A new approach to the urban farm
In the morning we walked to the station and caught a train to Rotterdam. We had a meeting with at an urban farm called Op Het Dak, but we took our time walking there. Along the way we passed some architecturally unique houses called Urban Treetops, which appeared to be slanting down toward the street. These houses were built in the 1970s in an effort to liven up the city center with “playful architecture”. Then we meandered through the Market Hall, which was held in the center of a huge ring-shaped residential building. I bought a bizarre-looking fruit called a crazy melon and enjoyed it as we walked. As we approached the building we passed through an area that has experienced tremendous urban renewal. In order to make the area more accessable, a massive pedestrian bridge was built out of wood and painted yellow. The bridge passed by a small community garden, made in a former deposit for building supplies. The bridge continued up to a train station that is in the process of becoming the Dutch equivalent of the New York Highline. This trio of inviting refurbishments is meant to encourage people to spend time outdoors and encourage pride and commitment to the surrounding community.
Upon arriving at Op Het Dak, we took the elevator up to the top floor and were greeted by Wouter Bauman. He explained that in 2012, the building was scheduled for demolish, but the architect stepped in and proposed a plan to give it new life by inviting creative companies to move into the builder. Bauman explained that the bottom floor was home to a popular Biergarten, and the other floors of the building housed other community-oriented organizations. Then he presented his personal project; the urban rooftop garden, overlooking the center of Rotterdam. The city offers a hefty subsidy for people starting rooftop gardens because they minimize the heat-island effect in cities, increase biodiversity, and work to prevent runoff and flooding. The garden produces a variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, edible flowers, and even honey to be sold and served at the charming restaurant that shared the roof. Bauman explained that the biggest challenge with rooftop gardening was distributing and managing weight in a way that the roof could support. The edges could support more weight, so were fitted with polystyrene planters where deeply-rooted fauna could be grown. The rest of the roof was covered by several layers of plastic, film and soil in order to prevent damage to the roof. Because of the limited amount of soil that could be used, the garden was mainly comprised of plants with shallow roots. However, this didn’t seem to present a large obstacle for the garden; ruby raspberries could be seen warming in the sun, the vines of bean plants bowed under their heavy pods, and pollinators (including bees from Op Het Dak’s own hive) buzzed lazily around the rooftop. In addition to being exceedingly fruitful, the garden has received much media attention and is even listed on travel website Lonely Planet as one of the top attractions of Rotterdam. Although the garden does not use any pesticides, its produce is not considered organic because the soil used is not natural. Nevertheless, Bauman explained that the compost, which was comprised of food and plant scraps, provided some of the fertilizer used to nurse nutrients into the soil. After a few minutes of wandering around the garden and grazing on the fruits and vegetables, we settled down at the small rooftop restaurant and were treated to a healthy, wholesome lunch.
After lunch we left Op Het Dak and moved in the direction of the harbor. Along the way we passed a few large regions of pavement sunk below the level of the ground. These pits contained steps and jumps for a skate park, but during heavy rains a series of gutters would direct the water into them to form ponds and alleviate flooding. Upon reaching the harbor, we split up into groups and took our time returning to our hotel in The Hague.