Would you like to tell us who you are and where you are from?
“I was born in Dodewaard in Betuwe. When I was seven, my parents and I moved to Goes because my father got a job there as an architect’s draftsman. As a teenager I left school. I still had teaching duties and started attending the training class. After that I did a carpentry course and I was able to work at the carpentry factory in Goes. I’ve done everything, laid parquet floors, built canoes, you name it. But I got curious about the computers that appeared. I thought it was amazing what you could do with it and I started on an ICT course. As a help desk worker I have worked in various companies and eventually set up my own website building company. The latter I am phasing out now because I don’t have enough time for it .«
How did you become a gardener from ICT?
“When I was little, my parents had a vegetable garden in the backyard. It’s great to see how carrots and radishes grow. I am interested in ecological life and I am involved in the Party for the Animals as a member of the citizens’ committee in Zeeland’s provincial council. I had read so much about healthy eating and lifestyle that I wanted to put my knowledge into practice. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and I find it very interesting. I believe we can create a better society if we grow food locally and take care of our environment together. There is a common market garden in Groede, Zeeland, and CitySeeds, which supports minimum households, in Middelburg. These are great projects and very inspiring to also set up a self-harvesting and picking garden. It became Tuinderij Plantalia.”
You don’t have a farming background, I understand. How did you get this beautiful piece of land?
“I came into contact with Marieke Engelsman. She has bought a farm with her husband and started a permaculture garden, camping forest and food forest there; Cheese Farm & Stay. One day I took the plunge and asked Marieke if they had a piece of land available that I could lease. That turned out to be the case. I was very lucky that this came my way. It was now or never, so I quit my job and started Tuinderij Plantalia.”
Are you a full-time gardener now?
“Yes, I’m here six days a week. It’s hard work, but it doesn’t feel like it. Never before have I felt so good. I am outside every day and can do something worthwhile. Plantalia works with harvest parts. Participants deposit money at the start of the season. There we buy, among other things, seeds, which volunteer Henk cultivates for planting material. Participants can come and harvest themselves every week. You can help too, but you don’t have to. We share the profits together, even if it is disappointing. Fortunately, we did well again this third year. I feel that I am constantly learning and the planting and harvesting become more efficient as a result. The first year was exciting. The plan may fail. I wasn’t too worried about it. The worst that could happen was that I would have to give all the money back. I gained the trust of the participants and I managed to grow organically, without pesticides. We do not use animal manure. Instead, I use green manure, such as compost. We have been running for three years now and have thirty households participating. As a gardener, I have just enough income to get by. A slightly larger piece of land would be nicer, so if anything becomes available somewhere I’d like to hear about it. What is most important to me now is that we have proven that a CSA is profitable here in Zeeland. Is it possible.”
It sounds like you often have to convince people?
“It depends who you talk to. A lot of people don’t know what it is, others don’t believe it’s possible because they think vegetable gardens don’t give enough. But a vegetable garden with a gardener is not a hobby. It’s a serious way to grow healthy food, in a way that’s good for the earth. What you have to take into account is that we eat with the seasons. There are no courgettes in the spring, but there are in the summer. We harvest the vegetables when they’re ready to harvest. We adjust what we eat accordingly. Throughout the year we have about fifty different crops, some of which you can’t get in the supermarket.”
Who would you like to sit at the kitchen table with?
“With municipalities. I think more space should be made for neighborhood gardens with a gardener. Half a hectare is enough to give a gardener a good income and to supply around sixty households with fruit and vegetables. A vegetable garden nearby is of course also possible, but with a gardener it works more efficiently and you have more continuity in the harvest. The gardener can keep track of what is ready for harvest and what is not yet. We live in a time where things need to change. CSAs can certainly play a role in the transition to sustainable food production. I would like to help municipalities set up projects. Anyone with questions can contact me via the website www.plantalia.nl.”
Lives with partner Petra de Ruiter
Gardener at Plantalia Garden and ICT specialist
Gardening, reading and talking to people about organic living