"In short it's a democratic civil society system...
Founder of Terre de Liens
Land of connections
Fifty years ago Sjoerd Wartena (now 82) left his job as a specialist in Dutch language and culture at Amsterdam University for a life as a goat farmer in France. When in 1973 he settled with his wife and child in Vachères-en-Quint, a hamlet in the Drôme department in France, he encountered a deserted farming community where only a few impoverished retired farmers still lived.
Along with friends, the family began a life as small farmers, making goat’s cheese and later growing organic herbs. They quickly discovered that life in the French countryside was very different from life in Amsterdam. They faced setbacks including sick goats, failed harvests and fungal infections. The ‘old folk’ of the village soon realized they were not dealing with dreamy hippies but with people who wanted to work hard and learn. Wartena discovered that the elderly farmers harboured a treasure trove of knowledge and experience and were eager to share it – knowledge that was slowly dying out along with rural communities.
In France more than half of all farmers are older than fifty and more and more farms are falling empty as farming communities cease to exist.
In 1980 the idea arose of Terre Liens, an organization that provides financial assistance to like-minded farmers so that they can acquire land or a farm.
It took until 2003 to get Terre de Liens up and running. It consists of a federation of regional associations, twenty of them now, under something known as a limited partnership with its own foundation. Terre de Liens has so far been able to invest more than a hundred million euro, enabling the purchase of 350 farms. The foundation has a staff of sixty and more than a thousand volunteers. Furthermore, Wartena was present at the inception of ‘Objectif Terres’. Its goal is simple: to bring together in one place information about all the farmland available for sale, so that organic farming and farmer-driven agriculture can be aided and stimulated region by region. It also lobbies in Brussels for access to the land for small organic farmers, because for real change Brussels is where you need to be.
“The big players of the food industry dominate European farming policy. Their main argument is that a growing world population can be fed only by means of industrial agriculture. But that is a fallacy. Human beings are still for the most part fed by small-scale farmers, by family farms. The solution is not to banish small farmers to the cities and develop large-scale agriculture. We need to help them gain access to more land, to seed, to investment opportunities and knowledge, thereby creating a strong rural structure that is full of life, both socio-economic and ecological. Small-scale agriculture is not a romantic utopia but a serious answer to a failing European agriculture policy.”
Terre de Liens
Terre de liens is a movement that established financial structures that are embedded in a social and solidarity context, with shareholders, donors and volunteers – in short, a democratic civil society system. The movement buys and manages land, considering it not as a commodity but as a common good that will not be sold again. It’s a laboratory of change that rents out land for organic, ‘peasant’ farming, using the word ‘peasant’ not purely for small farms but in the social sense of ‘community connected farming’, in harmony with its social surroundings.
...that buys and manages land, considering it not as a commodity but as a common good that will not be sold again."
"We will not find solutions to the ecological crisis by means of political and economic reform, ethical charters, technological advance or daily eco-gestures alone. External ecology is not sufficient. It has to be complemented by internal ecology."
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