Impact case: Land van Ons - restoring biodiversity

News overview

Joining hands to make Dutch soil healthy for the next generation: that’s what Land van Ons (Our Land) is all about. The citizens’ cooperative buys up agricultural plots. For each, it performs a targeted soil analysis, draws up an organic land management plan and then looks for a suitable tenant. The tenant cultivates the land within the boundaries of nature. The result is healthier soil, sustainable food production, increased biodiversity, ecological landscape restoration and improved water quality.

Depleted land

Two-thirds of the Netherlands consists of agricultural land, totalling 2 million hectares. Over time, the biodiversity of the landscape has deteriorated significantly. Formerly herb-rich grasslands have turned into a “green desert” where a single grass species dominates and li  le else grows. Insects and birds no longer flourish. Boosting crop yields with fertilisers and pesticides depletes the land and has drastically affected soil life. In short, there’s a pressing need for a transition to a different food and farming system.

Out of balance

“The problem with biodiversity is that we don’t see most of it,” Land van Ons co-founder Franke Remerie explained in the TV programme Kruispunt. “Human beings are used to being at the top of the food chain. We’ve arranged the Dutch countryside to serve our needs. We forget that we’re only one of 100 million living organisms on the planet, and that disrupting the balance also works to our detriment. Ultimately, it makes us very vulnerable.”

“Land van Ons looks at what's necessary for making healthy products for consumers as well as what’s healthy for the planet. They believe people have to work together to make a difference. They look for engaged citizens who want to help build a regenerative economy aimed at restoring natural systems and creating a sustainable future. They’re very good at motivating people. They engage people in supporting their mission by taking an accessible approach.”
Freija Vermeer, programme manager, DOEN

Accessible participation

Land van Ons is building a community that collectively buys up land and restores its biodiversity. The entry threshold is low, with membership costing just €20 a year. Each member gets a square metre of land and a voice in the decisions made by the cooperative. They can also apply for a position on the board or join one of the plot teams responsible for land management, purchasing, biodiversity, administration, or crop growing and selling.

Plot teams

For each area, Land van Ons has a plot team made up of people with different types of expertise. Each team draws up a development plan and works to restore the soil. They also monitor the recovery of biodiversity and the landscape. Adelijne de Vries-Martin is a member of the plot team for Empe. To inspire people to support its mission, the team organises open days for local residents and looks for ways to cooperate with third parties. For example, with the Klompenpaden project. So that walkers can get in touch with this form of agriculture. And in a joint project with Zone College in Zwolle, students learned how to be mindful of a badger sett during an outdoor practical day.

“The way people treat the planet worries me. I want to set an example of how to treat the land diff erently, but it’s hard to do that as an individual. By participating in Land van Ons, I see that agriculture can be practised in a nature-friendly way. The division between farmers and nature lovers is narrowing. At Land van Ons we’re working together to do things differently. By sharing responsibility for restoring the countryside, we can make a difference.”
Adelijne de Vries-Martin, participant, Land van Ons

Friendly farming

Kees Sijbenga, a farmer in the province of Drenthe, leased a piece of land through Land van Ons and began experimenting with crop rotation and heritage crops. One example is buckwheat, which has an especially favourable impact on the landscape. It attracts pollinators and acts as a green manure. Buckwheat products are available in the Land van Ons webshop.

Achieved impact

In 2022, Land van Ons employed 500 volunteers, welcomed more than 7,000 new participants and purchased 126 hectares of land. The organisation is growing fast. The cooperative’s 23,000 members now own 275 hectares of farmland, with hundreds of new members joining and additional capital flowing in every month. Ultimately, Land van Ons hopes to be farming 15 per cent of Dutch agricultural land – 300,000 hectares – organically and in a nature-friendly way. If it succeeds, agriculture will no longer pose a threat to biodiversity but will instead be contributing to it.

“Land van Ons’s strengths are the simplicity of the concept, the low barriers to entry and the visible effects. It attracts people, and the growth enables us to buy more land and generate an even greater impact.

The financial support from DOEN means we can professionalise the organisation while keeping our membership fees modest. And DOEN’s guidance helps us to clearly articulate and achieve our ambitions.”
Janneke Hoekstra, board member and acting chair, Land van Ons