Last week I visited a vegetable and flower garden right in de centre of Rotterdam, on a triangular piece of land squeezed in between the former Shell Head Quarters, the railway going into the tunnel heading South, and the Pompenburg road, flying over the mouth of the railway tunnel towards Hofplein. This garden suddenly appeared on the scene last summer, it is visible from the Pompenburg road and many people passing by wondered what was going on down there.
We had no clue who was running the place, except that Transition Town Rotterdam is apparently involved in its design and operation, and that there is a link with the Nico Adriaans Foundation. But last week I set out to visit this remarkable garden.
It was a freezing cold winter day with snow, but I was assured that there was still some kale and Jerusalem artichoke in the garden. Soon when I got inside the provisional barracks located next to the garden I felt welcome. There was a relaxed atmosphere among the people that were staying there, most of them homeless, some of them with drug problems, I was explained by Jan Blankers, the garden coordinator. Jan works for the Nico Adriaans Foundation, an organisation in Rotterdam providing care and coaching for the homeless. The Foundation is an initiative of the Paulus Church, a church community in down town Rotterdam very dedicated to provide support to homeless people. When the original Paulus Church was removed (in order to make space for new residential development), it was decided to separate the church from the day care of homeless people both organisationally (the Nico Adriaans Foundation was established) as well as geographically (the Paulus church is located at the Mauritskade, the barracks and garden are close to the Hofplein).
When they moved to the new location, Jan Blankers soon picked up the idea to grow food on the vacant land close to the barracks but he had to wait several years before his management supported the idea. Since they started the garden, it has been a great success. Some of the people working in the garden showed me around, and I was struck by the knowledge and pride that they brought to their work. The atmosphere was joyful and supportive, I wish I could spend more time in this garden. We discussed where the pile of cow manure came from, which they will be using next season (it came from a dairy farmer from Midden Delfland area North of the city). And also Jan explained that people living in the flats close by have tried to stop them in court, as nobody likes the homeless in their frontyard. I also spoke to Eduard van Egmond, the Transition Town volunteer, who helps out on this garden and tries to set up other locations in Rotterdam as well.
Jan invited me for lunch and we discussed the future of the garden and its location. The general cut backs of municipal funding will seriously hit the Nico Adriaans Foundation, and the future of this type of care for the homeless is at risk. The land is owned by Prorail (the national rail way infrastructure company) and OBR (Rotterdam Development Organization). Jan Blankers is looking for ways to keep the garden even if the barracks have to leave, or to re-locate the garden to somewhere else.
This is basically a social care farm, which there are now many in the Dutch countryside, but this one is located in the centre of Rotterdam, very close to the people who need help, and showing very directly how growing food can be of relevance in many folded ways to cities like Rotterdam