Can you describe what you do?
We are four girls (one unfortunately couldn’t make it for the photo shoot) with different backgrounds who started the collective Ondergrond in 2014. It all started with a community garden in the centre of Antwerp, the Munthof, which we kick-started together with the neighbourhood’s citizens. We all felt the urge to learn more about local crops, seasonal food, urban agriculture, how to get our hands dirty and experience the fun of eating homegrown food. This experience quickly showed us that there was a clear lack of information about, and access to, healthy and local food in Antwerp. People were longing to reconnect with food. This is why we started Ondergrond, and the project MARTA: a farmers market, which we curate. This means we visit the local farmers, producers and chefs, invite them to the market, and instigate new closed cycle collaborations between them.
How do you perceive Antwerp? In your view, what kind of city is it? Its people, its cultural landscape, its vibe? How does it compare to other, similarly-sized cities?
Antwerp is a relatively small city, but it harbours a ton of interesting talents and focus areas, such as fashion, food and a natural feel for entrepreneurs because of the city’s port. Antwerp is not necessarily the city where radical change happens first, you could almost call it a city of the establishment. Recently however we’ve seen change, with Antwerp quickly catching up with progressive cities (e.g. Ghent) in the areas of architecture. Collectives such as ‘We Kopen Samen den Oudaan’ investigate new forms of cooperative property development, and the model of co-working areas is being tested all over town (e.g. Fosbury & Sons), pop-up restaurants facilitate experimenting with new (and often local) produce, and citizens become more and more vocal about urban development (e.g. through the platform Ringland) and, most importantly, we have more and more access to qualitative and local food hubs, such as farmers markets (like MARTA). What is even more interesting is that these inspiring initiatives started from the bottom-up. They’re not initiated by the city, but they are the result of citizens gathering around ideas and making change happen.
What would you say is Antwerp’s main appeal for creatives? What gives the city its edge?
The fact that there is a lot of potential to do new things in the city, to play with its infrastructure.
Inspiring initiatives started from the bottom-up. They’re not initiated by the city, but they are the result of citizens gathering around ideas and making change happen.
How would you say Antwerp contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?
Antwerp is home for three of us. It’s the city we know best, with all its flaws, its opportunities and its beauty. If you want to foster change in the way to think about food, there’s no better place to start than home.
On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city?
Green space and communal areas to play sports.
To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Antwerp? If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?
Go on a bike tour through the city, starting on ‘The South’, pass through the historical centre toward ‘Het Eilandje’, and end in Den Dam (restaurant De Veranda). Make a pit stop in a few iconic bars along the way (such as De Boer van Tienen, 5 Minutes in Paris, De Kat).facebook.com/MARTAntwerpen Photography Thomas Ost