Alkmaar (Holland) is more than cheese and Dutch allotments (volkstuin)

Alkmaar is about 40 minutes north from Haarlem.  Alkmaar is well known for its traditional cheese market. Size? About 100,000 people. The earliest mention of the name Alkmaar is in a 10th-century document. As the village grew into a town, it was granted city rights in 1254. The oldest part of Alkmaar lies on an ancient sand bank that afforded some protection from inundation during medieval times. Even so, it is only six feet or so above the surrounding region, which consists of some of the oldest polders in existence.

There is nothing more satisfying that growing your own fruits and vegetables. In the Netherlands however, the prospect of doing so can seem quite bleak because in cities everyone lives cheek by jowl. The Dutch answer is volkstuinen.  We saw hundreds of them on the train ride from Haarlem to Alkmaar. We were positive that nary a one had a weed in it.

For those who have not heard of the term, a volkstuin is an allotment or community garden. It usually consists of a plot of land, which is non-commercial, where individuals or families can grow fruits and vegetables, flowers and trees. Allotments are generally patches of land but often have sheds and sometimes, even a proper summerhouse shelter for seasonal or weekend accommodation. Sounds ideal, doesn’t it!

In the Netherlands, volkstuinen started in the 17th century. Back then, they were more commonly known as moestuinen; an old fashioned term meaning vegetable garden, or kooltuinen (cabbage gardens). They were places where the working class produced a reasonable amount of vegetables for themselves as well as selling off the surplus. It was believed that these gardens would increase the happiness of people by improving the material and moral circumstances of the working class. It wasn’t until around 1928 that the allotment societies founded a national organisation by the name of De Algemene Vereniging van Volkstuinen Nederland (AVVN). Allotments in the Netherlands were generally used for vegetable production up until about the 1950s when the gardens became more known for their recreational use.

There are more than 240.000 allotments in the Netherlands. With the hustle and bustle of the city, getting away can come as a godsend. In fact, spending time around nature can work wonders, and gardening is most definitely therapeutic. Whilst allotments in the Netherlands cannot be considered as permanent residences, overnight stay during the summer season is possible if this falls under the municipality’s plans and the space has a garden house that meets the requirements. You won’t be able to obtain a residence permit though as it is not an official residence.

What do they look like? Try this for size:

Typical Dutch Allotment - note little house

Typical Dutch Allotment – note little house

What else did my camera capture in Alkmaar ? An eclectic collection of images: