Article

Deep down, we’re
all farmers

Deep down, we’re
all farmers

Words: Robert Langkjær-Bain

Photos: Kasper Kristoffersen

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Ever wanted to own a farm? Now’s your chance. As concern rises about the impact of agriculture on our climate and biodiversity, thousands of people in Denmark are joining forces to buy up land together, and farm it in a way that captures carbon and nurtures nature.

At a tiny station 60 kilometres north of Copenhagen, Asger Kromand is waiting for the train back into the city, with a smile on his face.

He has spent the day at a nearby farm, learning how to graft branches on to apple trees. “I don’t know if I’m going to graft a lot of trees,” he says, “but to experience it, it’s amazing.”

For 25-year-old Asger, trips to the farm are “sort of meditative”, and the train ride back to his university dorm is one of the best parts. “You’re tired but you also feel happy and empowered,” he says. There’s a special reason why Asger feels this way: he wasn’t just visiting the farm. He owns it.

A community of farm owners

Along with 2,700 other people, Asger is a member of the regenerative farming cooperative Andelsgaarde. Everyone pays 150 kroner a month (about €20, “not much more than a Netflix subscription”) and collectively they’re the owners of three farms – so far.

Watch our four-minute film on Andelsgaarde here.

“It’s so nice that I can do some concrete actions to move towards a more sustainable world”

Asger Balsby Kromand, Andelsgaarde member

The Andelsgaarde movement has grown fast since it was set up four years ago, as a way to tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis. Co-founder Rasmus Willig, a 49-year-old sociologist and father-of-two, had become increasingly anxious about the environment. “We have this huge problem,” he says, “and our children will ask us, what have you done to fix this?

Rasmus couldn’t get the question out of his head, especially when he broke his leg and found himself stuck at home for weeks. While his leg healed, he even co-wrote a book on the topic, What should we reply? But he knew that the real answer had to come in actions, not words. In late night conversations with his wife Ida, ideas began to form. “We wanted to do something positive, something concrete, something that we could see,” said Ida, a faculty dean at Roskilde University. “And we wanted to do it with other people.”

All of this can be yours. Lerbjerggård is one of three farms owned by Andelsgaarde members – so far.

Changing the equation

Agriculture was an obvious place to start. Rasmus has fond memories of growing up alongside farmers in Jutland, but has long been concerned about the impact of Denmark’s highly industrialised, livestock-heavy farms, which together emit more greenhouse gases than its power stations. About half of the country’s entire area is taken up by crops that will be fed to pigs and other animals, and pesticides have contributed to a dramatic fall in the number of insects.

Converting all this to a climate-positive form of agriculture would keep tens of millions of tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere, while improving biodiversity and soil health. But right now Denmark’s agricultural land is owned by less than one per cent of the population, and the average person isn’t in a position to just buy a farm. Andelsgaarde changes that equation, putting land in the hands of as many people as possible.

“It’s a scalable idea: we save up for a new farm, when you’ve bought that, then you buy up the next one”

Rasmus Willig, co-founder of Andelsgaarde

Photo: Niels Thastum

A charitable foundation helped kickstart things by putting up the cash to buy Andelsgaarde’s first farm, which is now being paid back. Monthly fees from thousands of members provide a regular influx of funds to purchase more properties. Rasmus says: “It’s a scalable idea: we can save up for a new farm, when you’ve bought that, then you buy up the next one. We’re looking for the fourth and when we’ve found that, we’ll buy up the fifth.”

Members get to take part in working days and events at the farms, helping to sow and harvest vegetables, hanging out with other members and getting dirt under their fingernails. For people like Asger Kromand, it’s a chance to reconnect with nature, while doing something good for the planet. “I come up to Andelsgaarde to just get out from the city, where the air just feels fresher… and everything is more calm. It just feels so nice that right here on my doorstep… I can do some concrete actions to move towards a more sustainable world. That’s really important to me.”

What members don’t get is free vegetables, or a cut of the profits. Andelsgaarde owns the land and infrastructure, which it leases on favourable terms to steward farmers who do the day-to-day work of running the farms, in line with Andelsgaarde’s organic, planet-positive principles. “We often get asked, what do I get for my €20 a month,” says Rasmus Willig. “What you’re really getting is, you’re getting to be part of the solution.” That opportunity has already been enough to attract thousands of paying members.

Members gather in the new greenhouse that they collectively own at Lerbjerggård.

Rebuilding ecosystems, step by step

Lerbjerggård farm isn’t hard to pick out from the fields of single crops that surround it. Forty different kinds of vegetables are growing here, and there’s an orchard with 500 young fruit trees and bushes. Around half the space is taken up by a meadow that has been left to nature. There’s no tractor, and the farmers do minimal tillage, and keep soil covered with crops through the winter, helping to retain carbon, microorganisms and fungi in the ground. 

There are ducks and, in the summer, a few cows that help fertilise soil. It’s a small start – just five hectares – but the scale of ambition is evident from the brand new timber-framed greenhouse, specially designed for the site, to provide indoor growing space and a place for members to gather.

Nanna Thomsen, one half of the couple that run Lerbjerggård, is a graduate of Denmark’s only organic farming school. Nanna says: “We took over a soil that has been producing potatoes… and it has been done with synthetic fertilisers. It’s been like a desert for so many years. Now there are coming a lot of insects. We’re just waiting for the predators of the insects also to join the party. It will come, slowly. That’s how ecosystems rebuild.”

Nanna Thomsen runs Lerbjerggård with Christopher Lieblein Lundgren.

Time to start caring

In Copenhagen, Nikolaj Thomsen is filling up his market stall with organic fennel, garlic, pumpkins and potatoes from Brinkholm, another Andelsgaarde farm. Markets are a chance to show the quality of the produce, and tell the story behind it. (Rasmus Willig has urged the farmers to make sure people “pay what it costs”, and the city folk are queueing up to do so.)

“This is our favourite way of selling our produce,” says Nikolaj, “because we meet the people who are going to eat the food that we spend so much time and effort growing. We get to look each other in the eyes. It’s not just a carrot that we sell to a person, it’s more than that.”

“We have to start caring about the soil and where our food comes from. I think that’s where it begins”

Ida Willig, co-founder of Andelsgaarde

Andelsgaarde is now on the hunt for a fourth farm, hopefully somewhere in Jutland, Denmark’s agricultural heartland. At the same time the group wants to encourage others around the world to copy the Andelsgaarde model, or find their own ways to shake up our relationship with farming. “We have to start caring about the soil and where our food comes from,” says Ida. “I think that’s where it begins.”

It feels radical to be inviting anyone and everyone to become farm owners. But Rasmus has a hunch that people have secretly been waiting for this chance. “I’m convinced,” he says, “that we all want to be farmers.”

Watch 5 Media’s four-minute film on the Andelsgaarde movement.

Become a farm owner

Visit Andelsgaarde’s site to become a member.

andelsgaarde.dk

Andelsgaarde is a partner of 5

5 is an impact media foundation which helps its partners maximise their impact by telling their stories. In some cases we also provide financial or other support. We produce our content independently and we don’t take payment for coverage.

Find out more about our work with Andelsgaarde and our other partners here.
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