Smart Solutions

Unmanned Organic Shop

The creation of a self-service shop operated through an electronic key system that allows local farmers to sell their organic food directly to customers.

Implemented inNoordeloos

Country : Netherlands

What’s the solution?

The solution involves the creation of an unmanned food shop on or near a village farm so that participating farmers can sell their produce directly to consumers without having to pass through supermarkets or take on the cost of employing a full-time shopkeeper or make difficult decisions about when to open the shop.

The shop can be open 24 hours a day to customers who have signed an agreement and paid a deposit in order to receive an electronic key. The concept is based on modern technology to operate the unmanned shop, but also trust between farmers and consumers.

Local farmers keep the shop stocked with their full range of local, organic and seasonal produce.

Farmers can take turns to man the shop at specific times when they can come into contact with their consumers and explain and present their produce – for example on Saturdays. Other activities can also be organised to encourage greater connection between consumers, the countryside and their food – such as open days, walking tours and festivals.

What makes it smart?

The solution uses modern technology to enable an unmanned self-service shop, providing farmers with a direct sales point to customers without the high costs associated with employing a full-time shopkeeper.

Through the short chain, the customer buys his/her sustainably and responsibly produced products (organic) directly from the farm through a joint self-service outlet. There is direct contact between consumer and producer, the consumer knows where his food comes from and can go to the farmer with questions

The solution is also an excellent example of cooperation between local producers to create new routes to market directly in the village and avoiding the need to negotiate with supermarkets or other sales points in larger towns.

The solution also directly promotes organic farming and thus high quality produce grown in more environmentally sustainable ways.

In summary, the solution is smart because it shows:

  • Holistic approach, achievement of multiple objectives (ecological, social, health, economic)
  • Practical solution, with quite low operational cost structure
  • Digital/technological solutions implemented together with community building and trust
  • Local cooperation

The consumer is also directly involved. Recreation in the green area is stimulated by giving visitors the opportunity to relax on the terrace. For cyclists, an E-charge point will be realised. There is also the possibility to walk along the participating companies via the footpath. Another social aspect of this project is the participation of the care farm, where this project offers the clients a meaningful daytime activity. The clients work the vegetable garden together.

How is the solution implemented?

  • Build your cooperation based on intrinsic motivation to cooperate.
  • Build your team: Explore how all participants are complementary to each other and make an inventory of what competencies are still lacking in the cooperation and find partners or advisors who can provide them
  • Find a suitable location for the shop
  • Identify and apply for funding to create the shop
  • Purchase and install the necessary infrastructure – freezers, lighting, key system
  • Put in place agreements to be signed with customers
  • Create communication products to explain the system to local people
  • Communicate to raise awareness of the shop
  • Consider putting in place a rota for farmers to take turns manning the shop at specific and busier times – e.g. on Saturdays

In what local context has it been applied?

The village of Noordeloos is located in the Noordzijde polder in South Holland. It is characterised by agricultural production with neighbouring farms and pastures.

The cows walk outside in the meadow during the summer period and enjoy the herb-rich grassland. The meadow birds such as black-tailed godwit and lark brood here. The birds are protected by the farmers and the best possible situation has been created for the chicks to grow up. While this is a wonderful setting, the farmers realise that the wider public hardly knows about it.

At the same time, Noordeloos is a village with few shopping facilities, especially in the domain of fresh produce.

Organic farmers in Noordeloos had previously worked together to jointly develop a beautiful walking route across their farms. They talked to each other about sustainable and responsible business, fair and responsible food production and the realisation of a point of sale based on the short chain concept, and asked themselves how they would meet the needs of consumers and how our project would contribute to the connection between town and country.

Who was behind the implementation?

The solution was initiated by five neighbouring farming families specialising in organic farming:

Bas and Rita de Jong of Zorgboerderij de Hogt: who run a care farm on the edge of the village of Noordeloos – combining farming and care services

René Bor: the farm Hoeve Catharine Elisabeth in Noordeloos, a biological dynamic dairy farm with 85 dairy cattle, 30 young cattle and 20 chickens on 57 ha..

Teunis Jacob, Anja and Nelie Slob and Rokus Lakerveld of farm De Drie Wedden and De Biowaard: an organic dairy and beef farm in the polder of Noordeloos. Got the opportunity in 2016 to lease the Uiterwaarden near Vianen. There are also sheep and a number of bee colonies on the farm.

Kees van Gaalen and Maria Inckmann van Gaalen: biodynamic cheese farm 'Noorderlicht'. From the milk of their Blaarkop cows they make the Wilde Weide Demeter cheese.

Tineke Poirot and Jeanette Verloop: sisters who founded Gewoon Anderz day care in 2018. Gewoon Anderz has a vegetable garden with tunnel greenhouse growin various types of vegetables and offers a day care place working in the garden.

What was the local journey?

Symbiose: five organic farmers/neighbours have taken the initiative to work together under the name Symbiosis. Based on the unique character of the setting of these farms, the farmers started discussions with each other to determine, on the one hand, how they could jointly go public and show the beautiful aspect of organic farming to society.  On the other hand, they talked to each other to see if they could strengthen each other as farmers in the implementation of organic farming.

This is how they came up with the smart solution of realising a self-service outlet where customers can buy products produced by the affiliated farms at a time that suits them.

Detailed actions and activities for implementation:

Preparation: organising the project management, writing the project plan and applying for funding at Province of South Holland

Action 1: Realisation self-service outlet

  • Brainstorming sessions with the entrepreneurs for tuning plan and purpose
  • Orientation of place for sales point – the shop is located at the Zorgboerderij de Hogt farm because of its convenient and accessible location
  • Orientation and purchase of sales space
  • Furnishing and finishing of sales space, including electricity and lighting
  • Purchase of freezer, refrigerator and shelves
  • Realisation of a video doorbell.
  • Purchase of sustainable packaging material
  • Realisation of a terrace with a seating area and a service point for coffee and tea (incl. cleaning products)
  • Purchase of hot plate to taste prepared products.
  • Realisation of electric bicycle charging point and purchase of bicycle pump
  • Purchase of materials for the care farm
  • Laptop and printer for the project

Action 2: Key system

As part of the self-service principle, an electronic key system is used. The customer reports to one of the entrepreneurs the first time.  An explanation is given, an agreement signed, and deposit paid. The customer receives his own electronic key with which he can open and close the sales area and do his shopping. For this, the following activities took place:

  • Orientation of possible key systems that meet the needs and are applicable in this situation
  • Purchase of a suitable key system with 500 electronic keys
  • Making a manual for the customer


Action 3: Communication

In order to make themselves, as well as their working method, known to the customer and to maintain contacts, the customers need to be informed in various ways and set up the necessary information channels. For this purpose the following activities took place:

  • Offline communication:

      • two nameplates (logos) to indicate point of sale.
      • signage to the point of sale
      • informative flyer with information about the outlet, products and producers.
      • posters and flyers to promote the opening of the point of sale
      • advertisement in Het Kontakt (regional weekly newspaper) to promote the opening of the point of sale.

  • Online communication:

    • a website
    • an online marketing campaign to promote the opening of the point of sale.

Action 4: Experience and education

The solution has also involved the organisation of various activities to connect consumers with the farms, the countryside, and the food, including a walking route, shop opening event, an autumn festival and a pumpkin day. The farmers are also present about 3-5 times per year at other events and markets in the region.

Functioning of the shop: The products sold at the unmanned shop are cheese, beef and lamb, eggs, fruits and vegetables and honey. In the future, they may want to develop and offer more products. Once a week one of the entrepreneurs is on location to explain and answer questions. New customers can register and receive an explanation from one of the entrepreneurs.


  • Cooperation with different people (different characters, different competences, different level of ambitions, different responsibilities, different ages etc.) requires good communication, good coordination, mutual trust and respect and time to give each other opportunity to "get along" both in mindset and in practical matters.
  • Scale: what is the optimum in scale (how many customers can be served with their own production volumes)
  • Stocking the store. For some product groups, the in-house production volume was insufficient to serve all customers. The customers understand this, they want organic seasonal products from the farmers of Noordeloo and accept it when they are temporarily out of stock. They appreciate the direct contact with the producers and find transparency important.

What have been the main outputs & results?

  • A fully equipped self-service point of sale, including terrace and service point coffee & tea and a functioning electronic key system for 500 customers, including instruction manual.
  • The initiators anticipated that it would be difficult to find/engage customers. However, within a month over 250 electronic keys had already been issued and on Saturdays, when the store is staffed and you don't need a key, many customers also came to buy products.
  • By creating one common self-service outlet, they provide service to the customer and offer the basic products that are important in the food supply.
  • There is an information board and signage to the self-service shop.
  • An informative website is available, as well as informative leaflets and flyers.
  • Enthusiastic consumers/customers: are more involved by experience with the farms and connects with people, animals and plants.

What does it bring the village/community?

  • Economic perspective for the farmers as they have created their own short supply chain, fair prices
  • Fresh Product available in a village were almost no services are
  • Clients of the care farm come from the same area and find a place where they can flourish and enjoy
  • The education part contributes to the awareness of the consumers that organic farming, health, nature are closely connected and important for a sustainable future.

What’s needed

Financial resources

Main types of cost:
Financial needs:

Set up / Investment costs: total of EUR 60 910 (excl. VAT), including:

Activity 1: Realisation self-service sales point EUR 29 931

Activity 2: Key system EUR 1 688

Activity 3: Communication EUR 10 396

Activity 4: Perception and education EUR 18 895

No information available yet on ongoing/annual costs

Funding received:
Province of South Holland25,000 €App. 40% of the investment cost
Own resources35,910 €App 60% of the investment cost

Human resources

• Project manager

• A lot of work was done by the farmers themselves, actually most activities were completed by the farmers themselves

Physical resources

• Small building or portacabin that can be used as self-service shop

• Electricity for light and fridges in the shop

• Logistics: every farmer is responsible for the stocks of his/her own products.

What to do…

  • Start with “Why”.
  • Ensure that the pace of project development is feasible for all partners. For quick adopters, this sometimes means being patient and for hesitant partners, this sometimes means starting outside their comfort zone.
  • Don’t hesitate to activate your networks.
  • Share: With this project, the initiators wanted to develop a concept that could be adopted by others. They are always willing to help others by sharing their results and experiences = Symbiosis => “walk your talk”.
  • Be sure that all participants have and take their own responsibilities and ownership.

and not to do

  • Don’t be driven by money or subsidies, but focus on the principles and values.
  • Don’t start without a well thought plan.
  • Don’t scale up too fast. There is a risk that you cannot keep your promises.

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