Farmers are at the heart of many, essential societal challenges. They not only produce our food, feed, fuel and fibers with an historically small number of people (from 70-80% a few ages ago to 30 % around the 1950ies to less than 5 % now). The challenges are huge and range from social issues like a liveability of rural areas and succession, to economic risks and poor revenues, to climate, soil, water and biodiversity related issues.
At SAI Platform we have tried to understand and help address these challenges, well intended but often from an outside-in perspective. Although some people may think differently, it's not easy to do it otherwise from the perspective of a big buying company.
But what do we need to do to rethink our food system? A system that can last and is good for the ones who work in it. In the first place it needs the farmers'view. Their stories need to be heard, shared and understood to find the practical feasible answers to a challenge in the foodsystem that affects us all. I am going out to listen....
The Dutch Agro Newspaper 'De Boerderij' published the above on Jan 5.
How?: I am travelling through Western Europe, from the Netherlands to the South of Spain to visit all kinds of farmers. And all that on my bicycle.
In January, I started a journey from farmer to farmer. I ask to stay for one night and have a conversation about the way they work, live and see their lives change. How has their farm changed and what will it look like in the future, in 5 or 20 years? What do they need to keep producing, not only their farm products, but so much more... landscapes, biodiversity, 'carbon-sinks', employment? How do we develop an agriculture that supports farmers to do all this?
The Belgium Farmers website VILT published the artikel below (Jan 17)
and (Feb 2)
Farmer Passport one
Who? Teunis Jacob Slob (59) & Nelie (54)
6 daughters/ 1 at home
Where? Noordeloos (The Netherlands)
Dairy Farmer (organic since 15 year)
140 cows/ 68 ha (Plus 50 ha rented)
Farming since: 28 year
Farm belonged to his father
Teunis Jacob: 'It took a generation to become allies [again] with nature conservation in stead of competitors.'
Farmer Passport two
Who? Arie Maris(55) & Jacolien(54)
Where? Langeweg (The Netherlands)
70 cows. 63 ha
200 meat cows/year
Farming since: 1998
Farm in the family since: 4 generations; next generation coming
Arie: 'I clearly see the impacts of climate change over the years; heavier rain and I need deeper drainage to get the water off my fields '
Farmer Passport three
Who? Alex (59) & Anneke van Hootegem
1 son (planned successor) and 1 daughter
Where? Kruiningen (The Netherlands)
Arable crops Farmer (organic)
145 ha (50 % alfalfa and clover; 50 % potatoes, green beans, carrots, beet)
& active webshop ( home delivery)
Farming since: 1983
Farm in the family since: 1860
Alex: 'We [organic crop farmers] need a supporting community to help develop mechanical weed management, like robots. Marketpower for this is lacking'.
Farmer Passport four
Who? Miel (50) and Astrid d'Haens (50)
2 kids, son (WUR) and daughter (home)
Where? Hulst (The Netherlands)
arable and vegetables Farmer (organic since 9 years)
60 ha (plus 40 ha bio laying hens)
Farming since: 1985
Farm in the family via uncle
Miel: 'Bio is still less productive but much more fun to do than bulk and the price is better. We talk with our customers now, and we didn't when we were conventional'.
Farmer Passport five
Who? Dirk (52) and Els Boeren (51),
2 kids, son (25, successor?) and daughter (21, home)
Where? Deurle (Belgium)
lettuce & leek Farmer
4 ha, 3 lettuce crops /year
Farming since: 1986
Started from scratch (loved their veg garden)
Dirk: '"Many farmers have grown too big under the pressure of higher volumes. I have always remained a family size farm and could fully control quality and have almost no loss from seed to final product'.
Farmer Passport six
Who? Thierry (47) and Benedict(47) Beaucarne,
2 daughters, 1 son (all home)
Where? Luingne (Belgium)
Vegetable Farmer (organic) mainly for frozen processing/ some fresh to local shop
40 ha, cabbage, pumpkin, leek, beetroot, green beans,..
Farming since: 1998
took over from his father, started with 20 ha
Thierry: 'If we want to attract new people and new ideas into farming, we should make it easier and less bureaucratic to start a farm business. '
Farmer Passport seven
Who? Philippe (43) and Delphine(43) VandenPopuliere,
1 daughter, 1 son (at home)
Where? Rubempre (France)
Arable Farmer, mainly wheat, potato, sugar beet
Farming since: 1995
took over from his father, started with 100 ha
Delphine: 'Carbon sequestration can become a business opportunity for farmers, if managed well.'
Farmer Passport eight (grace á Pascal Denis
Who? Simon(52) and Anne Clair(48) Huet,
4 daughters, 1 grandchild (all flown out)
Where? Héricourt sur Thérain (France)
Dairy Farmer (organic), 50 milking cows, 80 ha
Farming since: 1999
took over from his father, who was a conventional farmer
No succession, but no worries. I can sell this when I want.
Simon 'Chinese are buying huge areas of land in France. I don't think that is a favourable trend. '
Farmer Passport nine
Who? Herve Duclos and Denise Fougeray,
4 children (all flown out)
Where? Saint-Michel-d'Halescourt (France), 16 ha/ 250 ton apples
Apple Farmer, producing cider, apple juice, pommeau and calvados producer
Farming since: 1984
Denise ' We have sheep in the orchard as 'tondeuse organique'. They maintain the grass, keep the mice away and fertilise the trees'.
Farmer Passport ten
I had hoped to visit either the beautiful permaculture farm Le Bec Helouin or the interesting farm that grows safran, La Domaine de Gauville. Unfortunately we couldn't find a suitable date to meet the first. And while looking for the Domain on a very dark Friday evening in Normandie I got lost and out of batteries on my GPS and phone...c'est la vie!
Farmer Passport eleven
Who? Séverine (46) and François(47) Guimond, 3 children (2 at home)
Where? Villiers-sur-Mortagne (France)
Farming since: 2001, François took over a pig/cow farm with one employee from his father (in the family since 1748!); He had worked elsewhere before.
He had to stop in 2012, due to low pork prices. Now Séverine is 'the farmer' (sheep/honeybees, B&B) and François works in Paris.
'140 ha is not enough to make a living here, and you must farm in an industrial way. But we wouldn't want to live in Paris.'
Farmer Passport twelve
Who? Sylvie Plessis, (her husband, Christian, sadly passed away unexpectedly), 2 daughters (out of home)
Where? Rochefort-sur-Loire (France),
15 ha of vineyards
Farming since: 1992, started with 3 ha. Determined to continue.
Sylvie (after Antoine de Saint-Exupéry): 'Pour ce qui est de l’avenir, il ne s’agit pas de le prévoir, mais de le rendre possible….'
Farmer Passport Thirteen
Who? Jean Marie (56) and Lucinda Giraudeau, 2 children at home
Where? Varzay, Puyrolland (France),
1 ha of vegetables (organic)
Farming since: July 2017, Jean Marie had worked in a dairy and other jobs. He was inspired by another vegetable grower who started in 2011. He had the 1 ha already as part of the family farm house (that hadn't been a farm for 40 years!).
Jean Marie ' I don't have an internetsite, but simply sell my produce by a weekly group email with what I have and the prices' and my customers email back.
Farmer Passport Fourteen
Who? Christian Gouin, Guy Constant (62) and his successor son David and Dominique Lauraine (and my hosts Vanessa and Tim who kindly invited these 3 'viniculteurs)
Where? Saint Seurin de Palenne, (near Cognac) (France), resp. 15/31/21,5 ha of grapes for cognac production. Cognac is back after a decline. 98 % for export (US and Asia).
Farming since: All three have been wine farming all their lives.
Dominique: 'You have to look constantly after your vineyard. It doesn't work when you don't love it'.
All: 'We harvest 15 days earlier than 20 years ago. We clearly see climate change and more extreme weather.'
Farmer Passport Fifteen
Who? Dominique Roy
Where? Saint Seurin de Palenne, (near Cognac) (France), 60 ha of grapes for cognac production. He is one of the larger growers, with his own distillery that supplies the big cognac brands.
Farming since: He took over 2 farms from his father an his uncles.
(picture shows the brand new store house)
Dominique: 'The French wine growers do fine economically (because of the export), but the rest of our agriculture struggles'.
Farmer Passport Sixteen
Who? Tony Martin(23) and parents
Where? Braud et Saint Louis(France), 30 ha of grapes for wine production (conventional; machine harvest). He farms with his father and mother (and some seasonal workers)
Farming since: He just started after a specialised viticulteur school and traineeships all over France. As an single child it was always obvious that he would take over the work of the vineyard that his grandfather started in 1970.
Tony: 'Climate change gives us more sun and sugar in the grapes and therefor a slightly higher alcohol percentage. We now have cidadas here, that we never had.'
Farmer Passport Seventeen
Who? Pierre (55) and Beatrice (55) Ardoin (and father (84)); 3 daughters
Where? Saint-Martin-Lacaussade (France), 22 ha of grapes for wine production (conventional; machine harvest).
Farming since: 1990. They took over the family 'chateau' from his father (who still helps). Beatrice does the administrative work. Family succession is unclear at his moment.
Pierre: 'The top chateaus are all in the hands of investors. One ha of a Pommerol vineyard does now more than one million euro, while here it is 20.000.'
Farmer Passport Eighteen
Who? Hubert (47) and Nathalie (47) Daron; Son and daughter
Where? Camblanes-et-Meynac (France), 15 ha, but only 6 with grapes for wine production ('bio' but not with a label; not needed and not possible due to neighbours who do spray).
Farming since: 1994. They took over the 'chateau' that was bought by his father in 1977. The wine making and cows were outsourced to a local farmer. Hubert downsized the production and now does all farm and winemaking alone. Nathalie rents out the chateau for weddings (25/year!) and a gite. Family succession is unclear.
Hubert: 'Next week I am going to have my 6-year audit and they are going to tell that my 36 year old vines should not be 3 meter apart but 1 or 2...we have crazy rules for wine growers here.'
Farmer Passport nineteen (thanks to Nagore Kortajarena)
Who? Garikoitz Nazabal (33) and wife
Where? Zaldibia (Spain); 60 beef cows and 150 calves on a few ha, but a 'common' of 11.000 ha with 14 mountain villages and 125 farmers(sheep, beef and goat). 'Almost bio' but no label; not added value because most is locally sold and customers know the farm.
Farming since: 11 years
Garikoitz: 'We share a lot of things in our community of farmers, our communal meadow but also machinery.'
Farmer Passport Twenty (thanks to Nagore Kortajarena)
Who? Osinalde Hsier (43) and wife (and 3 children)
Where? Ormeiztegi (Spain); 300 sheep/ 230 for milk on 25 ha/ 8 for growing feed. They produce 6000 kg Idiazabal-cheese . 'Almost bio' but no label; not added value because most cheese (DOP) is locally sold and customers know the farm.
Farming since: 16 years on the farm the family farm of his wife.
Osinalde: 'I like my work, but not the increasing amount of paper work. Currently I spent 10 hours/week.'
Farmer Passport Twenty-one
Who? Luis Parra (30); His girlfriend is a teacher. No kids (yet)
Where? Maestu (España)
Mixed Farmer (inspired by Joel Salatin, US)
30 sheep/ chicken(eggs and meat)/ grass and vegetables on 2 ha. One day/week on the market.
Farming since: 8 year
City boy who came with his parents in the country side and loved it.
Luis: 'The monocultures you see around here are not sustainable. I want to create a farm in balance, environmentally and economically.'
'Farmer' Passport Twenty-two
Who? Daniel Alfonso (agricultural adviser) and Mabel Oyono
Where? Haro, capital of the Rioja Alta(España)
Bodega, since 1859. 30 % own and 70 % of the grapes are grown on a contract base on plots between 0,5 ha to 20 ha.
Farming since: >150 years
Since 90-ties rapidly grown
Daniel: 'Our biggest challenge is climate change. It's hotter, dryer and we have a bigger disease pressure . At the same time we [ and our market] want to minimise our chemical inputs. We need 'to dance with climate change', other ways of pruning, earlier harvest and more carefully watching out during the season.'
Farmer Passport Twenty-three
Who? Antonio Garcia Sierra
Where? Villoria, (near Salamanca)(España)
Farmer of grains and potatoes and trader in dried animal manure
I have only spoken shortly, while he was sorting potatoes for local sales. Most of his [potato] harvest had to go to waste because the price in supermarket was lower (!) than his cost price. Wasting is cheaper!
Antonio: 'We can't compete with the French supermarkets that buy French subsidised potatoes and sell it here.'
'Farmer' Passport Twenty-four
Who? Sarah Denie (NL) & Simon Evitts(UK) , with 2 kids (3 and 4 years)
Where? San Nicolas del Puerto (España)
When? Incubating: since a few years, paperwork and clearing the terrain. Currently planting 100 fruit trees on 10 ha of land in the Sierra Norte. The place is abandoned hydro-electric power plant from the beginning of the 20st century, that was overgrown by shrubs.
Sarah: 'I have tremendous respect for farmers, but I dont feel like being one. We are more 'land managers' with multiple activities, some farming, energy, tourism, education and perhaps most import 'revitilizing a community'.'
Farmer Passport Twenty-five
Who? Ricardo Sanchez, with his mother and one employee. His wife and 2 daughters live in Seville.
Where? Cazalla de la Sierra(España)
Mixed ecological farm; 65 free-roaming Iberian pigs, 130 sheep, 45 goats, 20 hens and rabits, vegetable, grapes, olives and cork
They run a B&B and small restaurant based on their own products. They also sell directly to a consumer group in Seville.
Farming since: 1982 (when his parents bought the farm)
Ricardo: 'The rules make it impossible for small farmers like us to produce. Applying for subsidies is so complicated that we don't do it and to sell my 10 cheeses/week I have to send 5 to a lab for testing. '
Farmer Passport Twenty-six
Who? Marta and Monte
Where? Cazalla de la Sierra(España)
Sheep and (Iberian) pig farmers. More importantly they have set up run an association aiming to attract and keep young people engaged in the region Sierra Norte. With Whatsapp-groups, an annual village run, and much more they revitalise 10 villages. In 2 years they have brought 144 people together.
Marta: 'The old farmers are tired of bureaucracy and corruption. We want to discuss and improve the conditions for new entrepreneurial farmers to start new activities by building new bridges.'
Farmer Passport Twenty-seven
Who? Sara Gallego Valle
Where? SDan Nicolas del Puerto(España)
1500 Sheep and 500 (Iberian) pigs on 450 ha in the Sierra Norte. Sara studie pharmacy and lived abroad, but decided to come back to the (5th generation) family farm that she runs with her father and brother and 3 employees.
Sara: 'Many of my pharmaceutical friends do not understand my choice to go back to our extensive pig farm, but I missed this (so called 'dehesa') environment. My 'office' looks different every day.'
Farmer Passport Twenty-eigth
Who? Placido Osuna Boceta and Luis Boanos
Where? Torre de la Reine (España)
Placio started to change the cotton family farm into olive grove, that uses 3 times les water, and creates more employment and biodiversity
Luis grows 200 hectares of oranges and mandarines for an Edeka/ WWF project, not just organic, but special attention for water, biodiversity and avoiding plastic waste.
Placido: 'We are all part of something bigger. I don't really 'own' my land, but it belongs to nature.'
The past 10 years I spent my life as General Manager of the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform (SAI Platform). During these 10 years, I have had the privilege to visit farmers all over the world and gained deep respect for and curiosity about their work. . Now that I have decided to leave the Platform, it’s time to take a deep dive in farm live and see how I can add value at farm level and help connect farmers and society.
So, I am making a 3000 km bike ride from farmer to farmer, from my home to the South of Spain, where a dozen of SAI Platform members have joined forces to help their supplying farmers to address serious water issues in the region. I intend to listen and bring their stories and pictures to the people that make policies and supply chain tools for more sustainable practices. Stories about real and normal farm life in the 21st century. Getting curious? Then have a look at my blog posts and follow me on my journey. Or as I personally call it: my crazy bike ride.
Me at the start of the crazy bike ride
A 3000 km bike ride from farmer to farmer,
from my home in the Netherland to the South of Spain.
Start of the trip: 5 January 2018
End of the trip: 11 March 2018
Number of farmers that I have visited: >35 farmers
Below you find my most recent day trip!
The whole 3000 km depends on the hospitality of farmers and willingness to share their stories. And of course on my legs and language.