150828_JohnVerkerke1John Verkerke

John was born in 1956 in Rotterdam Crooswijk. As a young boy, he dreamt to one day work in the place adjacent to his birth ground which he loved so much the ‘Kralingse Plas’.

Now, he has been working since 42 years for the Rotterdam municipality and over 27 years as green caretaker (beheerder, in Dutch) of the 300Ha Kralingse forest and lake and the natural area of the Esch. P1050619

I got to experience John as a profoundly place-embedded leader. All his ecological wisdom comes from experience. He observes and learns; he shares and applies while acting. He adopts sufficiently when needed. Furthermore, he enjoys interacting directly with a diversity of people.

Verkerke showed me how he managed to stop the annual dredging (baggeren in Dutch) of the river by creating holes around the willow trees. These holes ‘catch’ all the dredging flowing to these lower points. At the same time, the diversity of depth and temperatures has created a plurality of habitat for the pike (snoek in Dutch) for instance. Based on this example, I called his work and decisions ‘wise’. He responded, this is not wise, it’s logical.

On the one hand, John breaks down certain patterns. Examples are the bream (brasems, in Dutch), which he calls the pigs of the water, and who need to be slowed down in number as algae increases with their digging activity. Also running dogs chasing small wild animals in the forest like rabbits, rodents and birds, need to be slowed down. On the other hand, John connects specific elements. He has a keen sense of creating and connecting food chains. For instance, close to the breeding ground of the frogs he has placed a stork nest. He wants smart frogs, who know what it is to be wanted. He builds a bridge from the urban children’s farm to Fun Forest to facilitate the flow between the two places for children. P1050630

He has a long-term view managing ‘beyond his grave’, e.g. planting poplar trees with a variety of ages. He has skills in both people and places. He dares to make decisions and to be able to make a stand and stay put on the one hand and to adopt and change on the other hand. He is sensitive when to connect and accelerate or when to slow or break down. This is something I wish to see continued in the long-term vision of the Kralingse plas and which I hope inspires many more leaders and caretakers in Rotterdam and other places in the world.

He is a man you don’t meet every day. Oh by the way, he is also a Latin dance teacher, a DJ at parties and an experienced martial arts practitioner. He is the husband of his beautiful wife and together they are the happy parents of their son. He is a man, you will remember. One of the participants of Into the Open II said: “John Verkerke is a jewel of Rotterdam”.

More information about the Kralingse forest and lake in Rotterdam, see link

Written by: Li An Phoa (Aug/Sep, 2015), pictures by: Lin An Phoa (28 August 2015)