Happy delta life

Lucas Janssen might move from nasty, flooding Amsterdam to raise food in the Dutch floodplains.

Interview from ‘Futurum Urbanum’ (November 2036)

Note from the editor: In the past months, during our ‘Futurum Urbanum ’ editorial meetings we came to the conclusion that we should also pay attention to developments beyond the scope of the metropole. Statistics show that there is a growing number of people that exchange their city life for a living on the countryside. This tendency can be recognized in the whole European continent. In the editorial board we wanted to understand why people make such choices. Therefore, we visited a small community in the eastern part of the Netherlands, where we had an interview with Mark van der Steen (44). Mark and his family live in Honderdmorgen, a community quite close to the Waal river.

FU: Why did you decide to move to Honderdmorgen?

Mark: At first, we lived in Amsterdam. It is the city everybody wants to live in, and so did we. After some years we started to experience that it was not really that great. First of all, we had great difficulties in finding good education for our three children. The situations in the schools were really bad and good teachers missing. And then, of course, there were the climate effects. During summer, every two weeks we had a flooding leading to a total congestion of the city. The summer heat and the growing number of insects made it hard to be outside.

FU: How did you end up here?

Mark: Well, we were scanning the various options in the Dutch countryside as we wanted to make a living in production of high quality food. In this area the prices had significantly dropped because of the expectations of continuous flooding from the Rhine, or Waal as this branch is called. There were a lot of deserted houses. Hence, the prices were low and we decided to take a chance. Apart from the lower areas there are also some higher grounds in this area.

FU: And how did it work out?

Mark: In the end it worked out quite well! We are here now for almost eight years. We have a real nice community of nine families that make a living with the production of food and we have been able to organise the education for our children. In terms of flooding, after a couple of years it turned out differently. Germany introduced their ‘Wasserwende’. They started retaining their water by building large reservoirs and infiltration works. As a result, we have not been flooded since we are here. Actually, we need to take various measures to have sufficient water to farm here such as closed reservoirs. One of the unexpected is that truffles are growing in the higher located forests.

FU: So what is it actually that you make a living with?

Mark: There is quite a large group of people in cities that want high quality foods. We produce a wide variety of meat, vegetables and fruits. The vegetables and fruits are of course seasonal; the meat is sold continuously. We raise the ‘Roman Roosters’, which are sold in cities across the border as well. Chefs like the meat of our roosters because of its intense taste and nice structure. For the fruits, for instance, we are growing seven varieties of raspberries as well a three varieties of gooseberries.

FU: This all sounds … almost Arcadian. At the same time I can imagine there must be things you miss out here. What is it that you miss most?

Mark: I don’t think we miss too much. During the growing season we’re too busy. And we have an arrangement with one of our customers. They stay in Warsaw in December and January to enjoy real winters and we can use their apartment. We pay them in chickens, which works actually much better than using the official currency. In fact, more than fifty per cent of our business is based on direct trade. The Climate Tax on meat is a real pain in the ass for businesses like us.

So we spend long weekends in the city. First of all, our children can meet certain professionals learn specific skills, e.g. native speakers foreign languages. Then, of course, we visit musea and go to concerts. Moreover, we sometimes give courses to city people on growing vegetables. Some twenty years ago there was this interest in urban farming, which after a few years stopped. These days it is picking up again, people have a need for connecting to the physical world. Basically this has always been an underground current, but now it surges more than ever.

FU: Do you think your children would want to live here or in the city?

Mark: You ask for themselves. Let’s see who’s around. … Ah, there is Fiona, she is fourteen and our oldest child. Today she has been taking care of a group of toddlers.

Fiona: I am planning to live in the city in a few years time because there is no other option. I play the hobo and I want to become a professional musician. However, I already know I cannot stand to live in an apartment building. Thus, finding an appropriate spot to live is going to be challenge. And afterwards, I will return here. There are many benefits, such as living with our animals, being free of camera monitor, and I reckon there will still be disconnected spots to relax.


JanssenLucas Janssen has experience in most of the disciplines related to the field of integrated water management. Currently he is with Deltares, a research and technology organization. Lucas lives in Wageningen, the Netherlands, near the river Rhine.

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