Visiting one of the oldest agroforestry farms in Belgium

It is great to be able to join Ilvo’s action lab and to investigate together with other food forest enthusiasts how we can motivate even more people to start thinking differently.
During one of those sessions on legislation, I met Louis-Marie Tennstedt.

Louis-Marie runs a farm in Galmaarden with his son-in-law and a handful of volunteers. He took over the torch from his father-in-law. To the great surprise of all the farmers in the area who had already divided that piece of land in their minds. What makes his story so unique is that he only started after his retirement. That ensured that he could do his thing in complete freedom. He calls it experimenting himself and ‘oh what mistakes I have made’.
He combines classic cultivation with trees and shrubs. Every 56 meters he plants rows of edible trees and shrubs.
Those 56 meters are tailored to his machines. These strips of trees are brimming with biodiversity, but it also has many other benefits. This way you can see how those strips ensure that his precious soil does not wash away. In some places there is about 40 to 60 cm height difference. That is something that you as a normal farmer do not always think about, but here you can simply see that the good soil remains neat.

You feel that he speaks with expertise. Even if he looks like a “white man” to the farmers in the village who has just come to beep. He is a forester at heart and loves to hunt. On his many travels in Africa, he saw how people there are one with nature. He makes no secret of his love for beautiful wood, but primarily does it for his grandchildren. So that they too can provide for their food production.

It is thanks to these pioneers that we can look at this ‘new’ way of farming today. He started his walnut tree hearth with nuts from the local park. The ‘bijou’ nut has become a real gem and unfortunately has long since disappeared in the park. At Louis-Marie, they show off alongside other new seedlings that bear the names of his grandchildren.

It is an idyllic place and the nuts are there for the taking. Some are the size of a golf ball and this time not an empty box because they are well filled, he shows with some pride. A large retail chain has expressed its interest. That would be great because it is still a bit of an economic edge. It takes a while before those ‘edible’ trees also bear sufficient financial fruit. But it doesn’t stop him.

At the same time, you also discover how difficult it is here in Belgium to follow all those different rules as an ‘agroforestry’ pioneer. His piece of land is farmland and that’s fine you would think. But when you start planting trees and shrubs, it becomes complex. The various administrations sometimes literally and figuratively can no longer see the trees through the woods. What is good for the Flemish Landscape Company, is not good for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries or not good according to municipal regulations,…. Then we are not talking about the changing rules of the game for whether or not to receive subsidies. You need a thick sheet and you need to be bold. But it shows once again that you really have to be cut from the right stuff to be able to deal with all that resistance.

I dream aloud that all farmers can experiment with about 10% of their agricultural land without any rules. Except that they are not allowed to use pesticides. Man I think we would be amazed at what could be possible.

Trees De Bruyne

Now I get it. Belgium has little forest land and that must be cherished. Farmland is also our highest good because it provides food on the shelf. But I can’t shake the opinion that today there is no more room to translate the law into today’s reality. We don’t live in Napoleon’s time anymore. The climate will also change faster than our rules can follow.

It has sometimes led Marie-Louis to act in despair. Then destroy that wood side that was a boon to biodiversity. He did it with a heavy heart. Hoping to get some things moving.
The farmers in the neighborhood watch what he is doing with some suspicion. It is true that the edges of his plots yield less because they are in the shade of the trees. But he gladly accepts that. In the long run, he only sees benefits.

It is nice to see how his wife and son-in-law complement his words. The knowledge will not be lost, you feel that. You plant a tree for life and posterity. May the force….

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