An enthusiastic northern player in the food transition, the Boer & Chef cooperative is also itself in a tilt. The movement initiated by pioneers - more cooperation between regional farmers and buyers - is ready for the next step. That is why business expert and young entrepreneur Jordy Muus has been recruited to take Boer & Chef to the next level. 'More impact is needed to contribute to a healthy region,' states the new booster.
The origins of today's Farmer & Chef stem from the successful consumer platform De Streekboer. To also focus specifically on the business-to-business food chain in the Northern Netherlands, an area cooperative was established in 2019 with an enthusiastic group of producers and buyers. The approach was: to contribute together to a healthy region with smart logistics and a sales platform for local fresh produce. After a successful test and growth phase, the cooperative came to stand on its own feet in mid-2021 under the flag Farmer & Chef; an official perpetuation of the cooperation between farmers and the chefs of hospitals, care institutions, schools and catering companies in the Northern Netherlands.
When discussing the current status of Boer & Chef at the Drachten office - which also houses the storage and vegetable cutting facilities - Jordy serves fresh buttermilk from organic dairy Buurvrouw Durkje of Vegelinsoord. She is one of 20 regional farmers who supplies her products directly to chefs in professional northern kitchens through the cooperative. The entrepreneur herself chooses a juice from Cranberry Terschelling. 'Regional products inspire confidence,' Jordy has noticed since he was asked to further professionalize Boer & Chef six months ago. 'Yet only 2 percent of locally produced food ends up in their own region. Our ambition is to increase that tiny percentage to a 25 percent share.'
Mental shift needed
According to Jordy, it is a utopia to organize everything regionally. 'Certain products simply come from far away and in the global interplay the long food chain also has advantages. But the balance must and can be different," he emphasizes. 'The short chain offers opportunities and that realization grew during the Covid pandemic. The scarcity is also felt from time to time due to rising energy prices. Yet consumers and professional chefs are still set on the convenience that everything is always available. Especially in that area, a mental shift is needed. Especially in regional food, we are more strongly confronted with the seasons and fluctuations in yields. That makes us more conscious, but also leads to challenges, both in professional kitchens and in our organization.'
Farmer & Chef is meeting those challenges head on. "We understand that our customers - now more than a hundred - need high security of supply and prefer to order their quality products from a small number of suppliers. We therefore combine the offerings of our regional farmers with The Complementary Wholesale (DAG), which was created to increase ordering convenience for chefs. This additional service is intended to give the transition from the long to the short chain a serious chance; it is part of the transition phase we are in. Meanwhile, we are developing as a knowledge partner that helps chefs cook more easily with the seasons and come up with creative solutions when a particular product is temporarily unavailable or very expensive due to scarcity. Our pivotal role in the region gives us insight into what is possible.'
Also financially sound
To better fulfill the role that Farmer & Chef sees for itself, Jordy is working hard to redesign the processes behind the scenes. 'The mission and vision remain the same, but they are only achievable if we are a scalable and financially healthy organization,' the ambitious entrepreneur emphasizes. 'In the longer term, we create value with investments in the short chain, but at this stage we still need money. We are therefore exploring opportunities to strengthen regional infrastructure for fresh produce, and we are consciously doing this together with other short-chain players. For example, we are looking at what we can do - in addition to our own vegetable cutting plant - in terms of machinery in processing with partners in the region, such as Machandel in Haulerwijk, an international producer of biodynamic preserves. They too have an eye for the importance of a short chain in the region and these kinds of collaborations are necessary to further shape the food transition in the Northern Netherlands.'
'In that quest, we also need investors with an eye for more sustainable, smarter and healthier work,' Jordy continues. 'Ultimately, it's about what we as a society are willing to pay for health value and environmental value. Farmers already know that it is not sustainable to keep focusing on volume and the lowest price; that is at the expense of the soil, food quality and our health. The picture of coherence is becoming clearer, this whole transition is about valuing vital and responsibly produced food. Boer & Chef is a link in this, because we can switch quickly within the network we have already built up within the Area Cooperative Short Chains North Netherlands. We focus on growth in the knowledge that we are part of a larger plan within the region. Precisely that interplay is the strength, it's about trust in one's own region and its products.'