Brecht Goussey is an organic farmer and runs a community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm in the area of Leuven, Belgium. What he struggles with most is access to healthy soil and affordable land to grow food for his local community. Together with thousands of people, Greenpeace Belgium is crowdfunding a direct support network for farmers just like Brecht.
Doing what I love most: farming
I’d been working as a social worker for years but, ever since I was a boy, I dreamed of becoming a farmer. Two years ago, I made up my mind. It was time to start doing what I loved the most: cultivating land!
Today, I grow vegetables for approximately 320 people on a 1.5 hectare plot. Those people harvest the vegetables themselves. But I have bigger plans: three colleagues and I aim to cultivate an integrated farm with vegetables, fruits, cereals, potatoes and flowers, as well as cows, sheep and other animals. The manure of the cattle is used to fertilise the soil and we close the cycle on our company, which results in more biodiversity, flowers, wild plants and bees.
Land is more expensive than what can be produced on it in one farmer’s career
But we’re not quite there yet. It’s uncertain for how long and under what conditions I can keep using my current plot. In a situation like this, it’s pointless to invest in permanent crops like rhubarb and fruits or in landscape measures like hedges. How will I ever be able to turn this into a real sustainable farm?
I would like to buy the land myself but, just like many young would-be organic farmers, I don’t have enough money to buy agricultural land in Belgium. Speculation, shortage and scaling-up have dramatically increased prices. Oddly enough, land is becoming more expensive than what you can produce on it in an entire career.
Luckily, I’m not alone. I’m being supported by ‘De Landgenoten’ (‘The Countrymen’), a cooperative that buys farmland and rents it to organic farmers. Together, we’re looking for people, organisations and companies who would like to invest in this programme. If we collect enough money to buy ‘my’ plot of land, I will be able to cultivate it for the rest of my life. Thereafter, ‘De Landgenoten’ make the land available for other farmers.
This method suits my philosophy perfectly. Agricultural land must not stay in the hands of only a few big companies or rich individuals. We have to return our land to our local communities. Furthermore, we need more organic farmers who, instead of impoverishing the soil, embrace it and protect it for generations to come. And not with artificial manure, which only improves the fertility for the short term, but with crop rotation, compost and diversity. We need farmers who improve the ecosystem and stimulate an increase of biodiversity.
Together with Greenpeace Belgium, you can directly support the work of ‘De Landgenoten’ in Flanders, and ‘Terre-en-vue’ in Wallonia, and the dozens of ecological farmers they provide with affordable land. For me, these first square metres mean one I am step closer to renting my 1.5 hectare plot. This cooperative understood that we – all together – need to improve access to ecological farmland and healthy soil. This will be key to determine the future of farming across Belgium – and further afield.
Brecht Goussey is an organic farmer in Leuven, Belgium.