Farming doesn’t run in Martijn Schieman’s family, yet he knew from an early age that he wanted to be a farmer. He lived on De Zonneboog farm during his studies at agricultural college. "Martijn formed a good relationship with the family and he never left. It was like winning the lottery," says Monique. She comes from a farming family, but the farm was not organic at the time. Monique: “We had a good talk about whether biodynamic farming would suit us. And it felt right from the start."
Martijn and Monique grow a wide range of crops. “We have onions, cauliflower, peas, different types of cereals, potatoes, spinach, pumpkin, and this year also chervil and marigold. The majority goes to the trade and is harvested by machine.” The farm was originally an arable farm, but later it became a mixed farm. Nowadays, the Zonneboog is also home to cows, pigs, chickens and bees.
Cows are an essential part of the biodynamic farm. In winter, the Limousine cows are kept in the stable. All the cows, with their large horns intact, were born in their stable. Three times a week, a big pack of home-grown straw goes into the barn and forms lovely solid manure which is then returned to the land. In summer, the cows roam freely in the woods on the other side of the farm and are used as natural mowers. Martijn: "This is a great collaboration with nature organisations."
The pigs root around in the weeds and eat the waste products. "I like the circular principle of biodynamics," Martijn explains. "For example, the chaff from our corn goes to a local organic chicken farmer, who uses it as bedding for the chicks. We get manure from him, and together with our manure, we have largely completed the cycle.”
A constant learning experience from nature
“It used to be very normal to work with nature,” says Martijn. "But with the arrival of chemicals and fertilisers, this no longer seemed necessary as fertilisers ensured that the plants would grow. Knowledge from the past has slowly disappeared, but there is still so much to learn. Just look at the miracle of soil, for example. Mineral exchanges, the role of soil organisms, cooperating root systems of trees and plants - no distribution centre can beat that! Little by little we discover more, but there are still lots of secrets, even for us. Every year it is amazing to see how everything bursts up out of the ground."
Monique is convinced that this tremendous life force needs something more. “I find it hard to define exactly what that something is, but in biodynamic agriculture we have the space for reflection and sometimes we find answers. The Dutch Biodynamic Association focuses on this through peer-to-peer coaching or by arranging visits to each other's farms. In talks, we also reflect on who we are as people and what we can bring to the farm."
A holistic view
Biodynamics is a type of organic agriculture that stems from anthroposophy; a holistic philosophy based on the relationship between humans, animals, plants, the earth, and cosmos. "I see the farm as its own organism. That may sound vague, but the point is that everything is interconnected.” As an example, Monique mentions the importance of closing the cycle. "Your own manure is very valuable, and by creating ponds, greenbelts and flowerbeds we are increasing biodiversity on our farm." Biodynamic farming is a continuous learning experience for the couple. But it's not a case of switching course and you're there. Monique: "Martijn and I grow with the farm, and the farm grows as a result."
Collaboration is an important theme on the Zonneboog. Monique: “At the end of the year, it’s great to see all the gathered harvest. The land is empty, and the barn is full. Our children regularly help out, and we also work with our customers and the companies around us. For example, we have a business in our barn that processes different types of grain, we supply the local shop and market with our vegetables, and the waste from the shop goes to our pigs."
Filling or nourishing
Monique often asks whether they are ‘filling or nourishing’. "I think it's important that we are providing nourishment. Some people know more about their car's fuel than they do about their own.” She explains that quantity does not always say everything about the quality of a product. "I truly hope that we start to appreciate quality more."
Facing the future with an open mind
The future is exciting for the farming couple. "Agriculture is in transition. But which way will it go? We approach changes in the future with an open mind. We need to respond to changes in society, but we must also stick to our core values."
This article is translated from a Dutch article published by Bio Lekker Voor Je, a campaign to show how organic food fits into a sustainable and conscious lifestyle, and to stimulate consumers to switch to organic alternatives. Visit the website.
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