Why we should let consumers run their own farm

Netherlands share farm could be the answer to bridging city and country divide

Livestock
Founders Boudewijn Tooren and Douwe Korting at Herenboren in Boxtel where city consumers invest in their own farm.

Founders Boudewijn Tooren and Douwe Korting at Herenboren in Boxtel where city consumers invest in their own farm.

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Two hundred city families investing in their own farms but it's not the nightmare you are imagining.

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A NETHERLANDS initiative giving city consumers the responsibility to grow their own produce could be the secret to bridging the divide between the agricultural industry.

Now more than ever the gap between the bush and the city is becoming a critical element for food producers’ future success.

In the Netherlands, consumer distaste towards environmental impacts has escalated to the point where animals hold five seats in parliament under their own political party.

The farm runs one beast to a hectare.

The farm runs one beast to a hectare.

But a twist on the traditional farmer co-op, known as Herenboerderij, is proving a major educational tool for the innovative country.

About 165 city families currently pay a $3164 (2000 euro) joining fee and on average $15.82 (10 euro) per person each week to share in a rented 20 hectare livestock and cropping property.

The weekly orders are availalbe on Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning.

The weekly orders are availalbe on Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning.

In return, an ex-dairy farmer is employed to grow produce selected by the investing consumers who each receive a weekly supply of at least five different fruits and vegetables, meat and eggs. 

Their individual meat offering is limited each year to 7.5kg of beef, 4kg of chicken and 10kg of pork, meaning they only need to fatten and kill six to seven bullocks annually. 

They also run their own pigs.

They also run their own pigs.

The co-op is a cheaper option for consumers, who could normally only buy their vegetables supplies for the cost of their weekly subscription.

But the educational benefits of the project are just as valuable. 

The farmer plants and harvests the produce. Members are invited to join him in collecting hteir produce.

The farmer plants and harvests the produce. Members are invited to join him in collecting hteir produce.

Co-founder Boudewijn Tooren said they were now part of a bigger movement with people socially discussing the decisions farmers’ make and recognising their success.

“The story about farming here is also interesting to our members,” he said.

A discussion was had if members wanted their produce packaged and cleaned like they see it in supermarkets. They opted to receive their goods in their natural state, marks and all.

A discussion was had if members wanted their produce packaged and cleaned like they see it in supermarkets. They opted to receive their goods in their natural state, marks and all.

“(They ask) why are there no carrots because there are always carrots in the shop? Then the farmer tells his story and then they learn and go, okay. 

“One of our goals is to be transparent in everything we do and to learn from each other.

They run about 10 head of cattle.

They run about 10 head of cattle.

“You have 200 members looking at him (the farmer) so there is some sort of social control. Even when you are not a member someone would say, ‘What’s happening there?’ because we are owned publicly now.”

The co-op farm was established in December 2015 following years of discussion by a handful of consumers wanting to gain more control of their food. 

Some of their freshly grown beans.

Some of their freshly grown beans.

At the time, just three people applied for the paid farmer position and the successful applicant was laughed at for taking up a new venture deemed “not real farming”.

But the growing success of the concept was evident when a recent advertisement for the same position on new farms received 70 applications. 

They grow up to 55 different types of fruit and vegetables each year.

They grow up to 55 different types of fruit and vegetables each year.

“We pay a farmer a salary so he doesn’t have to go to market with his product, he only produces for the community, so we skip a lot of middle men,” Mr Tooren said.

Their farming isn’t traditional. Rather than outlay 25,000 euros ($39,597) for a fox protection fence, members may pay 2-3c extra on their subscription to pay for the chicken losses and remain profitable.

Former dairy farmer Geert Van Der Bruggen (right) took a gamble with the new farming method, which is proving hugely popular.

Former dairy farmer Geert Van Der Bruggen (right) took a gamble with the new farming method, which is proving hugely popular.

Fellow founder Douwe Korting said the co-op concept could be applied anywhere in the world.

“You don’t have to be a farmer,” he said.

At this farm "weeds are only a problem when you want maximum production, not optimal production".

At this farm "weeds are only a problem when you want maximum production, not optimal production".

“The farmer, he is the man who knows how to raise pigs and how to harvest.

“All you need is people who need to eat and soil and some guts.” 

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