Photo: Rubén Dario Kleimeer
In the U.S., “sea cow” is a nickname for a manatee, but in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, you can now use the term for actual dairy cows—specifically, a small herd of Meuse-Rhine-Issel cows that lives in the middle of Europe’s largest seaport.
Their home, the Floating Farm, opened this spring on a platform anchored to the harbor floor. Peter van Wingerden, an engineer and co-owner at the development company Beladon, came up with the idea in 2012, when he and his wife and business partner, Minke, were in New York City. They saw how Hurricane Sandy had impacted the fresh-food supply chain, and they thought cities should produce food close to the consumer, in a climate change–resilient way, right on the water. “The land is being overused,” Peter says. “The water presents opportunities for growth and technological development.”
How did the Port of Rotterdam Authority react when Peter pitched the idea? “They thought it was crazy,” Minke recalls. Nonetheless, the Authority gave them the go-ahead to build a prototype. Designed by Dutch architectural firm Goldsmith Company, the multilevel farm puts animal-friendliness, sustainability, and consumer education front and center. “The cows are in the middle of the city, so the public can see how these ‘upcycle machines’ turn grass that we play on into consumable protein,” Peter says.
From the top floor, visitors watch as cows stop beside an automated milking machine that identifies each individual animal. Another robot scurries about like a smart vacuum cleaner to keep the barn clean. Cows can eat at automatically filling feed troughs or graze on a shorefront pasture. On the lower levels, milk and yogurt are processed and sold, manure is dried for fertilizer, and fodder is mixed from food and beverage industry waste.
The farm is just one of a number of eco-focused projects taking advantage of the delta. Recycled Park, which floats nearby, includes interlinked hexagonal blocks made from recycled plastic river waste that function as planter boxes, seating areas, and habitat for birds and fish.
“Seventy percent of the world is water,” Minke says. “With so much pressure on Mother Earth, why not use it?”