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Rob Baan looking for help: urban greenhouse should become health centre

Two years after its founding, the urban greenhouse in The Hague went bankrupt last week. Rob Baan thinks it’s no surprise, he never understood the project. “Why would you commercially grow vegetables on a surface less than 1,000 square metres, while just in the Westland and Bleiswijk vegetables are grown better and more cheaply on 35 million square metres? Tomatoes for 18 euro per kilo when the Westland is right around the corner, and growing tilapia this close to Scheveningen. It was just a miscalculation and that annoys me.”

In December Rob was asked to help think of new ideas for the project for the first time. Rob: “I didn’t want to at first, but I became intrigued after a while. It gave me quite a start to see how badly the production was doing. In the Netherlands, we have very good production methods, but these weren’t used. Dutch consultants haven’t been heard either. How stubborn can you be?”

Educational centre
Because the greenhouse is there now, Rob would like to do something with it. “The greenhouse is in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the Netherlands. Seven of the 20 underprivileged Dutch neighbourhoods are in The Hague, so it’s important to involve the neighbourhood in the project, so the people there can eat healthy. The project overshot its goal by selling expensive tomatoes. My plan is to turn it into an educational centre that involves greenhouse horticulture to show how easy it is to eat healthy.”

The urban greenhouse therefore fits into Rob’s dream to turn the Netherlands into one of the healthiest countries in the world. “The daily recommended amount of vegetables of 250 grammes can’t be reached just by eating dinner. Lunch should also contain many vegetables. The Netherlands is the only country in Europe that doesn’t have school lunches. But imagine an urban greenhouse in a neighbourhood where people cook, where schools receive school lunches and where they learn about the production of vegetables. That’s my plan.”

Rob is emphatically looking for help from other parties for this plan. His appeal on Twitter received many responses. He’s now trying to bring these into line. “I can’t do this alone. I’m appealing to greenhouse horticulture, but also to politics and insurers. Which insurer is brave enough and joins me? In poor neighbourhoods in The Hague you can see many people with type 2 diabetes, mostly due to bad eating habits. I want to change that.”

More clarity in coming weeks
Curator Martijn Vermeeren confirms Rob’s interest in the project. “After the bankruptcy, we wrote to various parties on the market, and this plan was then announced to us. We’ve been talking to them ever since.” Whether this will be the final plan is unclear a few days after filing for bankruptcy. Other parties have also declared themselves to the curator, although those plans are less concrete.

In the meantime, production is continuing in the rooftop greenhouse, and the fish are also still swimming around. “The operation is continuing for now, but it’s important to quickly gain clarity. We’re working very hard on this: keeping in contact with stakeholders and parties who could mean something to the project.” He expects to be able to give more clarity about this in the coming weeks. The cause of the bankruptcy should also become clear.

A letter from an Alderman from The Hague has now also made clear that profitability of the greenhouse was under pressure from the first production year, 2016. UF de Schilde, which has now been declared bankrupt, rented the upper floor and the greenhouse. The building itself, The New Farm, is owned by Starterspanden Den Haag BV. They concluded in September 2016 that Urban Farmers were having difficulty meeting their payment obligations, and they arranged a provision for the annual account in 2017.

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