At the beginning of August it still looks a bit messy at Engelenhove. There are already chickens walking around and there are young kittens. At the beginning of this year, Jan Dirk van de Voort, his wife Irene and son Peter took over the Engelenhove farm on the Kernhem estate in Ede from Arjan and Karina Schermer. They have big plans for the 18th century farmhouse. Anyone who knows the enterprising Van de Verder a little, knows that they will realize all of them.
Almost 100% fresh grass as feed
The Van de Verder own the Lunters organic farm Remeker. The demand for their raw milk cheese is greater than the supply. “That’s because,” says Jan Dirk, “because the cows eat almost 100% grass. You can taste that.” They keep Jersey cows, a compact, beautiful, brown cow with big brown eyes. The cows eat the grass in the meadow. In a normal growing season, 3 cows need 1 ha. Then they give 16 liters of milk per day with high levels of fat (5.8%) and protein (4.0%).
They had wanted to expand for some time, but there was not enough space at the existing company in Lunteren and there was no land for sale. Until the municipality of Ede knocked on their door. Whether Engelenhove was not something for them? The municipality wanted an organic dairy farm to remain, knew that Remeker was looking for something. One and one became two. “It couldn’t have been more beautiful,” says Peter. They realize they were lucky.
Plowing at Kernhem
They had started plowing and started sowing in March this year. In Ede, they noticed, that means something completely different than in Lunteren. In Lunteren you just plow, not a rooster crowing. When you plow near Kernhem in Ede, people will appeal to you. What are you doing? That it is not the intention to plow on Kernhem Estate? The municipality was called flat: is all that allowed?
However, the topsoil of the organic farm was impoverished and acidified. That is why it was necessary to plow once. However, the municipality wanted nature-inclusive farming, which also meant as little plowing as possible. They agreed not to go deep. Because of the local residents, they only left it at that one time. “Our great luck”, says Jan Dirk, “was the wet spring. It was a risk. It would have been much safer to plow and sow in the fall.” But they chose not to. And because of the soaking wet spring, the country looks beautifully fresh green.
Dairy preparation area and new store
There will be a dairy preparation area at Engelenhove with raw milk kefir and quark. You will soon be able to buy that, just like cheese, meat and ghee, in the new store. They are going to renovate the old wagon shed for this. They also make ice cream. The machine has been ordered and can be delivered at any time. “It is quite easy to make a profit with ice cream”, says Jan Dirk. “Converted, a liter of milk in our cheese yields €2.20. A kilo of cheese contains 6.5 liters of milk. We will soon exceed that with new products, otherwise we might as well stick to cheese. And the milk in kefir and cottage cheese also leaves much more than with hard cheese. We now want to continue working on such products.”
Jan-Dirk calls it a bit tough, but Remeker’s success did not come out of the blue. They’ve known what they want for thirty years. They work hard on a consistently high quality, they experiment with new working methods and communicate openly and frequently about this with the public. In this way, Remeker became a strong brand that managed to build up a large regular customer base.
Not suitable for milking
They don’t go milking on Kernhem, like their predecessors did. The farm is insufficiently suitable for this, as the municipality has apparently come to realize in the meantime. They keep their dairy cattle in Lunteren. They are going to raise their young stock on Kernhem. For the municipality – which previously insisted on milking on site – it is apparently sufficient in line with the zoning plan that the Van de Verder raise young animals in Kernhem and sell milk products based on the Lunterse milk of their mothers there.
Converted, a liter of milk in our cheese yields €2.20. A kilo of cheese contains 6.5 liters of milk. We will soon exceed that with new products, otherwise we might as well stick to cheese. And the milk in kefir and cottage cheese also leaves much more than with hard cheese. We now want to continue working on such products
It is a time of great change for the family in many ways. Also personally. Because Irene’s parents already live at Engelenhove. Jan Dirk and Irene will also live there, to take care of them in the future. Peter and his family go to live on the ancestral farm with cheese factory in Lunteren. They have renovations planned. A lot of excitement.
High turnover per cow
By how many hectares are they actually expanding? “With 23”, says Peter. “All but one and a half hectares belong to the municipality. We can expand by 20 cows in Lunteren to a total of 110. Those 20 extra cows will generate the necessary money for Kernhem.” The underlying calculation is quite simple. A Jersey cow means a turnover of €11,000 per year for them. In regular dairy farming that is € 4000, so a cow yields 2.5 times as much for them. And that with a milk yield that is approximately three quarters of a standard Holstein cow.
It is the result of – they write on their website – above all a lot to leave: using fertilizers and pesticides, dehorning, deworming, pumping, giving antibiotics, synthetic vitamins and concentrates, pasteurising, homogenising, skimming, bactofuging, thermising, and finally adding calcium chloride, nitric acid and (synthetically) refined salt.
Too many burps
When asked what they think about the discussion that farmers should completely disappear from the Gelderse Vallei, father and son look a bit sour. It’s quiet for a while.
“So far fetched,” says Peter. “It will remain with warm remediation. A few stop every day. That goes without saying.” “If the business model isn’t behind it,” adds Jan Dirk, “it won’t work. “
They think that there are too many farmers and that it is inevitable that dairy farming will expand. Simply because there is not enough space for all those farmers. Jan Dirk is a member of Netwerk Grondig, he believes in land-based dairy farming. And in nature-inclusive farming. He is project leader Veluwe Vallei of the Nature Inclusive 5.1 project, a new project under the umbrella of the De Marke cooperative, a cooperative of 300 farmers.
Burger also burps a bit
Citizens do not just have to watch and consume. Anyone who wants to can participate in the Remeker Land Cooperative. He buys land around De Groote Voort in Lunteren, the basic farm. And issues certificates that anyone can buy. Remeker leases the land from that cooperative and turns it into fertile organic agricultural land. And the citizen can then buy an ice cream again, made from the milk of the Jersey cows that thrive on those lands. In this way, citizens at Remeker can also feel a bit of a farmer.
Photo credits: Fam. van de Voort (Remeker cheeses), Claudia Hulshof (on the Kernhem estate)