningful experience. There is little turnover of volunteers and many have remained involved with the project for years. By joining VTTB they discovered that they also have qualities that are valuable for others. Such positive experiences are reflected in inspiring quotes from participants and staff members alike:

“Here I meet ‘normal’ people and this is very important to me. There is always a really nice atmosphere and everyone can just be themselves. It’s really nice that there are people who know me as someone who is able to help out. VTTB is a nice place to practice how to act around 'normal’ people and I believe now that I can achieve something. When I walk on the street now, I meet many people who greet me. I’m also confident to greet my neighbour - I never did that before”.

My motivation in the beginning was firstly about good health. This is why I went to VTTB to eat and this was good for me. I am always surprised about the meals they serve and I think that they work really well at VTTB. I love it here and people are friendly. Now I’ve come here as a volunteer for three years. Helping, being with others, being able to be myself: these are the most important things for me at VTTB. I don’t have to be the best cook; I just want to enjoy it. I’m very happy with that !

I like to garden and work together with others. I would like to extend my social network. Furthermore, I want to structure my daily life a bit more. It’s a nice group and I enjoy the relaxing atmosphere in the vegetable garden. Joining VTTB is helping my recovery from my burn-out.

At VTTB people take good care of each other. New friendships are made between people who otherwise would have never met. VTTB is a many faceted project with its roots in local participation for all – It’s of the people, by the people and for the people".