Sunday, March 22, 2009

Community gardening in Belgium

One thing I've had to get used to in Belgium is not having my own garden. We're in an apartment, and while I have grand plans for container gardening on the balcony, it's not the same as getting my hands dirty in real soil. So, since we arrived here, I've been asking around for allotment gardens, eyeing abandoned land, and trying to find anyone willing to donate a patch of soil. What I found is something much, much better than I ever hoped for!
Het Open Veld (The Open World) is a "Community Supported Agriculture" initiative run by Tom Troonbeeckx just outside Leuven in Heverlee. CSA is a community driven model for food growing and distribution, in which the community basically buys into the farm and shares both bounty and risk with the farmer. At Het Open Weld, this means that we pay 170 Euros per adult per year, and get to harvest fresh, organic, local fruit and veggies from the farm as long as things are growing. The farm is less than 10 minute by bike from our flat, we can go harvest any time we please, and there are things growing almost year-round. There is a poly-tunnel where spring garlic and fresh lettuce greens like arugula are ready for picking (yellow flag means harvest away!), two fields where 70 varieties of veggies will be growing, and an orchard with 22 varieties of cherries. And of course fresh herbs... and strawberries...

Luckily for us, Tom also welcomes help in the garden. Although he's been growing things since he was twelve, he's not from a farming family, and starting his own farm would have been very difficult. Instead, he found out about CSA, and three years ago he launched the initiative with 80 members. Now he has many more, and has expanded to almost one hectare of land. It's a lot for one person to manage, so any help is welcome. Best of all, since he's not a 'professional' farmer, he doesn't expect you to have a lot of experience or always do things perfectly. On Saturday, we spent an absolutely gorgeous morning working 'on the farm'. I planted herb seeds (3 varieties of basil, dill and some unknown herb - we're going to have to learn the Dutch names of vegetables fast!) and Steve got to dig out weed shrubs from the orchard. Meanwhile, Tom was driving around the field in his plant oil powered tractor.

It really doesn't get much better than this. We're supporting somebody who really wants to be a farmer, we get to work on the farm whenever we want without being responsible for it, we hope to learn all about growing vegetables and farming, and all this while getting local, organic, really fresh and really good veggies. Awesome!

1 comment:

  1. So cool. I've been dreaming about joining a CSA for a while. Unfortunately I think we wouldn't use it enough because there are not enough "i'll try any veggie" types in this house. Hopefully in the future though.