Talents Portraits: Maria Fritz
Utrecht University, Amped and Local2Local have been collaborating in the local food domain since the spring of 2014, through initiatives, pilots and projects, together with Green Office Utrecht, Stichting Groentetas, student communities, faculties and partner organizations.
Amped and Local2Local facilitated many internships, research projects and provided students the opportunity to work, gain experience and exchange knowledge in the local food chain in the Utrecht region. This was premised on the idea that the transition to a sustainable and regionally connected food system can’t be achieved without socio-cultural change and an active leading role by the next generation. In 2020 these activities converged into the formation of Local2Local Talents, to support and grow their roles in the food transition.
In the weekly Talents Portraits series we introduce young people who have been part of this journey and would like to share their experiences, learnings and views on the future of food.
This week we feature Maria Fritz from Germany. Maria has a very adventurous academic background, eventually she got her Masters in Sustainable Development at Utrecht University four years ago, met Local2Local at Sustainable Pathways 2018, she was intrigued, started working on projects, joined the team, gained a lot of experience in the transition movement of local food and circled back to her hometown Karlsruhe in 2021 to sow the seeds of change there.
Watch the video interview (16 min) with Maria and/or read the interview below.
Please introduce yourself
“My name is Maria Fritz. I grew up in a little village in Southwest Germany as the youngest of 4 children. There I had a pretty carefree childhood and youth, although my parents made sure we grew up appreciative, thankful, empathetic and polite. Village life became a bit too boring for me and I was looking for paths to go further. Therefore, I chose to go abroad after I finished school, and I went to be an Au-Pair for 6 months in New Zealand. It was fantastic, mind-blowing in the diversity of nature and people and I had to lose my dialect, as other German Au-Pairs told me.
Afterwards I went to study English, Portuguese and Economics back in Germany, but at least 3,5 hours away from the village. I loved studying there, being free, absorbing English literature, getting time to discuss and think or not do it, and still not being caught for it.
In retrospect this was also quite a care-free time, even though student life can be demanding and financing yourself is always a pressure point. I got more and more involved in international student organizations and sustainability. I even started a second Bachelor just for fun, to learn more about society and politics. Through my Bachelor studies I also had the opportunity for a great deal of traveling, through university or just thanks to the free-time.
After my Bachelor I lost my path for a while, I did not like my prospects and I did not feel valuable, equipped, useful. So I did some minor jobs and went to Brazil, without a return ticket to volunteer at the Olympics. That was not a success.
In short: Living in Rio at the time of the Olympics was very expensive, I had to work 50+ hours a week and only got a meal per day. And I was quite lonely and lost.
So I returned on a ticket from my parents to Germany, felt lost for a few more months and then got myself up again and did an internship at the Greentec Awards in Berlin, which gave me loads of confidence (I wrote texts for some very famous Germans) and started a Masters in Sustainable Development at Utrecht University.
Through the years I realized how much I miss my home, where I grew up, and how much I love to be in nature. I love to cook, garden, hike, observe, camp, cycle, swim, kayak. Just be outside.
The times of being lost taught me a lot though, about myself, my needs for companionship, for structure and a purpose. And I could define this purpose more and more through my Masters. I want to pursue activities, may it be in work or leisure time that give me the feeling of being meaningful and useful for my surroundings. And I also need time to take off, relax and not feel the weight of the world on my shoulders.
I see that there is a lot of change, while also a lot of negligence, ignorance, boredom and even privilege where I grew up and I understand that it developed that way, but it makes me very angry, because it is not a human right and people often behave like they have the right to live in a way that is harmful for themselves, for others and our planet.
I do not want to be guided by anger though, so I try to engage, listen, be empathetic and find ways to communicate. This is what drives me, a sense of understanding, urgency, anger, fear of the future and a dream of utopia and hope. I want to do my part, but I know that it is a sign of entitlement, too. My way might not be the right way and it is certainly not the only way.”
How did you get in contact with Amped/Local2Local & what made you decide to join?
“My study colleagues and friends Cris and Danika met Mark and Marc in Utrecht at Sustainable Pathways in 2018, if I am correct and they wanted to get involved by organising outings for students at farms. Cris knew that I wanted to do with seasonal food and that I played with the idea to run a food truck. L2L had both, so she introduced us and I joined a couple of meetings, where Mark talked a lot about the concept, the vision, the opportunities, and we understood very little.
But: I liked what I understood, I liked the team and the food truck. So I got the food truck for the SusTasty sustainable food festival at Utrecht University. So I ran the food truck with local ingredients only for a week. We sold buckwheat and wheat waffles with berry jams and I do not remember what else.
It was fun, but I could not do it alone and I provided no financial sustainability. We could cover the costs, which in itself was already surprising, but no work hours.
So I joined occasionally to promote L2L at events, e.g. at Utrecht Natuurlijk fairs or at Fort aan de Klop. And I helped with the first pear harvest for students, at William Pouw’s.
When I finished my studies I had a hard time finding a job, especially in the Netherlands, as my Dutch was not on a working level, officially. I was looking for jobs connecting food, sustainable development and international work. I had stayed in contact with L2L, but not expecting to get a job there. Until I had another talk with Mark and they saw some potential for connecting me to the Talents project.”
What have you worked on, how did you experience this, what did you learn?
“I’ve worked in the food truck, thinking that it is loads of fun, which it was but also very tiring and it taught me that it is financially challenging to run.
I’ve worked in the promotion of L2L, thinking I could convince lots of people to buy more local.
Both of these experiences showed me that you need a very clear storyline and product or service for people to grasp it quickly. In the seconds that they pass a truck or a stand. Both of which L2L did not have.
I learned that it can be a pathway to work with unpaid student volunteers, but that it is also a lot of effort and uncertainty of show-up and pull-through. I learned about myself once more that I am very local and patient, when it comes to this, which continues to be more of a weakness for myself at times.
I helped start up L2L Talents, which was at first a pretty straight forward process, guided by Marc and then let me quickly have more and more responsibility and freedom. I highly enjoyed this journey, I learned a lot about content creation, in English and Dutch.
And I am forever grateful that they took me on, although I did not have working level Dutch, where so many other organizations took that as a reason to not even consider me.
Looking for a job after my international Masters at UU turned out to be a frustrating experience for many of my international study colleagues and myself, too. It was a huge disappointment that the university had barely prepared us for. As far as they had told us, finding a job in English would be no problem. This was not true and we felt a bit cheated. Companies like L2L that are already in contact and ‘recruiting’, when we were students have a way more inclusive workforce in the end, than others.
Of course this also led and still does lead to frustrations, misunderstandings, things getting lost in translation on my side, since there was and still is not real structure for onboarding and managing people in L2L/Amped, and especially for internationals, that face more degrees of uncertainty than Dutchies with a social network close-by to fall back on, this is a disadvantage.
No surprise that I could in the end continue and thrive at L2L, also because I had a Dutch partner to fall back on if needed.
L2L Talents turned out to be at the wrong time (covid) at the wrong place (Utrecht region), and demand was low, so we pivoted.
This volatility and flexibility I had not expected and it was great to learn. For me, I thought if we fail, it is over and I’ll have to leave the company, so maybe my job will be lost again soon. I put a lot of time and effort into trying my best to prevent this, but the demand was just too low.
And far from losing my job, I could stay, we decided to pivot, I could add my opinion and assessment and I could dive into other areas. I did not necessarily expect this, and I think it took me quite some months to feel safe at L2L. However, as said I had a social net to fall back on and thereby I could still allow myself to be creative and bring my best to the table at L2L.
So more and more I entered the project space, and assisted Bob in some minor tasks. This was some easy tasks, like LinkedIn community activation or at times also listing, but also a bit far from working with my brain. In between we kept on developing or pivoting Talents and that was quite a lot of fun activities, like harvest heroes, or the veggies rescue action.
In our ups and downs, in different projects for the EU, national or locally, I learned that I can provide a good overview of a situation and an objective assessment that is useful for the team. I can be direct and I can take a lead way better than others, and nowadays I do not mind both. The work and the support and freedom from the management gave me a lot of confidence in who I am and what I bring to the table.
I decided to move back to Germany to be close to my original social network, and I was unsure whether it would work, but the team made an effort to keep up our weekly online meetings and they became a regular. They supported me when starting the Impact Hub and working less for L2L. And they still wanted to hang out whenever I was in Utrecht.
I think I stayed with L2L, because there was always potential for more and I could be involved in the development of the company. I absolutely stand behind the necessity and urgency of the mission.
The sense of purpose, and sometimes to a lesser extent the sense of belonging and sometimes to an even lesser extent the satisfaction with my tasks, work and capacity development, is what keeps me on in the end.”
What are you doing at the moment?
“I am co-founding an Impact Hub in Karlsruhe, which is part of a global network of 100+ hubs around the world. Our mission is to drive inclusive entrepreneurship and better business through coworking space, programs and events. We are currently setting up a cooperative and running our regular events and a second Climathon in October. From spring 2023 on we will offer training programs for founders, start-ups and employees that want to learn more about social business and sustainable entrepreneurship.
At the same time I continue to network in the SFSC sector in Germany. I am in a working group for SFSC initiatives in Germany and we are developing a position paper to present to our regional and national representatives.”
Where are you heading? What are you aiming for?
“I want to prove that it is possible to run a financially sustainable business / cooperative without compromising on any social or ecological value creation. The Impact Hub represents this opportunity for me, but it is also complex, since we are at the same time teaching what we have to prove for ourselves, too. We yet have to establish a successful business case. And it takes time and patience, while there are a lot of impatient people around.
By the end of next year I hope to have the freedom to pivot my role and reassess what I want to do at Impact Hub, delegating tasks and having a more clear role. Potentially also in Amped. I might want to have more freedom to travel again or to try out other jobs or spend some more time on capacity development.
I would love to continue working and taking off every couple of years. I am curious to maybe also learn a practical job and try out different things.
How much this can be combined with the urgency for transition, is another question though. It feels, there is no time left to take off anymore.”
What is your (ultimate) dream?
“For the collaboration of Impact Hub and Amped, I would love to co-create and run a program that offers SFSC initiatives training in system thinking, the GAIN model, ecosystem work and running a profitable sustainable business. Furthermore, I would love to help regional ecosystems to be built up and establish themselves.
Ultimately, I might want to run my own enterprise on a micro-level in my home region. Offering the local community a place to meet, learn (about food and other sustainability topics), garden and harvest together, eat, celebrate and sleep. So it would be a place with a camping, an event or meeting hall, a cafe cooking only with regional ingredients (ideally radically local), a small shop and regular events, where people are invited to harvest or prepare food together. Potentially with a tiny house next to it, for me.”