Can you introduce yourself and share the background story of Rotterdamse Munt?
My name is Ingrid Ackermans and I am the initiator and director of Rotterdamse Munt Foundation. I grew up in the south of the Netherlands, in a very green, protected and friendly environment. I came to Rotterdam to study urban design at the Academy of Bouwkunst. As it has always been my wish to work closely with the people of the city, I chose to work for the urban design cluster of the municipality of Rotterdam. During that time, I got to know Rotterdam South. I was touched by the situation in this area. People are very hard with each other, life is very hard. I have seen many children growing up in poverty with a big distance to nature. You could say that a lot of people are in a constant survival mode. The idea of Rotterdamse Munt was to make this part of the city greener and create a space of connection and inspiration. Not just by providing a garden and leaving, but by giving the people an active role in it. That is, we wanted to help them develop their green talent.
So, what did you do?
In 2013, I quit my job at the municipality and focused on this project. In the beginning, we were a group with two other architects and a geographer. Together with a group of women that lived in the Bloemhof area, we developed the idea of an herb garden. People at the municipality were really enthusiastic. However, we wanted to transform public space which is always risky, so we first got the chance to do an experiment on a temporary location. That was at the Laan op Zuid where we were for five years. Over that time, we were able to maintain and even grow it. So finally, we got this location where we can stay permanently. The train is underneath the ground, so the city cannot build here.
Who is your team?
The team ist really fluent, because the income is not very certain. I mainly work with freelancers. We have a supervisor of the kitchen, the events and the catering. Between April and October, two people are coordinating the lessons with the children of the primary school. We also work with people that organize our workshops, music events or even festivals. What is more, we have different teams of volunteers for the garden.
What’s your vision for Rotterdamse Munt?
If there are more people with green talent, the entire city will become greener altogether. A greener city is not only more vibrant, but also has a big impact on the health of our planet. Plants and trees buffer rain water and filter the air we breathe. They have a cooling effect in summer and give shelter in winter. A greener city also has a positive effect on our health, stimulates creativity and cooperation… and even increases our level of happiness. Besides, it ensures super fresh and locally harvested food. So, we want to inspire people to make their environment greener and give them the skills to work with nature.
Can you tell us more about your concept?
We have three pillars: inspiration, education and green talent. ‘Inspiration’ means, we give people tips or ideas to make their way of life more sustainable. For example, in the spring we sell a lot of different edible plants for the balcony, organize workshops, where people can learn how to grow and maintain plants. We also make and sell tea of the herbs in our garden. So, basically, we look at the entire life cycle of plants. How to grow, develop, make use of and eventually, compost plants.
The second pillar, ‘education’, is designed to be more long-term. We teach children how to work together with nature and hope they will live more sustainably in the future.
Developing ‘green talent’ is what we do with volunteers or people who want to do a learning trajectory. Some people are changing careers or they just want to learn green skills.
Is this the only garden you are maintaining?
Rotterdamse Munt is our main garden where we have all the workshops and activities, but one of our services is also to build and maintain company gardens. Besides that it’s nice to have more green in working areas, the idea is that employees can pick their own herbs and vegetables. We build on rooftops, just outside the buildings, but also inside with LEDs and water systems.
Who is typically coming to Rotterdamse Munt and what can they expect?
The main target group are people of the city and the region. Basically all people interested in gardening and looking for inspiration. In that sense, our customers are our partners. We can’t do it without people that support our concept and live our values.
We also rent the glass house to companies for team buildings or workshops, mainly between April and November. We are now working on building a pavilion that can be used all year.
For the education programme, we mostly work with the children in the neighborhood. The children are between 4 and 18. We offer lessons for school classes, but also programs for children in their spare time. One in three children in this area grows up in poverty. Where there is poverty, there is a lot of stress. In an environment of stress you cannot learn. It blocks your brain. And if you are alone at home all day and don’t interact, you don’t grow. People need other people to grow. That also means that you sometimes need to come out of your comfort zone. These children can relax in this green area, they can forget the situation at home. In a very practical way, they learn about soil, about all kinds of organisms in the soil, plants, how things grow, how they taste. Sometimes they don’t get very much fresh food at home. So, I think we are making quite a difference in the life of these children. It might be small, but it’s a beginning.
It can have a huge impact later.
Yes. It’s very fulfilling to work with these kids. They can get very enthusiastic if they see a ladybird. When they discover they eat greenflies, they start looking for them in the entire garden. Or when they find the worms in the soil and start understanding how the ecosystem works. I also love the reaction, when they see a potato or carrot coming out of the ground for the first time. They have partly never seen how carrots grow. Or when they taste the Verveine and say it tastes like their candy. Then they understand that this sweetness can be natural and does not need to be chemical.
Besides the children, it is also very rewarding to work with the volunteers. Sometimes people come work here who have a burnout or had a difficult time. You see people growing, opening up and getting more energy. If you work outside in nature and do something that has value and purpose, that’s a good driver for people to make another step in life.
So, it’s not only a sustainability project to make the city greener, but also a socially valuable project.
Yes, we try to nurture inclusivity. Therefore, we don’t work only with a vulnerable group of people, but with a very diverse group. Only then it can be inclusive. We need to connect.
If you look into the future, what are your further plans for Rotterdamse Munt?
I would like to further develop Rotterdamse Munt, make it an even more beautiful and inspirational garden. The idea is to make different theme gardens with different terraces. The last one we want to make is a tiny forest. An herb garden, a production garden with vegetables, the pavilion that we are currently developing and a little forest.
What can the community support you with?
If all your followers would become ambassadors for a greener city, that would be great. My main question then would be, what we can offer to help them understand what that means. Sometimes it’s difficult for people to understand what the impact of your own actions are, and what impact you can have if you choose differently. That requires a lot of awareness and knowledge. A few weeks ago, we had a workshop here about making your own rainwater basin which you can use for your garden or toilet. One participant asked: ‘Drinking water is very cheap, so why would I do it?’ If your only motivation is cost reduction, then it might indeed not be interesting. We need more people educating on the bigger picture.
So, I would be really curious what people would be interested to learn. We can organize workshops targeted to very specific topics, such as planting plans, compositing, worm or bee hotels. Just tell me what you’d need to grow your green talent!