A Touch of Class down on the farm

A touch of class down on the farm - Koppelsteede

(Please note: as of January 2021, Koppelsteede is closed to the public. Check their website if you’re planning to go.)

  On a previous walk this summer along the old Roman border, while about to cross the freeway on our way to get gin, we found ourselves walking past what looked like a large farm, with a sign on a locked gate saying “Stadsboerderij Koppelsteede”. (Literally, a stadsboerderij is an urban farm, but they’re usually pretty low-key, like a petting zoo.)

Now in theory this neighborhood, called Lunetten, is a residential kind of suburb. We were literally a stone’s throw from a huge cloverleaf freeway interchange that shares the name. We had noticed the name Koppelsteede on maps, but nothing about a farm, and had figured it housed something like scrap-metal dealers. The whole of Lunetten, while relatively leafy for what it is, is highly planned for things like efficient traffic flows. So a farm was a little out of the blue.  We firgured it wouldn’t  be more than a small petting zoo with goats, chickens, rabbits, maybe a sheep or two; a nice place to take the kids, probably with a volunteer making lousy coffee….

But there we were, looking in from the southern edge of this place, and it was extensive – we could see what may have been beehives in a field of tall grass that looked like it would be grazed or cut for hay soon, what looked like vegetable gardens, hedgerows, and – oddly for the Netherlands – we couldn’t see exactly where it ended. We vowed to come back, and did just that the other day.

Just getting there was a pleasant surprise. The neighborhood as a whole has a lot more green than we suspected. It has several tree-lined canals running through it. (see tree rant)

From the farm’s main entrance (where you currently have to disinfect your hands, and respect the one-way foot traffic at marked entrances/exits) you can see lovely pastures dotted with trees. We only mention trees because even in this northern clime, cattle suffer outside on a hot sunny day if they don’t have shade. A tree in a pasture is an economic liability as it reduces grass yield. So their presence here means the Koppelsteede people care! One pasture-with-trees actually turns out to be an old apple and pear orchard.

It was coffee time so we thought we’d see what they had to offer. Although a menu posted outside listed sandwiches, the restrictions have kept the tiny café’s selection limited to a homemade cake of some kind and drinks. We got a sort of shortbread-y cake (very nice) and cappuccinos. It’s currently all served in and on recyclable if not compostable items. We took our coffee and cake and found a place to sit, scanning the surroundings for a few drab little goats or rabbits behind the worn wood fences. And who should we see sauntering towards us but a peacock?!

He found a place to sit too,  with his body in the shade and his fiery tail magnificently lit up in the sun, as if he knew, and didn’t care, that this would prevent our getting a decent photo. He seemed well aware he was lending a lot of class to the humble petting zoo. Cue flashbacks to India, where we sat in the shade watching peacocks navigate the vine-covered stone walls of ruined palaces in the hot sun. As our cappuccinos morphed into masala chai, we fantasized about the cool marble palaces with perfumed fountains, rose gardens, and… were jolted out of our reverie by the screaming of some child. The peacock was unfazed.

We left his company after finishing our coffee, and explored the animal pens. There are goats, sweet and not drab as suggested above, and lots of sheep too, looking like they enjoy life, and two enormous pigs. Sometimes as you approach you see one pig’s head sticking out of the door and form a picture in your mind of how big the rest of it is, then when you get closer and do see the rest of it you realize it’s the size of a small car. The pigs have a large mud bath attached to their quarters, and toys as well.

Kids can get a net and bucket and see what kinds of fish and other animals are in the ditch at the back of the farm.

Petting zoos have an educational function. At this one, the signage at every pen doesn’t beat around the bush. This one we eat. This one, we drink their milk. (None of the signs says “and to get it, we KILL them!!!” but if you’re over about four you get it.) There is no getting around the fact that these animals are raised in order to meet human needs (or desires), whether that’s done industrially or on small-scale organic farms. It’s disconcerting to look at these happy specimens and realize they’re the lucky ones; not only have their lives been spared, they’re doing very well  – with food, shelter, even health care. Most of their peers don’t even see daylight until that very last day, let alone eat grass or enjoy mud baths.

Near the orchard there’s a small exhibit on the history of that little part of the neighborhood. It’s sad that so much of it had to make way for the freeway, but there are some fascinating, seriously old maps as well.

On our way to the exit, who should step out through a gate but Mrs. Peahen? (Yes, the female peacock is called a peahen!) As we turned to admire her, her chicks emerged one by one, six of them (the photo below was taken before the last one came out)!

Mrs. Peahen and her chicks – can you find all five of them?

We came back a couple of months later and the peachicks (not to be confused with chickpeas) were looking fine, and a few already had those stunning tail feathers coming in. And none of the family was around during our next visit in December, and there was no one to ask about them. We hope they were indoors where it’s warmer, or maybe they have a winter palace.

So if you’re in or Utrecht, this is easy to get to and a fun place to visit (do check their website before you go to make sure they’re open and to see any restrictions). If you’re not up for a long walk, it’s about a 1-km walk from Utrecht Lunetten station and the #8 bus stops practically around the corner.

But the journey can be almost as nice as the destination – you can walk there or back from the center of town along Tirol (streets all have geographical names) running towards the station, or go straight along Koppeldijk (becomes Goeree) to the Beatrixpark and follow the rails to the Vaartsche Rijn station, or any number of other ways. Boots and Bowtie says check it out.

Stadsboerderij Koppelsteede

Koppeldijk 115, Utrecht