"We provide a kind of family, involving all sorts of groups from the local neighbourhood."
Erik Sterk, managing director of the Food Garden, says that the initiative has been so successful in attracting volunteers because the garden turns vulnerable neighbourhood residents into proud producers of delicious food. “When you’re with us, suddenly you matter,” says Sterk. “You’re not a patient or a client here. We provide a kind of family, involving all sorts of groups from the local neighbourhood. Some work on specific projects, like building a helophyte filter that uses plants to purify waste water, or composting waste.”
The garden has turned vegetable gardening into a trendier pastime by connecting with high-profile artists from the neighbourhood, such as Daan Roosegaarde. Sometimes they display their artwork in the garden. Sterk is optimistic about the continuity of the project. Materials and personnel costs currently amount to around €150,000 a year. At this point, most of the money comes from endowed foundations such as the Oranje Fonds, as well as from companies who sponsor the project. In the coming years, the Food Garden Rotterdam hopes to raise more funds for services like courses and training. The fruits and vegetables that are grown here are donated free of charge. Sterk: “If we started delivering to local restaurants or individuals, we’d have to deal with deadlines, which wouldn’t be good for our volunteers.”