Dairy farm with sea view

The floating farm in Rotterdam

The spotted dairy cows chew their hay with relish. They el egantly close their eyelids with such beautifully curved eyelashes and let the sea air blow around their ears. In the background the harbour cranes stretch their iron arms into the sky to unload the next cargo. The Floating Farm in Rotterdam acts as a place for exchange and meetings as well as a production site for the daily fresh milk in the middle of the city. And along the way, visitors experience the manufacturing process behind the bottles filled with milk.

Their names are Maria, Elsje, Annabel and Jenntje. Monarch, Sustainabetty, Rebkoe and Cashcow. They stand on four legs, always with the horizon in view. A total of 32 red-spotted dairy cows have been floating in the port of Rotterdam since the summer of 2019. They do not get seasick.

The Floating Farm is a special pilot project with the aim of producing milk directly where many consumers live: in the middle of the city. The Dutch metropolis of Rotterdam, Manhattan on the Meuse, is where it all started. What may sound like a joke at first is based on a well-thought-out concept that works. "Since the beginning, children and young people who have never actually seen a real dairy cow have been coming to us again and again," says Albert Boersen. For himself, he says, this is unimaginable. The 27-year-old agronomist (*1992) finally grew up with cows and now works as a second-generation dairy farmer himself. Boersen lovingly strokes one of his Floating Farm cows over her warm soft muzzle before walking on a few steps. The milking robot is on strike. Because it is only a small, technical problem, the young dairy farmer is fortunately able to fix it quickly. The operation can carry on straight away. Milking takes place when the cow wants, at any time of day. Annabel is just about to set off and strolls leisurely past the other ruminants. Obviously, nobody on the Floating Farm is in a hurry. "Most city dwellers like to stand as close as possible to a cow," says Minke van Wingerden, spokeswoman for the project and co-initiator. The farm is open to visitors from Thursday to Saturday in the summer months from 11 am to 4 pm. Enquiries come to the Floating Farm team from all over the world: sometimes whole school classes come round, sometimes a delegation of experts from Asia, students from France, but also the fans from the outset who live nearby: some even almost every day. So, the dairy cows get quite a lot of visitors: the Floating Farm is like a magnet.

"Most city dwellers like to stand as close as possible to a cow,"

Minke van Wingerden, spokeswoman for the project

Instead of stress there is a good view of the harbour from the Floating Farm. Because the floating cowshed is extended by an open pasture at the harbour basin, the animals have sufficient space to exercise on land. Domestic cattle are active almost all day long, only sleeping 20 minutes a day, but they are constantly resting, which makes them look comfortable. Two flexible footbridges connect the Floating Farm with the port mainland. Further on in the corner, the offspring graze in a smaller barn: the first calves of the Floating Farm enjoy special protection here and greet the passing visitors inquisitively. Soon the young animals will be big enough and move onto the floating platform to join the others.

Because the wind today is from the north, it blows the stable smell towards the Meuse, so you cannot smell the Floating Farm from the road yet. Only the opaque barrel roofs of the floating barn are visible from a distance, with the unusual construction attracting attention in the port. The Floating Farm is built up like a sandwich: the floating base is formed by pontoons with the integrated rainwater collection basin and the wastewater recycling plant. There are also tanks for storing the milk and the feed silo. The upper level belongs to the cows alone, in between there is space for the operating rooms of the dairy and a visitor centre.

What only becomes apparent at second glance: the Floating Farm turns out to be quite a high-tech facility and offers the four-legged ruminants many amenities. For example, there are the caressing brushes with which the cows can have their hide brushed. When the rain comes, a vertical curtain is automatically lowered and closes the windward side. A conveyor belt transports the feed into the upstream feed troughs. Not to forget the already mentioned milking machine: each cow decides for herself when she wants to be milked by the milking robot. And to always keep the shed clean, every bit of cow dung is permanently cleared away by a dung robot. The German folk saying, "one cow moos, many cows are trouble" does not apply to the Floating Farm: automated feeding, intelligent milking, integrated cooling and continuous analysis optimised the entire operation and guarantee the best milk that is so popular in Rotterdam. Meanwhile even the first professional baristas swear by the Floating Farm production.

"Food is always connecting", says Minke van Wingerden, who initiated the pilot project together with her husband, Peter van Wingerden. This begins with a circulatory system, as the farm receives food leftovers from the city, for example potato peelings from the French fry’s industry. The Rotterdam football club and a golf course bring their mown grass here. The cow dung, on the other hand, is used by the city as fertiliser, and the circle is complete. 800 litres of milk per day are produced on the Floating Farm.

The cows on the Floating Farm are Maas-Rijn-IJssel cows (MRIJ for short). A striking feature is their red and white colouring, and they also have a large head with short horns. They are a well-balanced and calm breed, which was particularly important to the creators of the Floating Farm in view of the daily visitors: Maas-Rijn-IJssel cows go very well together with humans. "The farm has been specially built so that as much contact as possible can be established between the dairy cow and the visitor," Albert Boersen explains. Visitors can look over dairy farmer's shoulder to see how he handles the animals, how he works with them. Anyone so inclined can also stroke the cows themselves, although most children prefer to cuddle the calves. "Many of the visitors are happy to stand here with the cows and like it when I tell them about my work. That is something different from what a newsletter or an article in the newspaper can convey," the farmer is pleased to say. "Everyone goes home with a smile." In an increasingly complex world with a growing population, the project brings milk production back to the consumer, right in the middle of the city. One Saturday during the summer holidays, a father visited the Floating Farm with his twelve-year-old son. They were both among those city dwellers who had never seen a cow before. The boy was enthusiastic, he was so thrilled about the animals that he stayed all day and helped Albert Boersen and his robots. The farmer remembers this encounter fondly. A friendly cooperation came out of the one-day visit: "He really wanted to do some kind of summer job with us during the holidays and came by every day with three friends to support us and work with the cows," Boersen recounts. "The three of them were desperate to do something. And instead of playing computer games at home, they came to the Floating Farm every day."

Then suddenly a woman is standing at the entrance pouring herself a litre of milk. The Floating Farm team and some of the dairy cows curiously crane their necks and watch her with interest. The woman pays no attention to any of this, she makes a phone call, but smiles briefly as she continues her way home. "It works," says Minke van Wingerden with delight. "People from the neighbourhood come to us. Some even every day." In ten years, the Dutchwoman is convinced that there will be a wide variety of floating farms all over the world.


The port of Rotterdam

At over 450 million tonnes per year, it is considered the hub of European maritime trade, thus also making it the largest port in Europe. For centuries the port of Rotterdam has shaped the cityscape and with it the identity of its inhabitants: 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Every autumn the whole of Rotterdam celebrates its World Port Days.

Tankers and cruise ships, cranes and containers: the port area begins with the enchanted island of Brienenennoord inland and extends over the entire city area as far as the dike at Maximaweg and the Noorder Pier: the place where the Nieuwe Maas then flows into the North Sea. The present port area has grown over the centuries. In economic terms, the Port of Rotterdam is an important employer and driving force of the city with over 87,000 employees and 45.6 billion euros in added value (as of 2018).

Since its foundation in the 13th century, Rotterdam quickly developed into a rich trading city due to its geographically favourable location, with the port expanding in stages from the city centre further and further to the west. From the Oude Haven, Haringvliet and the Leuvehaven as far as Nieuwe Waterweg, by which Rotterdam was directly connected to the North Sea in 1872 and the makeover of Delfshaven in 1886, further expansions followed through the Rijnhaven in 1894, the Maashaven in 1905 and the Waalhaven in 1919. The Port of Rotterdam thus underwent constant renewal. As the ships grew larger over the years, the former canals soon became too small and had to be widened. With the post-war developments of Botlek, Europoort, Maasvlakte 40 kilometres from the city centre, the area expanded even further – with the artificial embankments of the port and industrial area of the Meuse plain alone, the port grew to 10,000 hectares. Since the mid-sixties, some 200,000 cubic metres per week have been dredged from the North Sea and backfilled for the Maasvlakte to a water depth of 22 metres below sea level. The mega project was completed in 1973. The land reclamation has continued sprightly ever since. Because the banana-shaped dike for Maasvlakte 2 is located directly in the North Sea, even the largest container ships can be handled there. In addition, the new Offshore Center Rotterdam (OCR) – a wind farm in the sea – is located here on 70 hectares of land.

For Rotterdammers and tourists, these areas are far away and the annual port festival is concentrated around the inner-city Wilhelminakade. Between 1901 and 1971, ships sailed from Rotterdam to New York and back from the famous pier: the area became the gateway to America. The Hotel New York, a listed Art Deco building, is still a reminder of those times. From here the water taxis race through the port of Rotterdam – with the Erasmus Bridge always in sight. Since the end of the nineties, the "swan" has been a symbol for the new Rotterdam. Twenty years later, dairy cows are taking over the port: with the Floating Farm, which has moved into the inner-city Merwehaven and attracts many visitors and interested people every day.

Between city and nature

Walking together in Rotterdam

It is certainly an unusual commitment to the city. The artist Ido Drejvin is dedicated to his homeland and its people. Together with like-minded souls, he organises walks that make Rotterdam come to life and bring people together: with meditation and communication.

Rotterdam is showing off its best side this Tuesday evening. Clear sea air, clouds passing across the sky, now and then the sun peeps out behind them. The city in the east of the Netherlands stands for an eventful history, strong contrasts, the attached port – one of the largest in the world – and is also called "Manhattan on the Meuse" because of its exciting skyline. One could accuse Rotterdam of a certain coolness – which, however, considering its inhabitants, leads you completely down the wrong track. Exploring the city, getting to know its hidden corners and making new friends in the process: this is exactly what Ido set out to do years ago. At irregular intervals since then, he has been organising so-called city walks, which are not intended for tourists but for locals, and which also more so constitute hikes with added value. Together they experience the transit zone between city and countryside.

The meeting place is located on a corner near de Rotterdam, a new 23-storey high-rise hotel with a fabulous view of the Port of Rotterdam skyline. A total of 25 people has come together to take a brisk walk along the Meuse today. Besides Ido, who will lead the tour, men and women, couples and individual participants of different ages set off with hiking boots and thermos flasks. A woman in her mid-forties has her dog with her. The loose group passes the Erasmus Bridge and soon finds itself at a picturesque historic port basin. They repeatedly stop and gather for a communal meditation. At this point Ido speaks softly to his companions, asking questions which nobody is expected to answer. They are rather food for thought, changes of perspective, while the port scenery passes by.

On the way, new combinations of different conversation partners are repeatedly formed – sometimes two, sometimes three or four people – who get to know each other and swap stories during the walk. Some of them are taking part for the first time. Others participate on a regular basis. Strangers meet each other, who for this very reason are completely open with each other. People talk, tell stories and laugh a lot. Two young girls start singing quietly.

Finally, it falls quiet as they reach the first bushes and meadows. The last path leads through a city forest, calling for silence. Slowly the sun sets, the sky turns a deep pink, and the hikers also slow down their pace. All conversations fall silent, now everyone focuses solely on their experience of the environment and nature. Fresh air surrounds them, the first autumn leaves are already lying on the damp meadows. Then all the participants form a circle on a clearing and enter a deep meditation together. With eyes closed, everyone lets the walk, the conversations and experiences cross their mind's eye. Like a jigsaw puzzle, it is only through everyone that the hike becomes truly complete. Rotterdam seems far away and yet is present in every face. The view of the hometown shifts, their perception is sharpened and more aware. The walkers stand quietly and breathe deeply. They open their eyes and give each other an almost childlike smile.

Inspiration Rotterdam

Huge cranes and mighty container ships dominate the image of the Port of Rotterdam – and the decor of the One Ground laminate flooring. The interplay of weathering wood and metal, warm brown and cool turquoise tones has created an unmistakable decor that perfectly complements the classic country house kitchen as well as the modern loft living room.

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