Wetland Restoration and Food Production

The Netherlands cover a large part of the Rhine Delta, originally an area of unique wetland ecosystems, harboring amongst others the Wadden Sea (on the Unesco World Heritage list). But, as everywhere on earth, Dutch wetlands are being depleted for centuries. Mainly for agricultural purposes. Peatlands are being drained for deserts of grass, feeding cows. Oxidized peat feeds levels of CO2 in the air and makes sea levels rise. At the same time this process lowers the land. The Netherlands sink more and more below the rising sea. Our land bears the ultimate historical example of wetland degradation. We can raise our dykes (and we are good at that). But we can also become an example of change. The Moerderij will become the iconic example of food system change. We will restore 20 ha of agricultural land to wetland and at the same time make it as food-productive (per square meters) as 20 ha of corn production. Thereby we will overcome the fatal competition between consumption and nature that is inherent in our current industrialized monoculture foodsystem. The land will rise, sea levels will drop, and our food production restores the ecosystem.

We restore agricultural land to wetland, by raising the water level, designing a landscape of water ways, dykes, ponds, islands, higher and lower parts. On the higher grounds we use different species of food trees, shrubs, and herbs, a diverse system somewhere between agroforestry and a food forest with livestock grazing beneath the trees. We focus on several main species (walnut, chestnut, apple, hazelnut and raspberry). In the water parts and shores we will grow productive water plants like cattail (for food purposes, but also isolation material, and fodder), but also fish and waterfowl.

Studies have been done on diverse restoration agricultural systems (Shepard 2015) which ground the expectation that per square meter an agro-forestry system can be more food productive than monoculture (for example corn) production. The magic of the Moerderij will be that a main part of our work lies in binding big groups of people. With our history as urban farmers we have proven to be able to make a party of food production. In our urban gardens (www.groengoedrotterdam.com) many people are involved as recreation, as welfare, health and educational activities. We build on our experience and network in the city of Rotterdam. And we have important organizations as friends (Natuurmonumenten, de Provincie and Staatsbosbeheer) who support us in our search for land and finances, because they see we are able to attract masses of people. The Moerderij will not only build a productive wetland. It will create an adventurous, recreational, healthy, educational wetland-experience. Children from neighboring schools will build wooden rafts, which we turn into floating food gardens, thereby reinstalling ancient marsh food techniques. Survival routes and will cross our marsh. Participant can sow, plant, weed and harvest on rafts, canoes and gondola’s. Our business model is build on attracting people, partly by working together with welfare organisations (thereby also involving deprived urban areas) and governmental programs like Nature and Environmental Education (Natuur en MilieuEducatie), partly by providing recreational activities. On the other half we will sell our marshproducts in our store and restaurant.

At this time we are in a fase of scouting for land. The Province of South-Holland (Provincie Zuid-Holland), Natuurmonumenten and Staatsbosbeheer support us in our search for land and finances. With them we are exploring several options of buying land and/or using public recreational land as close as possible to urban areas around the city of Rotterdam (and neighbouring municipalities). The moment we have land we can start our activities that bind groups of people. All work (from developing and planting the land to sowing planting and weeding annual crops, constructing paths, etc) can be done in workshops and activities with participants. Production is planned in phases. While production trees are still young we will make use of small fruit, annual crops and cattle. When trees grow the area of small fruit and annual crops will make way for the canopy, productive undergrowth.

In whole our system we will produce a lot of organic material that we use for the production of fodder for our cattle, and compost to sell but that we also continually amass in our bog, steadily building up forest peat. Our activities can start the moment we have land. Building up peat in a wetland ecosystem needs ages. We hope our iconic example will be followed. And growing food will stop competing with ecosystem services. The land in the Netherlands will rise, the sea level will drop and we build a food system of the future in our unique Rhine Delta, setting the example for foodwetland restoration world-wide. Inhabitants of our region historically started to drain the Earths marshes. We marshfarmers (moerboeren) will historically restore them and become an example for the future.

*(Boerderij means Farm in Dutch. Moer is old-Dutch for Moor, or Wetland. Moerderij brings these words together.)