Excursion to Amsterdam

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On Saturday, 27th September 25 students joined the ‘Urban Food Production’ excursion to Amsterdam, organzed jointly by RUW, Boerengroep and Advanced Metropolitan Solutions. We visited different inspiring initiatives in the fields of urban sustainability and urban food production. Though, as some participants reflected, the people realizing them were even more inspiring than the projects we visited.

First, Wil and his wife Lisan, volcanic farmers, who started an organic fruit farm near the Schiphol airport, and lets Amsterdam people come and pick the fruits themselves. They even let them eat as they pick, as long as customers ‘declare’ how much they ate. That is what I call ‘trust in mankind’!

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Then, we went to the Rondeel, a broilers egg farm of newest conception, all designed around the well-being of the hens. Here we visited the building (round, as the name suggests) and got to know another urban food production idea, the Tosti Fabriek Project. Behind this project is a group of cooks-art school students, plus a student from the Amsterdam University undergraduate program ‘future planet studies’ (sounds great, doesn’t it?). These students embarked, without previous expertise, in the production of ALL ingredients of 1000 ham-cheese toasts, on a small piece of industrial land in Amsterdam.

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Last, we went to De Ceuvel, a heavily polluted ex-wharf. A group of students and professionals from the company Metabolic teamed up to restore the liveability of this peculiar corner of Amsterdam, using halophytes plants, which selectively take up and store in their tissues metals such as lead, aluminium and cadmium. The project’s core consists of a small experimental clean-tech urban village. Old house boats, floating like Noah arches above the disaster of a polluted ground, are rented as ateliers for companies. The people also set up a lovely café all built with waste stream materials (including the base of a crane and some old Amsterdam docks..).

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What did I learn from these projects? I see how they strike me as being daring and confident of their idea. None of these people waited for a feasibility study to be approved before starting. All of them were taking risks and pursuing the design, or principle, of their idea, instead of sacrificing design and principles to feasibility. Yet, their way of thinking seemed nothing short of ‘academic’ to me.

Some of us, when the excursion was coming to an end, reflected that Wageningen is sometimes missing the hands-on and idealistic experimentation. Einstein’s warning, that ‘we cannot solve our problems by using the same thinking we used when we created them”, is easier said than done. And yet, that spark of subversion against the status quo will bring you, unlike many feasibility studies, close to a good idea.

For a full photo overview, click here!

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Green Lab Rotterdam excursion – inspiration for all

On 12th to 13th April RUW went on a city trip to Rotterdam with 26 WUR students. We visited a number of awesome urban agriculture initiatives, each one with its own objective and means of existence, ate at the heartwarming Hotspot Hutspot and got inspired by the enthusiasm and faith of our hosts. Thank you for having us!  – by Annika Meuche, Ilsa Phillips & Darja Tretjakova

Day 1: Rotterdam Municipality / Edible Rotterdam (Eetbaar Rotterdam) / DakAkker / Uit je Eigen Stad

After picking up our bicycles we were welcomed at the community centre het Nieuwe Banier for the presentations of Rachna Deenstra (Municipality of Rotterdam) and Paul de Graaf (Eetbaar Rotterdam).

Paul de Graaf giving a lecture on Rotterdam urban agriculture at the Nieuwe Banier
Paul de Graaf giving a lecture on Rotterdam urban agriculture at the Nieuwe Banier

Rotterdam is an interesting case when it comes to urban agriculture. The city has been almost completely destroyed during World War II, and successful recovery required active participation and positive attitude towards the future from the citizens. The city government is thus more involved with its citizens than any other city and is more prepared to take up a challenge or try something innovative when the citizens initiate something. In Rotterdam, many different citizens are engaged in urban agriculture activities, often using low-tech resources. The municipality tries to support these initiatives, not financially, but by giving them space and providing an overall sustainability framework (e.g. city works intensively on circular flows, recycling, biodiversity, climate adaptation). Besides the gardens and small vegetable farms, there are also several famer markets, mainly supported by the increasing interest of consumers in local food. The municipality links these to other areas such as health, education, quality of space, vital regional economy (need for new innovation) and support of regional food council. For example, schools are encouraged to go to the urban farm to teach the kids healthy food choices. The mission is to solve problems in the city first and by doing so contribute to solving of the global environmental problems. It is still difficult to make a living off urban agriculture, so most projects are run by volunteers.

Edible Rotterdam (Eetbaar Rotterdam) is an urban agriculture network that began in 2007 with an expert meeting with entrepreneurs, architects and researchers. The goal is to connect agriculture to the city and to close the food cycle, which is currently not the case. Paul de Graaf explained that there are different types of urban agriculture (e.g. forest gardens, rooftops, hydroponics and aquaponics) that could potentially contribute to urban food production, and each can be used according to the urban environment. There is, however, a lack of investment. It is hard to get private funds to invest in public space. Urban agriculture as a business model can be self-operating, as it is beneficial for health issue, city image and other social issues, but the small scale is often problematic to make the projects economically sustainable. Furthermore, more policies are needed; organizational change should be more directed to reach the benefits of all partners. Labelling the urban produce as organic is difficult, however due to the closeness to the customers it is generally not even needed. Read more