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Forging A Future: Reclaiming Agricultural Spaces Through Innovations

by Emily Smith - October 31, 2019

LeadAR map showing NetherlandsRecently, I traveled to the Netherlands and Belgium with LeadAR
Class 18 on their International Studies Tour — the culminating experience that takes place at the end of each LeadAR class.

This abroad adventure calls on participants to apply the complex social, culture, and economic dynamics evident Arkansas to a global scale. I learned a lot but was particularly struck by the different agricultural spaces in the Netherlands and their ability to reclaim these spaces through innovative techniques. 

Since their beginning the Dutch people have been planning for the future.  

For over 2,000 years, people of the Netherlands have been diligently working
to reclaim land from the North Sea through the creation and maintenance of complex dikes, canals, and pumps, and dams. Eroding coastlines, in conjunction with unpredictable weather resulting in floods, forced the Dutch people to continuously reinvent and strengthen their system to ensure the survival of their land.

This work paid off. Currently, the Netherlands is the second largest exporter of agriculture products after the United States. That’s impressive for such a small country. What key ingredient contributes to their success? Innovation. Innovation is heavily rooted in the culture of the Netherlands, especially when it relates to agriculture. You get the sense that people of the Netherlands are proud of their past achievements and work to preserve the land they fought so hard to claim.

This creative problem solving is observed in other agricultural pursuits as well. During our visit, we got to meet with an organization that is reimagining agriculture in a new space — water.

The Floating (Dairy) Farm pilot belongs to Beladon, a start-up company that specializes in waterborne architecture. After experiencing the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, lead engineer Peter van Wingerdan grew determined to develop a way to ensure fresh food could reach consumers when faced with rising sea levels, excess flooding, and diminishing fertile land.

Cows on The Floating Farm

According to Wingerdan, the Floating Farm aims "to make healthy food clear, insightful and attractive in a transparent and educational way.”

The farm accomplishes this through the following activities:

  • Provides milk to the local community and restaurants in a sustainable way
  • Educates urban dwellers about the importance of sustainable agriculture and food accessibility
  • Models sustainable agriculture (solar panels, rain water purification)
  • Models strategies that promote animal welfare (each cow gets its own stall)
  • Models climate-adaptive farming alternatives
  • Champions innovation through the use of innovative farming tools like a manure robot and milking machine

The transparent structure is designed to rise and fall with the sea level making it particularly useful in urban areas prone to flooding. It’s no wonder why there is much hype and interest in expanding this pilot to host chickens next. In all the excitement and optimism, however, it’s important to address some of the challenges. The Floating Farm is extremely expensive to run and maintain. It would likely require an enormous amount of money and resources for the farm to compete on a larger scale.

The Floating Farm

While the prospect of expanding this to other farms is exciting, the more impressive impact dwells in its ability to reimagine community revitalization through cultivating a culture of innovation. The close proximity to the city, paired with the farm’s innovative functions brings the consumer closer to their food and simultaneously closer to innovation itself.

They are able to learn about agriculture and also learn about the farm’s various innovative functions working to solve a problem and fulfill a need. In many ways, the floating farm offers us a new way to imagine possibilities--like the possibility of floating farms and other buildings  but, more importantly, it demonstrates the importance of creative problem solving. The more we are exposed to examples of innovation the more likely we see ourselves as the innovators. Through examples like the Floating Farm, communities are immersed in this world innovation. It seems like, in the Netherlands, anyone can innovate.

These examples make me wonder how Arkansas communities use creative problem solving in their own communities and the types of questions communities can ask to begin this process:

  • How do you champion innovation in your community?
  • How do you empower your communities to solve issues through creative solutions?
  • What would a breakthrough look like for your community?

Asking these questions can help ignite a conversation about the future of your community. Like the Netherlands we have the power to ensure our communities have a vibrant, bright future for years to come.