Visiting one of the oldest agroforestry farms in Belgium

It’s great to be able to join Ilvo’s action lab and explore with other food forest passionate people how we can motivate even more people to think differently.
During one of those sessions on legislation, I meet Louis-Marie Tennstedt.

Louis-Marie runs a farm in Galmaarden with his son-in-law and about a handful of volunteers. He took the torch from his father-in-law. Much to the surprise of all the farmers in the neighborhood who, in their minds, had already divided that patch of land. What makes his story so unique is that he didn’t start until after he retired. This ensured that he could do his thing in complete freedom. Experimenting he calls it himself and ‘oh how I made mistakes’.
He combines classical cultivation with trees and shrubs. Every 56 meters he plants rows of edible trees and shrubs.
That 56 meters is tailored to his machines. These tree strips are brimming with biodiversity but it also has many other benefits. So you can see how those strips keep his precious soil from washing away. In some places there is about 40 to 60 cm difference in height. That’s something you don’t always think about as an ordinary farmer but here you can just see that the good soil stays neatly in place.

You feel that he speaks with knowledge. Even if, to one the peasants in the village, he seems like a “bleuke” who has just come squeaking in. 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 doesn’t hide his love of beautiful wood but he does it primarily 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’ note has become a real gem and unfortunately in the park is long gone. At Louis-Marie’s they show off alongside other new seedlings bearing the names of his grandchildren.

It is an idyllic place and the nuts are there for the taking. Some are as big as a golf ball and this time not an empty box because they are well filled, he shows with some pride. A major retail chain has expressed interest. That would be super because economically it is still sideways. It takes time for those “edible” trees to bear sufficient fruit financially as well. But it doesn’t stop him.

At the same time you discover how difficult it is here in Belgium as an ‘agroforestry’ pioneer to follow all those different rules. His piece of land is farmland and that is fine you would think. But then when you start planting trees and shrubs it becomes complex. The various administrations themselves sometimes literally and figuratively cannot see the wood for the trees. What is good for the Flemish Landscape Society, may not be good for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries or may not be good according to municipal regulations,…. That’s not to mention the changing rules of the game to get grants or not. You need a thick sheet and you need to be bold. But it shows once again that you really have to be made of 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 farmland without regulations. Except that they are not allowed to use pesticides. Man I think we would be amazed at what would be possible then.

Trees De Bruyne

Now I get it. Belgium has little forest land and it should be cherished. Also, farmland is our highest asset because it simply provides food for the table. But I can’t help thinking that today there is no room for us to translate the law into today’s reality. After all, we don’t live in the days of Napoleon anymore. The climate will also change faster than our rules can follow.

It did lead Marie-Louis to acts of desperation at times. Destroy then but that timber side that was a boon to biodiversity. He did it with pain in his heart. Hoping to get some things moving.
The neighborhood farmers view what he does with some suspicion. It is indeed true that the edges of his plots yield less because they are shaded by trees. But he’s happy to take that on board. In the long run, he sees only advantages.

It is nice to see 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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