Where are you now with your project?
The food forest is almost completely standing, and the perennial vegetable kitchen garden and pick-your-own flower garden are also fully established.
The revenue models we're really rolling out this year. We mainly sell products to restaurants.... We're doing research on proper pricing; how does it work with logistics? How does it work with harvesting? What produce do we want to sell? Which ones are too labor intensive? It's very experimental this year.
Where do these products come from?
From the entire food forest and perennial vegetable garden, for example, udo, japanese forest asparagus, various edible flowers and fruits such as currants
But also yarrow which is literally everywhere in the food forest, which they then want very small "sprouts" of.
It's very broad actually. Particularly focused on the herb and shrub layer though.
What are these chefs' reactions to spices they are completely unfamiliar with?
Super positive. They walk along on harvest walks to discover new things, to taste. You see the chefs enthusiastically going to the restaurant with a filled crate to try out. Orders often follow from this.
Because they're whole new flavors, but they can what?
Yes, you have to find the right relationship. Not every chef is a good fit for this pioneering phase. We now have a relationship that wants to explore with us how to use new flavors from new products. That's great. That makes for very rapid developments. If a chef like that can make something fun with it, it quickly becomes normal, and other chefs start trying it too. Like an oil slick spreading.
So outlet market is chefs. What else do you guys do?
The picking flower garden is open for sustainable self-picking bouquets between May and October. We have a set stem price and people can pay by the time. See our social media for current opening days and times!
What has been your motivation to start?
For both Carlyn and me, our motivation is a strong drive to make this world a little more beautiful. Especially with all the intense problems we as humanity have to deal with right now, such as climate change, biodiversity loss, soil depletion, etc. Food forests is a great concept that addresses a lot of these problems. Socially, ecologically and climate. For that reason, with our motivation, our idealism, and pragmatism, it was a great combination to start a food forest as entrepreneurs.
When did the penny really drop?
For me when I came back from Sweden, my parents had wanted for a long time, for their land to be used differently. I had been introduced to permaculture and food forests there, and then things moved very quickly.
For Carlyn, the penny had dropped in her head before, she had long been walking around with the idea of a sustainable farm that also has social impact and where all kinds of nature-innovative businesses gather. At the time, she was still working as a change manager at NS and was busy with that. When that took a little less time and she saw that at 't Mortelke the 'farm' could be realized she jumped on board full of passion.
And then you dared to do it right away?
Yes, kind of crazy just starting out. And it worked out well. Especially when Carlyn was fully on board things went really fast and everything fell into place. We are a good team!
You have quite a lot of knowledge and experience. Where does that come from?
Both of us studied. Kyara a bachelor in Psychology and a master in Sustainability and Carlyn a bachelor in Cultural Anthropology and a master in Sustainability and International Development. We learned a lot here about the complexity of problems, also how to learn and tackle new topics and challenges.
And the green knowledge, did you invent it playfully along the way?
Yes. Listening a lot to experts, and visiting existing projects, looking carefully, reading a lot and taking courses. Among other things, also with food from the forest.
How did you like the Food from the Forest course?
We did the business plan module. We did other modules only after that. This one also made my sister participate even more actively. Very inspiring it was. So it wasn't so much about green knowledge yet. We were actually flying before we had wings.
What challenges have you encountered, even flying before you had wings?
Lots of lessons of how not to do it. Structure trees placed too early. We had not established a proper watering system on our dry plot. The soil should have rested much longer. We sorted it all out again, but with the knowledge of now, I would do it very differently next time.
How do you look for a solution?
Thinking logically will take you very far. In addition ask people with intellect and experience. For example you see drought, then you figure out for the long term we need more organic matter in the soil. How are we going to do that? There are different roads to Rome. Listening well, asking questions, networking, and of course our good friend Google.
3 years on. Did you have the adventure like this in your mind?
I'm happy with it. But the presentation of a lazy farmer, I don't quite agree. It's just hard work, and if you want to set up the business properly it's as much work as any other start-up. There is a lot involved, you have to do the marketing yourself, arrange your own marketing yourself. You're not just a producer. It doesn't go to auction like the big farmers do. There's quite a lot involved! And that's a lot of fun.
But you also did choose a very diverse revenue model. I think the concept of food forest is still a lazy farmer, but you guys have made more of it.
Yes, we wanted to be profitable sooner. Because otherwise you would have to wait longer. And that's fine. But we wanted to put more gas on it. However, we still think that a food forest is not for a lazy farmer. You do more physically yourself, like possibly making adjustments such as removing blackberries, for example. Also, you will have to water if you are in a dry area with for example sandy soil and harvesting is also just (human) intensive especially if you have many different crops. Moreover, the design that underlies a food forest is also not exactly made overnight. There is always something to do. It's just work that gives a lot of satisfaction.
The biodiversity returning, the bees, the flowers, the high diversity, it's great to see this land transformed. That's something I wouldn't have wanted to miss.
It is wonderful work but certainly not lazy work.
Have you done the biodiversity measurement as well?
Yes, we have done a baseline measurement with your method. Our intern has been working on this recently.
Do you agree with project food forest harvest? The measurement biodiversity measurement, CO2 ...? Do you see its value?
Yes because I think ecosystem services, because that's what you're actually looking at, are going to have a monetary value in the future. And if you can capture that properly, then you can also substantiate the financial system behind a food forest much better, and also show better how profitable it actually is. If you don't capture that with data, you won't be able to do anything with it and it will always remain something vague. And stay in the goat wool sock sector....
You put that nicely: So from the farmer himself, and not just from the movement, is it very valuable, to also retrospectively show how long systems have been biodiverse?
And also for its own promotion. And self-assurance. And the paradigm shift. That the green numbers count, too.
We are in the process of continuing to grow into a cooperative. To connect everyone, and professionalize the movement. What do you think about that?
A previous intern did many interviews with different parties and buyers. They also often mentioned a cooperative as a form of cooperation. I very much believe that 'together' is stronger. So if you can work together, especially since they are such diverse systems, and mass is hard to come by, then you can come together very powerfully precisely in a cooperative. And make more impact.
If you guys don't do it, we will! Someone has to take the initiative to set that up.
And your further ambitions. I see you have other projects coming up. How are you guys going to finance this?
For 't Mortelke, we fund ourselves from a family fund. And in addition, we also use a GOB grant and are looking for agricultural subsidies. In addition, we are currently establishing the organization Föda Silva with which we also want to facilitate more funding in cooperation with others to realize similar beautiful nature-inclusive projects.
I was hoping you had found a puzzle piece to fund this. But still partly with grants?
Not only. We also want to set up a higher concept called; Föda Silva. We are also working on that. This is 't Mortelke, a project. And from that higher concept we want to have a BV. A kind of land bank where people can put money in. With the banks, of course, you have negative interest, and with us you don't. A kind of secure and sustainable investment with land as collateral. That way you also stimulate people to make the world a greener place and put their money into it. And then underneath that, those projects come to hang. And we're going to help those with other entrepreneurs to make those financially sustainable.
I encourage you! Final question:
If you could only give your fellow food forest farmers 1 tip?
Observe very carefully. And be patient.
To read more about 't Mortelke, visit https://www.fodasilva.com/
Read on if you want to learn more about monitoring your food forest and here if you want to learn more about our courses.