How cows are making way for soybeans, wine and fruit trees

I grew up by a river, amid meadows, a few houses and scattered farms. In the summer, I’d camp with friends on a farmer’s land. He had 50 cows and 30 horses. I learned to cook on a gas burner and to light fires. We went horse riding, we swam in the lake, helped the farmer milk his cows and hung around. For me it was paradise, but for the farmer, his wife and children it meant working day and night, for little money.

It was not until much later that I realised this. As a teenager, I mainly saw the fun side of farming. I didn’t know that farmers had to comply with a multitude of rules, that they’re always busy tending to their cows, that calves are taken away from their mothers immediately, and that methane is released into the air when cows pass gas.

Much has changed over the years. The carefree country life has turned out to be not so carefree. Farmers still work very hard for little money, but there are now great concerns about the impact of farming on our climate. And so I’m not surprised when I hear – and I’m hearing that more and more – that young farmers are taking over the family business and following a different, sustainable tack.

In the province of Limburg, for example, Mark Venner’s cows are set to make way for trees in the next two years. He no longer sees a future in his parents’ dairy farm, but he did see opportunities to combine his love of nature with his agricultural background. That’s why he took over the family business. A ‘food forest’ will arise on 50 acres of grassland. It will be a mix of crops with fruit trees, nut trees, herbs and tubers. The food forest will take CO2 out of the air and it’s good for biodiversity. 

The brothers Tom and Bart Grobben from the Twente region also took over their parents’ business. But they had a wild plan. They saw  that more and more types of plant-based milk were making strides in the market and they wanted to contribute to this development. Tom and Bart still have 75 dairy cows, but since 2016 they’ve also been growing soybeans from which they’re making their own milk. Their company is called De Nieuwe Melkboer (The New Milkman). It’s quite a challenge to grow soybeans in the Dutch climate, but it’s working out well. 

Hans Ypma from the village of De Rips closed down the farm that had been in the family for generations. When he fell ill a few years ago, he was compelled to part from his 160 cattle, and that’s when he came up with the idea to start a vineyard. He now has five acres of vines. His vineyard is called By Ypma, and this summer he presented his first wine: Peeldorpje. In an interview with the local daily Eindhovens Dagblad, Hans says he has never been happier.  

There are plenty more stories about creative and brave farmers who believe sustainability is important and who are changing tack.

And who knows, maybe I’ll be allowed to camp on the land of one of these farmers some time.

Asceline Groot is an entrepreneur at hetkanWEL (itCANbedone), author of ‘Het Nieuwe Groen’ (The New Green), Content Coordinator at The Crowd Versus and promoted at Radboud University Nijmegen. In her columns, she writes about social enterprises and start-ups and about trends and developments in sustainability.