Exploring Europe’s Largest Urban Farm

What is it like to visit Europe’s largest urban farm?

The Netherlands is famous for many things especially water management, the country is for large parts below sea level , so it is a survival necessity to be the world’s leader when it comes to water management techniques such as flood protection, water treatment and supply. Major chunks of the Netherlands have not only been reclaimed from the sea, but 2/3 of the country would regularly flood if it weren’t for the many dikes and barriers.

There is a famous Dutch saying: God has created the earth and the Dutch have created the Netherlands!

It also rains a LOT in the Netherlands, which is another aspect of the Dutch having to manage water. Check out this really funny video on how to Survive The Dutch weather.

did you know that the Netherlands are an agricultural giant?

There is a great National Geographic feature about The Netherlands called: How this tiny nation feeds the Earth, which is well worth reading.

Photo Credits: National Geographic

Photo Credits: National Geographic

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t want to bore you with too many details, but just to put things into perspective, as it is quite impressive ( source of all below listed is the aforementioned National Geographic article):

# By 2050, the Earth will be home to as many as 10 billion people, up from today’s 7.5 billion. If massive increases in agricultural yield are not achieved, matched by massive decreases in the use of water and fossil fuels, a billion or more people may face starvation. Hunger could be the 21st century’s most urgent problem, and the visionaries working in Food Valley believe they have found innovative solutions.The challenge? Put in bluntly apocalyptic terms, he says, the planet must produce “more food in the next four decades than all farmers in history have harvested over the past 8,000 years.”

# Almost two decades ago, the Dutch made a national commitment to sustainable agriculture under the rallying cry “Twice as much food using half as many resources.” Since 2000 Dutch farmers have reduced dependence on water for key crops by as much as 90 percent.

# They’ve almost completely eliminated the use of chemical pesticides on plants in greenhouses, and since 2009 Dutch poultry and livestock producers have cut their use of antibiotics by as much as 60 percent.

# The tiny Netherlands are the globe’s number two exporter of food as measured by value, second only to the United States, which has 270 times its landmass.

THE WESTLAND REGION- THE DUTCH SILICON VALLEY

The secret to how they do it is easy 1. technology and 2. massive complexes of high-tech greenhouses, particularly in an area between Rotterdam and The Hague called Westland. The Westland is the “Silicon Valley” for plant growing and green innovation.

We love to visit the Westland with our little one. The beaches in Monster and Hoek van Holland are great, we like to go raspberry picking in Monster or eat at a great organic restaurant in an old church Op Hodenpijl in Schipluiden,which has a great garden

Greenhouse in the sky: VISITING Europe’s biggest urban farm IN THE HAGUE

In 2016 an urban farming project run by Urban Farmers opened up in The Hague. The UK Guardian called the urban farming project in The Hague the Greenhouse in the sky and it is the the biggest Urban rooftop farm in Europe. After more than a year of regularly passing the building, I decided to book a tour and visit the project locally known as Urban Farmers “UF002 De Schilde“. They have a variety of tours available throughout the week in English and Dutch (most tours are 45 min, 90 min).

Here are the 4 things I learned during the tour:

#1 IT IS a GREAT WAY TO MAKE USE OF ABANDONED OFFICE BUILDINGS THAT ARE TOO COSTLY TO TEAR DOWN

The farm is housed in a former Philips TV and phone set factory built in the 50’s building. The building is very close to The Hague city centre and on clear days you can see the many greenhouses of the Westland from the Urban Farmers rooftop which is 35m high in the sky.

On the 7th floor of of this abandoned office building, you can find tomatoes, salad, paprika and baby leaf growing in the 1,200 sq m rooftop greenhouse, while on the 6th floor is a huge fish farm.

#2 URBAN FARMERS CAN PRODUCE A LOT!

Our tour guide told us that the project has the capacity to grow 45- 50 tons of vegetables and raise 19 tons of fresh fish every year. Customers are purchasing the produce directly on the Urban Farmers weekly rooftop marke they also deliver to local restaurants. Especially restaurants seem to often have specific requests for the urban farmers i.e. they want a certain type of bean. The Urban Farm is able to cater to specific growing needs and see themselves as a sort of extended kitchen garden that local chefs can utilise. The Urban Farmers team members I met were all very passionate and full of enthusiasm, there is a good friendly vibe.

#3 The Fish farm is smelly

I am sensitive to smell, and the fish farm was more smelly than I thought it would be. But it was very interesting to learn more about the technique used to farm fish. Makes me look differently at the fish I buy in my local supermarket. At Urban Farmers they use a technique called aquaponics to farm fish. It seems to be an ancient and sustainable food production technique with a modern twist. Our guide explained it like this: Nutrients rich waste water from fish production ( to ‘normal’ non-farmers that is poopy fish water) is used as fertilizer for the vegetables upstairs, the plants then purify the water that will be reused for the fish farm downstairs.

#4 URBAN FARM PRODUCTS ARE TASTY

Have you ever eaten a real fresh tomato? The kind that you can bite in and eat it like an apple with loads of aroma and flavour ? That is the kind of tomatoes they grow at Urban Farmers. You can buy pickled gherkins, tomatoes, the fresh produce and the fish at the weekly farmers markets held at the rooftop market every week. Also other local products can be brought there.

I really enjoyed seeing how successfully food can be grown locally on a rooftop, but have to say the fish farm was a bit off putting. I like the idea that fish get caught the good old fashioned way, but than again I know that probably the fish I buy locally has been farmed in a similar manner.

BONUS #5: VISIT THE MUSHROOM FARM IN THE SAME BUILDING

The HaagseZwam Farm on the 4th floor in the same building is all about farming oyster mushrooms on coffee grounds!

Its a vertical farm and the oyster muchrooms are suspended above the ground in large bags. Haagse Zwam is offering tours on the first Friday of each months (7,50 EUR per person) and also training afternoons on how to grow oyster mushrooms at home .Once a month you can get a joint tour of both farms together.

photo credit: haagsezwam.nl

IF YOU GET THE CHANCE VISIT URBAN FARMERS TO EXPERIENCE THE FUTURE OF URBAN FARMING

Tram 9 (Dynamostraat) stops right infront of the door and it takes less than 15 minutes to reach from The Hague Central Station. Urban Farmers offer a special kids tour ( for kids between 5 -14 years old) and kids are welcome to enjoy the little , cozy cafe and weekly farmers market.

The Urban Farm is also a popular event menu and hosts quirky events, such as a greenhouse yoga session (offered irregularly via Hidden Gym).

This blog is part of my Staycation project Being a tourist in your own city -The Hague/The Netherlands, check out our other posts about things to do and see in The Hague on our where we have been page.

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Hitting the bullseye -Yoga Archery Den Haag

I guess my first introduction to archery was in the old Robin Hood cartoons and Wild West Cowboy and Indian movies I watched when I was little. So when I discovered a pop-up yoga archery course in my neighbourhood, the first of its kind in the Netherlands, I was intrigued and had to try it out! My hubs LOVED the idea to try out archery, so we decided on a family outing to the archery range.

THE DREAM OF OPENING AN INDOOR ARCHERY RANGE

In an old Post Distribution Centre in a quiet residential neighbourhood of The Hague you can find the Mymer Yoga studio of Franciska de Bruijne, she is a yoga instructor and archer who decided to combine her two passions into a very unique and interesting new yoga style.

Franciska has been offering yoga lessons for years. When long term roadworks started infront of the door she was looking for a temporary quieter location, that is when she stumbled across the old warhouse-sized 2 floor facility. She asked around to find the facility manager, whom she then approached with her idea to rent out the place to establish a temporary indoor archery range (1st floor) and her yoga studio (ground floor). Less than a week after receiving the key she was ready to welcome her first students. On the first floor she created an archery range. She set up a wall of hay bales with bullseye cards , while the archers shooting location is marked by a single rope hanging in a distance of about 12-15 meters from the hayball wall. The entire hall is about 40 meters long, meaning that both first time archers and experienced ones will have room for practise.

Franciska shares her passion for archery with her partner Didier Belksma, who was a great archery teacher. He clearly explained the ins and outs of archery and showed us what we needed to know to safely embark on our first attempts to hit the bullseye. Didier has year of experience with English longbow archery and is also a highly skilled stickfighting practitioner and teacher. Fighting with sticks or cudgels was accepted for judicial duels in medieval Europe, and Didier is fascinated with medieval fighting techniques. His passion is contagious.

The Birth of Yoga Archery

Yoga and archery have many things in common and are a natural fit:

#Strength, Alignment/Technique and Posture – are three things that are important when it comes to yoga, as well as archery.

#Yoga, as well as archery does wonders for the body, mind and soul, both sports are all about aligning your breathing with your movements.

#Both sports require strength, but built strength gently and slowly as a side effect of practising.

#And I dare to say both sports give you a sense of self-confidence ,as they sharpen your focus and bring you into a zen like state.

#Archery and yoga is something you can start at any age or fitness level.

Safety first

In order to take part in the yoga archery classes, you need to have yoga AND archery experience. Most people interested in the yoga archery have a yoga background, but lack archery experience.

Franciska is safety conscious and won’t allow you to take part in the class if you have not had at least one hour of practise ( and show that you can work with the bow and arrows in a safe manner). You can practise for an hour during one of the walk-in yoga days or in a private archery lesson.

Wonderful sense of POWERFUL calmNESS

I experienced my first archery session as a calming experience. Archery is something that anyone can learn pretty quickly and then it is all about fine tuning the skills.

When I attended my practise archery lesson my little one and hubs were with me, as the latter way dying to try it out himself ( needless to say he LOVED archery and true to his adrenaline junkie self, is already seeing how he can make time for archery more often).

Franciska and Didier created a space that allowed me to focus on the archery, while my two men were happily playing on the kids archery range set up in the back of the big hall. So although they were there, I could fully concentrate and get lost in the archery. Even as a beginner I could really feel what it was like if I shoot with my elbow low or high and could already “work on fine tuning my archery skills” . A couple of times I managed to align my breathing with my shoot, the times ‘ I got it right’ it felt like when you are in the flow during an Asana sequence.

Archery felt powerful and empowering. Drawing the string bow was at first a little intimidating. Watching the arrow fly and hearing hit the strawbale or bullseye card was a great feeling. Yoga archery is about improving without striving for perfection or comparing your skills to the archer next to you. It was a very empowering and powerful lesson in calmness and concentration.

ACHIEVING BALANCE

As with yoga, Franciska makes sure that her students shoot from both sides during a Yoga archery lesson, while lying, sitting or standing. She told me that her eye sight has changed due to the practise of yoga archery. What I mean with that is, that she said when shooting some people have a dominant eye, some keep both eyes open while shooting and others close one, and this ‘shooting vision’ of hers has changed since she practises yoga archery. It is a lot more balanced she says.

BRING YOUR KIDS

For children they have a kids archery range set up, with a toddler bow and arrows and also a small playarea for the little ones. Children as of the age of 10 may shoot at the real archery range with a guardian present. There is plenty of room for the little ones to safely run around in the warehouse.

Useful to know

# The indoor archery range is housed at its current location temporarily (for more info check the Mymer website or contact them via info@mymer.nl or phone: +31(0)624637762). The indoor archery range is housed in an old warehouse-sized facility that is COLD, due to issues with the heating set up. So dress warm!!!

# Franciska also offers massages, and offers a variety of other lessons, such as pregnancy yoga and meditation lessons. These lessons are in a room downstairs, which is nice and warm, so no worries about the temperature issues there.

# On 3 days per week, namely Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday between 2pm -0430pm there are walk-in archery sessions offered, which cost 10 EUR per hour per person incl. rent of a bow and arrows ( 5 EUR if you bring your own bow and arrows).

This blog is part of my Staycation project Being a tourist in your own city -The Hague/The Netherlands, check out our other posts about things to do and see in The Hague on our where we have been page.

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Yoga: Rolling out my mat is coming home

I decided to dedicate part of this website to my (Mom’s) yoga journey.

My yoga JOURNEY

Yoga is a big word, for some it is a lifestyle trend, for some a weekly practise against their back pain, for others it is their life. I have tried various yoga styles on my yoga journey since I stepped on a yoga mat for the first time back in 2007 and over the year have found out that some yoga styles suit me better than others.  Ashtanga, Bikram or Vinyasa are the three styles that come to mind that I have never grown to like.  I prefer the more restorative meditative forms of yoga, such as Hatha, Anusara, Aerial and Iyengar yoga and also really enjoy a good Kirtan ( or mantra yoga as it is sometimes known).

My 4 REASONS FOR CHOOSING FOR YOGA

Why I make the conscious choice to make yoga part of my life:

#1 A community

Yoga for me is an instant community. I don’t go to yoga lessons at a local gym’s, where it is one of many classes on the weekly schedule. I always seek out local yoga schools, as I find that most schools have a good community, good vibe and it is easy to get to know people. I find that yogis tend to be empathetic, open, authentic people who are welcoming to newcomers, and that is a perfect combination when moving regularly and travelling frequently (read more about our travel adventures). I love people and their stories, and I have met plenty of yogis with fascinating life journeys, people with a lot of character who are 50 shades of crazy and absolutely awesome.

#2 A global language

I like going to different countries and following lessons at local yoga schools or attending retreats. And the languages spoken around you might change, but in the yoga schools around the world a downward dog is a downward dog. And it is this instinctual feeling of coming home and knowing ‘how this works’ that makes yoga a home away from home.   The same can be said for mantras. My favourite mantra is  Aad Guray Nameh( It is a mantra used for protection, to gain clarity and receive guidance):

Aad Guray Nameh                                               I bow to the Primal Wisdom.
Jugaad Guray Nameh                                      I bow to the Wisdom through the Ages
Sat Guray Nameh                                               I bow to the True Wisdom.
Siri Guru Dayvay Nameh                                I bow to the great, unseen Wisdom

#3 My mental health gauge

You know on days when you don’t feel well in your own skin and you forget to eat, breath and take care of yourself. That is the days that I tend to resist my yoga practise, but it is also the days that I need it the most. Yoga is my way to check in and check out.  On those days when I set my intention for my practise -It is simply to make it through to savasana, as I know I will feel  grateful for showing up.  On those days my head is to full to really switch off and I feel wired and my inner critic is screaming. And its the deep breathing, breathing towards the discomfort in a pose, and quiet time that tends to help me to snap out of that alert state.

#4 A WelCOMING HOME

You might sometimes not feel welcome in peoples homes or lives, but you are always at anytime and anywhere welcome on your mat.  Wherever in the world you roll out your mat you can instantly create a home away from home, a place that welcomes you. I also like that yoga mats are small  and can easily be transported, something that cannot be said about the various mountain bikes of my partner.

Understanding the great influence that holding your breath has on pain, and how to breath through and accept discomfort  in a pose has helped me a great deal during the birth of my little one. I do credit my years on the mat ( and my awesome birth partners – my partner in crime and my doula) for my positive and empowering labor experience.

The YOga interviews -MEET A YOGI

In 2018 we will embark on a family sabbatical and I am planning on visiting yoga schools around the world. A part of my yoga and blogging journey I aim to get local yogis, whether they are yoga teachers or fellow yogis with an inspirational (life) story to answer 12 questions . I envision it to be a sort of low key yoga interview series. The goal is to show the diversity of the global yoga community and take a look at the roads that lead them to become a yogi. You can find the short interviews on

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