These young Dutch farmers are creating an ecological sanctuary on 45 hectares: “We have no time to lose”

young regenerative farmers 't Gagel
longread

These young Dutch farmers are creating an ecological sanctuary on 45 hectares: “We have no time to lose”

Author Nadine Maarhuis Photographer Diane van der Marel Published 17 June 2024 Read time 5 minutes

On 45 hectares of depleted land, Dutch farmers Anne, Ricardo, Daan and Roos show how quickly you can bring back life to a farm. Over the course of mere months, they’ve laid the foundation for a regenerative market garden, a campsite, an orchard and a tree nursery full of biodiversity. “We have no time to lose”, Anne says.

What’s it like having to leave a place where you can identify nearly every plant and recognize the birds by their call? When Anne van Leeuwen and Ricardo Cano arrived in the Dutch town of Malden in 2019, to start their first regenerative farm called Soil Perspective, they hoped they would never find out. “But the reality is that we wanted to move forward quicker than the estate on which our farm was situated”, Anne explains. “Of course, this hurt, but we also felt a sense of acceptance. As if this was what life had in store for us – a metamorphosis that has already created space for an incredible new adventure.” 

Together with their former trainee Daan Houwers and regenerative chef Roos Burger, over the last few months, Anne and Ricardo have laid the foundations for cooperative farm ‘t Gagel, named after one of the indigenous plants that used to thrive in the area. “We’ve already made some good progress with our no-dig market garden and the campsite, but we’re also planning to open a farm store and connect people through workshops, courses and activities”, Anne explains.

Uitgelichte quote

We want to kickstart agroforestry in this eastern corner of the Netherlands
team 't Gagel Ricardo, Roos, Anne and Daan on their farm. Photographer: Diane van der Marel
Anne van Leeuwen and Ricardo Cano 't Gagel Anne van Leeuwen: "We want to create a radically diverse farm, full of life." Photographer: Diane van der Marel

Kickstarting agroforestry

In addition, the farm – that consists of 45 hectares – will be the home to a regenerative orchard and tree nursery. “We want to kickstart agroforestry in this eastern corner of the Netherlands”, Daan explains. “Our aim is to inspire the local agricultural community, because farmers can achieve so much ecologically if they integrate edible trees and hedges into their land.” Furthermore, investing in trees makes sense financially, as environmental organizations, food forests and businesses who want to offset their emissions are in constant need of strong seedlings grown without any chemicals, Daan asserts. “It’s an emerging market full of potential.”

Uitgelichte quote

Once the Bog-Myrtle, the indigenous plant our farm was named after, returns, we are on the right track
young regenerative farmers 't Gagel The young farmers have big plans for the future. Photographer: Diane van der Marel
young regenerative farmers 't Gagel Daan, Anne, Ricardo en Roos (from left to right). Photographer: Diane van der Marel

Radically diverse

“One of our KPI’s is 5,000 tree frogs”, Anne laughs, “which means we will have to be careful whilst harvesting in the orchard to prevent shaking them out of the trees.” She can’t wait to see the meadowland birds, owls and other species return to the farm. “To attract wildlife, we will create natural zones around the small canalized stream that runs through the land”, Daan adds, “with pools, pollard willows, a marsh area and other landscape elements that are characteristic of the region, like wooded banks and hedgerows.” 

“And once the Bog-Myrtle, the indigenous plant our farm was named after, returns, we know we are on the right track”, Anne concludes. 

Cooperative ownership

Moreover, what makes this farm unique, is that in the coming years the farmers will look for hundreds of people willing to purchase land shares and subsequently become co-owners of the site. With this freed up capital, Lenteland, a Dutch foundation who’s determined to provide young regenerative farmers with access to land, will buy and liberate another farm from the economy, hence providing an antidote to ever rising land prices. 

“We’ve already had many requests from people who want to become a co-owner and, in return, would like some advice on how to regenerate their own garden”, Anne says. “This way, we’re able to restore multiple places at once and, because their money flows back to Lenteland, they also contribute to the agricultural transition at large. What more can we ask for?” 

Looking for more on how we can put ecology at the heart of our economy? Follow us on LinkedIn and Instagram!

Originally published on the 21st of March 2024. Translated on the 27th of June by Nadine Maarhuis.

't Gagel
Around this small canalized stream that runs through the land, the farmers will create natural zones. Photographer: Diane van der Marel