Portrait: Nico Vandevannet in Belgium

Young Belgian farmer Nico Vandevannet and his family are convinced that healthy food comes from healthy soils. And, in the light of climate change, they also believe that their healthy soils are an investment in the future.

Photo: Frank Toussaint

“My name is Nico Vandevannet. Our farm of six hectares called ‘The Living Earth’ is located in the town of Hertsberge in Belgium. My family has farmed this land for generations. My father decided to transition to organic farming in 1999, and we are careful to protect and nurture soil life, with all its useful fungi, bacteria, and animals such as earth worms.

It is because of the life in our soil that we are able to grow about 40 types of delicious and healthy crops. We disturb the soil as little as possible so that there is always enough organic matter for soil organisms to feed on and live in. That is why we no longer till the land. We also leave the soil covered in winter, when we don’t grow much. After harvesting, I pile the crop residues in compost heaps. Incorporating compost helps close the nutrient cycle on the farm. Now, only our cabbages need a little bit of organic fertilizer. We have very long rotations of over seven years to avoid exhausting the soil, with crops such as California bluebell, chicory, leek, potato, strawberries and cabbage. On field edges we plant flowers which provide shelter, food and refuge to various organisms.

I am convinced that the balance between the nutrients and minerals in our soil can also be found in our crops, and that the food we produce is healthy and nutritious. And this is appreciated by our customers, who we talk to both in our onfarm shop and at farmers’ markets.

Farming this way is hard work, but in the end we are rewarded with healthy soils, healthy crops and healthy people. And there is an added advantage: healthy soils that are rich in organic matter, are better able to hold water. So in light of climate change, healthy soils are also an investment in the future.”

Interview by BioForum Vlaanderen, the organisation for organic farming and food in Flanders, Belgium.

This article was first published in Farming Matters, March 2015