My friend Joop
I want to share a few memories of my time with Joop Wantenaar, one of my best friends. Joop passed away on 31 august this year.
Joop played a key role in my life during the last eight years. Without the discussions with Joop and his generous sharing of his insights from his life as a farmer, I would never have dared to leave industry to become a farmer/nurseryman myself. And when time came for me to start my own agricultural business, Joop and Corine generously offered me a place at their wonderful farm Het Derde Erf.
First interview and discussions about agroforestry
When we moved back to Europe in 2014, I started the "Eetbaar Soest" platform, inspired by Incredible Edible in Todmorden. I reached out to several farmers, and Joop and Andre were the ones who reached back.
We met up and I made an interview for the local ecologically sound food website, and took some photos.
We already then decided to plant some nut trees at their farm.
First nut tree planted in 2016
We planted a walnut tree in the field. Joop was both happy and curious to see how it would work out. They had two 20 year old walnut trees next to their house, and those were doing well, but here in the field it was a much more windy place.
Afterwards, I have come to realize that we should have planted many more shrubs and support trees, to give the walnut trees shelter. Anyways, we were happy to start a collaboration and a crowd-sourcing for more trees.
Sailors for Sustainability visited in 2018
The two sailors of sustainability - Ivar and Floris - came to visit this lighthouse of organic/biodynamic mixed farming. They wrote a section about this on their blog, and were inspired to meet more agroecological farmers during their later journeys.
In this photo, you can see that Joop was not so tall. He was a strong and energetic person, but he was not physically intimidating. He was nice.
A short giant.
Dutch Organic Growers - Bronze medal in 2019
The agroforestry concept with walnut trees among the cows was nominated for the EkoLand Innovation Prize, and we got the bronze medal.
I will not mention how difficult it was to negotiate with the municipality to get a permit to be allowed to plant more trees. (We failed.)
Making space for a nut tree nursery in 2021
When I finally decided to leave industry and work full time with nut trees, Joop and Corine generously offered a place to raise a hoop-house, a workshop and an outdoor field for trees that I could rent.
He jumped into his tractor and harrowed a part of this permanent pasture. Sandy, but well manured and deep soil.
It was the start of a two year intensive work relation. I was at Joop's and Corine's place almost every day for two years. Sometimes I could help out with the cows, sometimes I would hang around with oma Corry. I could borrow tools, and we made infrastructure improvements together. A groundwater pump, electricity for a shed, fixing the roof of the workshop. Small and large things we did together.
Coffee at 11. Some days with other volunteers and clients, sometimes in their home.
It was an intimate time, and I learned a lot about how Joop made the farm financially feasible, despite a government system that is pulling hard to increase industrialization and monocultures. Joop had a background in accounting, which helped him to make the right decisions for investments and to forego many luxuries. He was the only farmer in town without air conditioning in his tractor. I suspect that this farm was the most financially stable.
Joop taught me a lot about everything from getting the cows to the milk machine, to soil health assessments. Enough for me to get EU-organic certification for my tree business, and he shared his thoughts about the strengths and weaknesses of the biodynamic philosophy.
We talked a lot about sustainability, material and energy use, and the role of food as the basis of life. Maybe as the meaning of life.
Joop had an amazing commitment to the health and well-being for his cows, his steer and the calves. Whenever they needed him, he would be there. And when something went wrong, he would cry together with the mother for a lost calf.
We organized a chestnut tasting event at the farm in 2021. 25 people came to taste roasted chestnuts and other chestnut specialties, including "chocolate" ice-cream flavoured with koji-fermented chestnuts.
As typical of Joop, after twenty minutes, he resumed working, this time preparing the vegetable harvest for the Friday CSA pickup.
He really liked to work. To make useful things. To fix things.
In early 2022, I had a storm damage to my hoop-house. It was all my fault, since I had made a mistake when assembling the structure. I had forgotten four screws, and the result was a shear stressed and deformed hoop house.
No problem for Joop, he took the old tractor and we pulled it straight.
Last meet up
One year ago, I moved to Sweden, and have been only occasionally in Soest, so the contact was mostly via phone and email. During the whole winter, Joop had health issues, and in the spring time it was clear that a cancer was taking him down.
On 1 August, I had the chance to go to Soest, and I went all the way from Sweden to meet Joop at his 60th birthday. We met and talked, but there were not enough words to describe the depth of our bond.
Here is the last photo I got of Joop, thanks to Corine.
I am grateful for the time I got to work closely with Joop and to get to know him and his wonderful family. Thanks to Corine, Rebecka, Julius, Sofie. Oma Corry. Harriette. And to the fantastic hangarounds Maja, Jos, Hendrik, Frank, Henrik, Valerie, Gryt, Leonne, Beatrijs, Hans, Arjan, Rob, Erik, Manda-Marieke and everyone else.