As an organic farmer, I feel like a fish out of water in this area

Eric Lamers

"As an organic farmer, I feel like a fish out of water in this area."

Interview with Eric Lamers (43, with 6-year-old son Tom), Vierlingsbeek, organic dairy farmer and owner of the Schutkooi in Vortum-Mullem)

For 20 years, Eric has been an organic dairy farmer in the area. Seven years ago, the forester came to Eric and told him that a farm was going up for sale in Vortum-Mullem. "I went by the then farmer, he was retiring and the lease was not renewed. I arranged a coffee appointment with the steward, the Protestant church still owned this land at that time and so it happened."

Eric was immediately charmed by the farm, but it took a little imagination. What is now the Schutkooi was then a stable. In the corner was a dog with young, some sheep and some calves. The roof was low with straw in the attic. He snapped on a light and warily explored the space. "I saw it right away. BAM! This must be it. A bike path runs along it, it's in the floodplain and surrounded by landscape with no buildings. If there's anywhere a coffee house has to run it's here!", Eric tells me.

"It was a big job, I still don't understand how we managed it!". The Schutkooi has been successfully supporting the organic dairy farm as a catering establishment for several years now. Part of the menu comes directly from their own farm.

Finished with entrepreneurship, Eric is far from finished. "We are making a cheese factory and are the first butterfly farmer in the Netherlands. We are also going to make the first butterfly cheese. It's fun here and it's going to be a lot more fun."

What does the Maasheggen mean to you?
"As an organic farmer, I feel like a fish out of water in this area. On all sides I can undertake as if nothing gets in my way. If you do something that fits here, you automatically get people around you who help you do it. If I wanted to make a chemical product here, I wouldn't get cooperation, but for the plans I have to put the area more on the map, I would. If you do your thing with passion for your profession, people are willing to think along with you. Although sometimes that cooperation is a bit slow!"

What do you think is the most beautiful spot at Maasheggen?
"For nature lovers, the Maasheggen area is fantastic. Every day there are people here with binoculars on the terrace. They come for the grasshopper, the robin, yellowhammer, barn owl. Once a year someone comes for the true cuckoo flower, but secretly that is little. We need to focus more on fauna and less on flora to make it more interesting for people. The hedges, on the other hand, remain very special".

"Also, here lies the best soil in the Netherlands, not to be worked by machines. If you give a little gas with your machine you are already in the hedge again, but my cows can".

What could be better?
"Maasheggen was started by farmers planting hedges, that's how the area was created. Such a UNESCO status, I'm very proud of it. This is where the flag goes out. But I am also critical. This area is made by local people, like Amsterdam is made by the people of Amsterdam. I would like to see more talks with agricultural entrepreneurs here by the municipality asking, "How can we help you? After all, the agricultural entrepreneurs in the area are under pressure and are struggling to make a living here." In other places, Eric sees this happening more, he says. "A fellow farmer in Delfgauw is facing urban expansion in The Hague. As a result, the municipality has to compensate in the polder. There, the municipality is constantly taking the initiative to get farmers together. They are then told that the polder must be preserved and they look at what the farmers need in order to continue to exist there. They do set the condition that they want to see you at the fair on Sunday, with a regional product, but that's only good. And you get a course in receiving people, communication course. The local people have to do it, they are the most important thing."

Also at the Schutkooi
Monique and Frank van der Zanden also have their own businesses in the yard of the Schutkooi. For example, Monique writes children's books and her husband Frank is a shepherd. Among other things, they organize activities for children with the sheep herd.

In the Melis, daycare center the Schutkooi provides small-scale daycare and learning-work programs for people with disabilities in a natural and inspiring environment. The people from the day care also play an important role in the maintenance of the area, including painting the barriers and in the future pruning the hedges in the area.

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