‘Nice, isn’t it, a year-round meal?’ – Herenboer puts the consumer with both feet on the ground

In January last year, the second Herenboeren cooperative started at four metro stops outside Rotterdam. The 26 hectares of Herenboeren de Vlinderstrik are located in a ‘crazy spot’. It is surrounded by the HSL, RandstadRail, Rotterdam Airport and the new highway that will connect the A13 and A16. Yet you have the feeling that you are farm out.

A Herenboerderij is a small-scale cooperative company. It is approximately 20 hectares in size and provides food for about 500 people that can be produced in the Netherlands. The approximately 200 households are all co-owners of the farm. A professional farmer, employed by Herenboeren Nederland, is in charge of the company. Members may help with planting, sowing, hoeing and harvesting. This is how a community is created. It is a mixed farm with animals, an orchard, arable farming and horticulture and possibly a greenhouse.

Our members are available from light to dark green

At the start, each household invests €2,000 to transform a piece of land into a Gentlemen’s Farm. This amount is used to start up the farm. Think of buying seeds, animals and fencing. For an amount of €10 per week per ‘mouth’, the members collect the harvest.

Light to dark green
Why should you become a member of Herenboeren? “I hear many different reasons,” says Diny Knol, secretary of the Herenboeren Rotterdam foundation. “Some want to farm like they used to. Young parents want to teach their children where food comes from. Animal activists want to contribute to food system changes. Our members range from light to dark green.”

That investment of €2,000 means that not everyone can participate. “You have to be able to afford that amount,” Knol agrees. “There are also people with a smaller grant who want their food from a small-scale farm.” The foundation is investigating whether they can also join in exchange for work or another service.

Pigs at Herenboerderij de Vlinderstrik

Members choose what the farmer makes
The members determine, in consultation with their farmer, what happens at the Herenboerderij. Last year’s Bow Tie harvest: 44 different vegetables, mushrooms, pork, eggs, soup chicken, broiler and beef. “Fortunately, I am not in daily contact with all those people,” says Albert Boersen, the farmer of Herenboeren de Vlinderstrik, with a laugh. “Then I didn’t get to work.” The board of the cooperative maintains contact with the members.

Becoming a member of the cooperative is popular. The Butterfly Bow has a waiting list. Even where no Herenboerderij is planned yet, many are interested. “We would like to realize a ring of Herenboeren around Rotterdam,” says Knol, “so that Rotterdammers can enjoy farm life and nature close by.”

We cannot be as efficient as large agricultural entrepreneurs. Gentlemen farming is not the holy grail

Efficiency vs Connection

“Men farmers is certainly not the future for the entire food system,” says Knol. “That is not possible. The future will really be a combination of different systems.” Boersen agrees: “People who oppose ordinary agriculture make me very angry. We cannot be as efficient as large agricultural entrepreneurs. Gentlemen farming is not the holy grail.” They see the added value of small-scale cooperative companies in other areas. Growing food together is healthy, makes you proud and creates a bond. We’ll just have to take that lower efficiency for granted, Boersen suggests.

“As a Herenboer, I show our members, also via Instagram, what it takes to produce food.” He puts the consumer with both feet on the ground. “I think that’s the best thing about my job,” says Boersen enthusiastically. “People want to eat with the seasons. That sounds very nice, but eating coal and carrots for a winter will also come out of your nose. In March and April there is virtually nothing to harvest. ‘Nice, isn’t it, eating along all year round?’ I say teasingly to our members.”

Especially in the Randstad area many have an opinion about food that does not always correspond to reality

Vegan in the city

Animal welfare is also a subject on which many members have an opinion. “You can think chickens housed because of the bird flu is pathetic. It is required by law”, explains Boersen. “Fortunately, some members are more realistic. They correct the less realistic ones.”

Especially in the Randstad area, many have an opinion about food that does not always correspond to reality, says Boersen. “The vegan fast food chains are located in the city. There it is in great demand, because it fits their beliefs. Vegan would be healthy and sustainable. Here I show that that story is more nuanced.” Herenboeren de Vlinderstrik provokes discussions about our food, in the environment where it should be, he seems to say.

Thanks to initiatives such as Herenboeren and the self-harvest farm Experience it and Eat it, consumers learn how vegetables, fruit and meat are put on their plate. “If you know what’s involved, you don’t mind throwing something away. Moreover, children who have been here eat more vegetables,” says Knol. “But adults too!” she adds quickly.

Also a great initiative that contributes to a healthier eating style?

You can still register for the second edition of the Healthy Innovation Awards until the end of October. Do you want to join? Send an email to [email protected] before October 31. Include the name of your initiative and your own contact details. We will then contact you.