Rotterdam | Connecting the dots

July 18, 2014


In the last ‘stadslandbouwcafe’ of a series of four GROW the City Cafes, the magic word was “connecting”. The café in Rotterdam marked the end of a series in which we have been in Groningen, Utrecht and Almere to talk about different themes within urban agriculture.

A divers group of people was attracted by the topic of “Harvesting Nutrients in Rotterdam”, including city farmers, civil servants and policy makers, researchers, entrepreneurs and civil society organisations. All sharing an interest in the circular economy, in this case in reusing or recycling nutrients for increased efficiency.

Eetbaar Rotterdam (Edible Rotterdam), Nutrient Platform and the municipality of Rotterdam supported both the Circular Clinics in the afternoon and the café in the evening. At the start of the café Wouter de Buck from Nutrient Platform gave us an overview of what happened during the afternoon. Jan-Willem Van der Schans of Wageningen UR and cofounder of Eetbaar Rotterdam was interviewed about the role of Eetbaar Rotterdam and the Rotterdam Food Council in city farming and the circulation of nutrients in particular.

Three levels

Three guest speakers introduced the three levels from where we took a look at reuse and recycling opportunities and challenges for Harvesting Nutrients in Rotterdam, which were also the topic at three lively discussion tables:

  1. Caroline de Vlaam, a certified compost master (and the treasurer of Eetbaar Rotterdam) introduced the Neighbourhood/Community level composting. She emphasized the need to connect to the other two levels:
  2. Siemen Cox introduced the Company Level by presenting Rotterzwam, an initiative that is fully based on recycling and prioritizes local production. Rotterzwam is literally harvesting nutrients (mushrooms) in the city on a substrate from coffee waste,  after which they are composting the substrate they used.
  3. Arie Van den Berg, a biological city farmer from Hoeve Ackerdijk in Schipluiden introduced the Regional perspective: the city with its surrounding recreational zone and the benefits that farms in this zone can have from the produced waste material.

It was clear that connections are essential to create and support the different types of sustainability: environmental, social and economic

Environmental sustainability:  directly connecting the nature and recreational zones to farms instead of composting the organic waste materials for use elsewhere.

Social sustainability: while connections are important at all levels to make improvements in nutrient recovery and reuse, at community level connections and social cohesion can also be among the goals of the initiative! Besides community composting can be seen or used to connect the small scale to the global need to efficiently manage natural resources. All this next to its prime goal: the joy of farming your own food in your own community in the city, enhanced by good quality home-made compost.

And finally economic sustainability can be achieved by innovative enterprises like RotterZwam, which base their entire existence on connections with others who produce organic waste.   At the regional level, Rotterdam could look into opportunities of using waste or communal lands in, or at the fringes of town to grow grass and high protein feed for cows to support those city farmers who are under financial pressure. The high price of land around Rotterdam presents a major obstacle to continuity of farms. Here the production of protein rich herbs, such as clover, for animal feed on recreational or waste land can help to reach economic sustainability of the farmer while saving the municipality costs for maintenance of these lands.

Lively discussions that helped to “connect the dots” for these different types of sustainability were heard at the three tables in the “Kaapse Brouwer”, one of the seven enthusiastic entrepreneurs who just opened their doors in the Fenix Food Factory in Katendrecht.


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