Arable farmer through organic to agroforestry

In 1994 François Ongenaert took over his fathers’ farm, at that time a conventional 35 ha farm. Shortly afterwards he planted a wooded bank and a number of hedges. In those hedges, surrounding a large part of his farm, he planted pollard  willows. Problems he encountered in conventional farming resulted in his choice to start farming organically. He also did that realizing: ‘if I will not do it, then who will? Because there are a 100 reasons why one should not take that decision.’

In 2012 a well thought-out switch to agroforestry followed. Due to various circumstances, among which land expropriation, the size of Ongenaert’s Farm had by then decreased to 16 ha. François planted walnut trees and sessile oaks in a former grass-clover pasture. In another field he choose a combination of cherry and walnut trees with annual crops such as hemp and grain. These trees are expected to yield nuts, fruit and high quality wood. The trees have been planted in rows, 12,5-20 metre apart from each other depending the species. Altogether, apart from the hedges and shrubs, approximately 500 trees are growing on François farm. His has great ambitions, aiming at closing cycles and a sustainable form pof  agriculture requiring low inputs. He immerses himself in the multiple functions trees can fulfil by for example mining nutrients and communicating with fungi.

The products of Ongenaert’s Farm are sold on local markets. Recently he has been working with Pomona, a consumer cooperative, whose members want to be assured of healthy food. They see François as their ideal partner, from whom so to speak, they would like to buy anything ‘except for oranges and bananas’. To support the farm, the cooperative bought an adjacent piece of land of 1.22 ha. Soon François will start to keep livestock again. The overall picture: a very inspiring example, based on learning and development, that stands out for cooperation with its customers.

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