In 2010, Tropicana, an indoor water park (think: waterslides, palm trees, a plus-sized wave pool, hordes of overenthusiastic children running amok and the overwhelming stench of bleach) in the gritty, skyscraper-laden Dutch port city of Rotterdam was shuttered after 20 years of operation. Needless to say, the closure of Tropicana was a bum-out for those with nostalgic memories of the climate-controlled aquatic wonderland — “the largest subtropical paradise in the Netherlands!” reads City Guide Rotterdam — situated along the banks of the river Maas.
In the years since its bankruptcy-induced closure, the Netherland's finest artificial oasis has become somewhat of a magnet for urban explorers, camera-wielding curiosity-seekers and confused out-of-towners who didn't get the memo. A handful of redevelopment schemes have been proposed including one that would transform the property, which also included an in-house discotheque in addition to an array of bathing suit-centric attractions, into senior housing. Nothing, as of now, has come to fruition.
Enter financial services advisor Sieman Cox, who, last March, drove by Rotterdam's forsaken water park and was struck with a brilliant idea.
Whereas some might have thought “shopping mall” or “wrecking ball,” Cox had something entirely different on his mind: “indoor mushroom farm.”
He explains to the British edition of Wired: “The sun was glistening on the glass roof, and I thought, this is like a giant greenhouse in an urban environment."
Several days later, Cox made contact with the vacant building’s owner and was given a tour of the space; shortly after that, Cox, along with partner Mark Slegers, were given the heads up to begin work on what has emerged as the most adventurous urban agriculture project in a city, that’s, well, lousy with adventurous urban agriculture projects.
Now just a little over a year old, the venture, dubbed RotterZwam (“zwam” being the Dutch word for fungus), takes advantage of Tropicana's abundant raw space and decidedly dank climate. Using spent coffee grounds collected from nearby cafes as a growing medium, oyster mushrooms are cultivated in the basement of the complex while other varieties of edible macrofungi are grown in what were once the changing rooms.
Will the old Tropicana water park be reborn as a bustling hub for urban agriculture? (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
In a recent interview with Vice's foodie spin-off website Munchies, Cox explains that he and Slegers are able to produce 20 kg of mushrooms (about 44 pounds) of meaty ‘shrooms per week and plan, with help from a recent crowdfunding campaign, to ramp up production to 50 kg a week to help meet increased demand from local eateries, food trucks and other customers. Cox notes that although requests for his abandoned water park-harvested myco-product are coming in from all over, he wants to keep the operation strictly local and supply only to businesses located within Rotterdam's city center.
Antwerp-born entrepreneur Gunter Pauli’s 2010 book “The Blue Economy” — this video provides an easy-to-follow explanation of the societal shift from scarcity to abundance that’s at the root of this business model — serves as a direct inspiration for Cox and Sleger’s vision.
Next up, Cox and Slegers are launching a kit that will enable prolific coffee guzzlers to transform their grounds into fungal gold at home:
Given the amount of coffee that people in Rotterdam drink, there could be 10 places like this in our city alone. That’s why we’re launching a home breeding kit at the end of this month, because we feel bad about how much coffee grounds are wasted in people’s homes. Navigating the city’s waste issues are very interesting to us because The Netherlands want to reduce waste by 50 percent by 2020. Thirty percent of what people throw in their bins is organic and we’re working on a new model to make use of what they’re throwing away.
Although the permanence of RotterZwam seems unclear at this point (“plans with this park change every month and a half,” admits Cox), there’s hope that the rest of the Tropicana complex, in addition to the mushroom-producing basement and changing rooms, will be used for food production including the long-drained indoor swimming pools. Cox tells Munchies: "We really hope an investor will come and see how this would be the perfect spot for an urban farm flagship. Look at the place! You could grow algae, build aquaponic systems, use the walls for vertical farming, purify rainwater in the basement, and so on.”
And although it’s not an urban farming initiative, it’s worth noting that Aloha Bar, a pop-up summertime watering hole located on Tropicana’s outdoor terrace —it’s all very “Mad Max” meets “Miami Vice,” describes one website — has also given new life to the Netherland's most notorious faux-tropical oasis.
Via [Munchies], [Wired]
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