Toentje, producing food for the Food bank

by: Hiltje van der Wal, municipality of Groningen. Foto: Michael Scheer

Toentje is an initiative that produces free fresh local food for people that have difficulties to pay for fresh food. They work with volunteers and with as little overhead as possible. A large number of the Toentje volunteers are long term unemployed, who through Toentje gain skills and structure that make them more employable.

The Toentje initiative started to produce vegetables in 2014 and is broadening its activities to make people more conscious about the qualities of local food and food production. They are starting a social restaurant with Resto van Harte, the district and all people involved in the area. Toentje is also related to a similar initiative in Bremen the ‘Gemüsewerf’. Toentje and the Gemüsewerf actively exchange knowledge and working practices. In Bremen Toentje bought the first hop plants and learned to grow them for local brewers. 

Toentje produces local (city) honey. Also Streekboer (there is a description of the Streekboer case as well) is selling local produce from their premises every Thursday. To realise a firmer financial and social basis Toentje asked the Municipality of Groningen as part of the Reframe movement to help them to develop a more solid business model less dependent on municipal funding. We did so in cooperation with R-link. 

R-link does research on how bottom up initiatives can contribute to areal development and to solve social issues. It is a consortium of four Dutch universities, two municipalities and several research agencies. The knowledge gained from this research program help in creating vital and inclusive cities and regions.  

In depth description
To help Toentje, Reframe Groningen joined up with the R-link research project to develop a business model which will help SME’s to build a more solid business. This model is being developed with the universities of Groningen, Amsterdam, Wageningen and the municipality of Groningen and of course Toentje with its partners. In the end, the model should be useful for every SME (in food business) starting or rethinking their way of doing business. 

The model makes visible how stakeholder involvement is a key asset to social enterprises. Therefore the traditional business model canvas is redeveloped by Reframe Groningen and R-Link into a new model in which this particular asset is more directly related to the value proposition. Based on this model Toentje can take effective measures to strengthen its business case. 

We started to test two business model questionnaires with different groups; within the R-link project, with students, at Toentje and within the city development service. Each time the model developed into more suitable questions and a clearer scheme. It is still work in progress and we expect to deliver the final model beginning 2018 with a simple manual. It should be possible to use the model without professional guidance. In the autumn 2018 we will test the model on different cases with different groups. 

We learned that it is very useful to sit with a group of people discussing the questions about the business: what are you going to do, doing, for whom, and why. Who will benefit and which values are involved. How can you make these values work for your business, in time, money or other resources... etc. (the models developed so far are enclosed) 

We are now testing the format in interview one tot one.... In September 2017 we checked the new format working with the people which were interviewed and asked our alderman to comment on that. He also was interviewed.

Next steps
Toentje is broadening its activities, not only on the premises where they are located in the city, but also in the surroundings of the city of Groningen. They plan to become more self-sufficient in a financial way. Within the workshops a lot of ideas came across and a couple of them look promising. Toentje is now working on a new business model which is more future proof.

Contact information
Municipality of Groningen
Hiltje van der Wal 
0031 6 11313542