There's an easy way to make a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. And then there's the Sandwich Factory's way.
In an Amsterdam experiment that pushes the limits of urban farming, a group of young artists explored what it takes to make a simple lunch truly from scratch. After buying pigs and cows, planting a field of wheat, waiting for nine months, and spending 35,000 euros, they finally got to eat.
The Sandwich Factory (De Tosti Fabriek) sowed a small field of wheat in central Amsterdam in February last year and then built a barn for two pigs and two cows (pairs, so as no animals would get lonely). For seven months, the group fed the animals and mucked out stables. By August, they were harvesting grain and grinding flour.
It was all in pursuit of a simple "tosti," a classic grilled sandwich that can be found in any Dutch bar or cafe.
"The ingredients are super simple, but in the end it turned out that even just creating those three is a job that took 20 volunteers and entire summer in a makeshift farm," says Tjebbe Tjebbes, part of the project team.
Throughout the process, the artists invited local schools to visit—realizing that children, just like the city-bred team of adults, had probably never seen a cow in real life or necessarily thought about what happened before a sandwich showed up on their plates.
"We had this fantastic moment on Dutch television where a lady from the neighborhood was interviewed and said, 'I'm completely against it because my kids are going there now, and what am I going to tell them the next time we have a barbecue? They're going to ask all of these difficult questions,'" says Tjebbes. "Of course, she proved our entire point. This wasn't just for us. If her kids were going to ask difficult questions, then good for them."
The project also raised questions about how far urban farming should or could go. "To be honest, business-wise, we were the worst project that ever existed," says the project's founder Sascha Landshoff. "It took us a year, day and night, and €35,000, and we only got 350 sandwiches in the end." Each sandwich cost roughly $20 to produce.
"I think what the project proves is that it's completely possible, but the question is if it's sustainable," says Tjebbes. "We at least partly answered that with a big fat no. It's incredibly expensive, and it takes an incredible amount of work."
Now the team is reconsidering when local food really makes sense. "It's not only about the most ecological, local food, you also need a certain amount of efficiency to feed everyone on the planet," says Landshoff. "That's what our new project will be about—how do you find the balance between local food and good food but also produce it in an efficient way."