This case study is about De Landgenoten, a Flemish agricultural foundation and cooperative that allows people who want to farm to get access to land.
De Landgenoten offers an innovative model of finance for farmers: after joining the cooperative, the farmer is supported in setting up a crowdfunding campaign to find local people who want to buy a share of land where they can farm. Delandgenoten is the final owner of the land and it requires the farmer to farm according to organic principles.
Davy Agten is a farmer member of De Landgenoten who created a community-supported agriculture (CSA) organic farm, producing fruits and vegetables for a community of 120 people. Trained in informatics and very passionate about organic and social farming, Davy’ dream is to stop his side work in informatics and become a full-time farmer.
Name: Davy Agten.
Birth year: 1981
Education: Davy has a bachelor’s degree in ICT (Information and Communication Technology) and has completed a course in organic agriculture.
Occupation: Davy has a community-supported agriculture (CSA) organic farm, producing fruits and vegetables. His customers can come to the farm and selfharvest the vegetables. They have a limit in the quantity that should be only ‘for fresh use’ (you can pick “all the vegetable you usually buy and put in your fridge for that week”). Customers have to subscribe for the whole family and pay for the whole year (1 euro per adult per day). Currently, Davy has 120 people now as customers. Moreover, Davy delivers to restaurants, local shops and in farmers’ market. Along with his farm, Davy has a free-lance company of informatics. His work at the farm takes 80% of his time and represents 70% of his income.
Farm location: In Zemst (village south of Mechelen).
Farm Area in ha: In Zemst, Davy has an organic farm of 1.3 acres which is the main operational farm. He has a second one of 4.2 acres (mostly grassland devoted to animal feeding, with sheep and a small vegetable garden).
Farm description: Davy’s CSA farm produces around 70 types of seasonal vegetables and fruits and chickens for egg production. Davy has 2-full time seasonal workers for 4 months and no family members working at the farm.
Davy has been working as a farmer for De Landgenoten for 2 years. Before, Davy started another farm with a colleague where he worked part time. After one year, Davy saw an opportunity from De Landgenoten who was searching for a new farmer. So, he applied and became full-time farmer in summer and winter.
Davy farms according to organic principles, because this is a requirement from De Landgenoten.
Davy chose a CSA model for his organic farm because the previous farmer who was working on the land had a similar model. Moreover, Davy had experience of an internship done in a CSA farm.
According to him, CSA farms have the advantage that in case of crop failure, the risk is shared between the farmer and community, so “the community stands behind you”.
The land where Davy is working is owned by De Landgenoten, a cooperative and a foundation that buys agricultural land with the money of shareholders and donors. Davy has an agreement with De Landgenoten and he has to pay a set amount per year (around 350 euro).
Davy is the owner of the three greenhouses and the machines.
Davy’s farm can be considered a multifunctional farm. Along with producing quality products, it is a social farm: Davy welcomes groups of people with disabilities every week to come and help him in the garden. Moreover, Davy’s sells products directly on his farm every Saturday and he offers didactic activities (schools visits and internships).
De Landgenoten offers an innovative way of providing access to finances and land to farmers.
If a farmer wants to buy a piece of land, they can ask De Landgenoten foundation to buy the land for them. The principles of De Landgenoten is not to give land to individuals but to groups of people. The farmer sets a crowdfunding campaign helped by the foundation and they look for local people around the farm that want to buy a share of the land. But the final owner of the land is DeLandgenoten, who requires a fee from each farmer.
The requirements to get land at De Landgenoten are: to be an organic farmer, have relevant experience in farming and desire to farm long-term, and present a realistic business plan.
The benefits of being part of De Landgenoten is that it ensures stability (the land is given to the farmer career-long). Moreover, by participating in De Landgenoten, Davy saw his financial risks decreased and a higher income. Finally, De Landgenoten stimulates generational renewal.
The challenge of De Landgenoten system is that crowdfunding can be time-consuming. In the case of Davy, he didn’t have to do the crowdfunding, he just applied as a replacement for a share of land from a previous farmer.
Davy has experience with traditional ways of finance: in order to buy equipment, Davy unsuccessfully asked for a bank loan. Then, he used win-win crowdlending with money lent from his parents-in-law.
Along with being part of De Landgenoten, Davy is very engaged in networks: he has a cooperation with 3 farmers for direct selling at the market and he is part of the Belgian CSAs network.
Davy has several plans for the future. He wants to improve the soil quality of his fields, plant more trees for climate change mitigation, increase the memberships (from 120 customers to 160 customers), quit the side job as free-lancer in informatics and be a full-time farmer.
“With alternative financing such as crowdfunding or funding by community or win-win loans, you don’t get only money from people, but you gain real supporters for your project. They invest in you and want you to achieve your goals. So, you feel motivated to perform for your community!”
Training experiences and gaps: Apart from the course in organic farming, Davy did not receive any specific training that was useful for managing the farm. However, Davy regularly listens to podcasts, audiobooks and he has a subscription to books on soil or farming.
In his opinion, the most important competences in his job are physical and mental endurance and a reflective attitude to think always how to do things better or faster. He believes that farmers should have knowledge on soil.
Final considerations: Social innovation and experimentation are the “fils rouges” of this case study.
De Landgenoten is an innovative example when it comes to access to land and to finance for farmers. It is a cooperative and it uses crowdfunding to support farmers in accessing to land.
Davy Agten, member of De Landgenoten, embodies a new type of farmer, who does not come from a farming background but who chose to farm for passion. He is a farmer strongly devoted to community principles (he decided to adopt thecommunity-supported agriculture model for his farm), he is creative and willing to experiment forms of social innovations (such as self-harvest from the customers) and he is engaged in several networks. He is very passionate about farming, aware of the environmental impacts of farming (on soil) and he likes to study and keep himself updated using innovative learning methods, such as listening to podcasts.