Rotterdam has already established itself as one of the most climate-adaptive places in the world. Everything from office buildings to entire neighborhoods are built on water in the city, which is 90% below sea level. The van Wingerdens’ floating dairy farm was a new but inevitable twist. Should a weather crisis arise, a waterborne farm isn’t necessarily stuck in place. An urban farm that serves city dwellers also reduces carbon emissions associated with food transportation. And a farm on water also helps to take a little pressure off the “global land squeeze”, a term conservationists use to describe the ever-growing tension that arises when a finite amount of land results in an increasing amount of wild terrain being given over to agriculture in order to serve the appetite for “food, feed, fuel and fiber”, explains Janet Ranganathan, the managing director for strategy, learning and results at the World Resources Institute, a global research-based NGO that focuses on sustainable land use.
The van Wingerdens’ experimental farm floats on pontoons, rising and falling with the tides (which, in Rotterdam, fluctuate about eight feet each day). The rubber-floored barn occupying the top level of the structure is where the cows are robotically milked, mucked and fed (they can also walk down a gangplank to a waterside patch of pasture). The middle level is where the milk is processed into butter, yogurt and other dairy products. It is on this level where rain and desalinated seawater are purified for the cows’ consumption. The animals’ manure, meanwhile, is processed for fertilizer that is used on local soccer fields – whose grass clippings return as feed. At the bottom of the structure is a naturally cool space used for ripening up to 1,000 wheels of gouda-style cheese at a time, some flavored curry, others with wild garlic – all for sale through the farm shop. In other words, it’s a circular system that is self-sustaining – not just ecologically, but economically.
The van Wingerdens’ model is ripe for reproduction – which is exactly what the Floating Farm’s team of 14 are working on now. Plans are in the works for a floating vegetable farm to move into the space next to the current Floating Farm. Permit applications are also out for similar structures in Dubai, Singapore and the Dutch cities of Haarlem and Arnhem.