Interview with a Boerengroepie: chair Pablo Van Neste

This week, we finally meet our chair, Pablo Van Neste. Pablo recently graduated with a Masters’ Degree in Organic Agriculture. He’s very involved in the Food Forest in Droevendaal and in the working group on Commons of Toekomstboeren. Enjoy his interesting ideas related to various topics loosely connected to farming and Boerengroep!

What is your name?

My name is Pablo Van Neste

Where are you from?

I’m half Californian and half Flemish.

Do you have a farming/theatre background?

I didn’t have a farming background, but I did have a lot of theatrical experience as a teenager

What do you study?

I recently finished my masters in Organic Agriculture.

Who found who first? You or the Boerengroep/Inspringtheater? (How did it happen? How long have you been active in BG/IT?)

Boerengroep found me on one of the first days of school. Eva van Dijk told me about the Boerengroep Break (informal chat about agriculture at Café Onder de Linden) so I went to talk about what they’re doing, and it quickly grew on me.

And how long have you been active in the Boerengroep/Inspringtheater?

Since my first Break, I’ve been active at Boerengroep for the last 2,5 years

What are you doing in Boerengroep/Inspringtheater? (your function) Is it something on the agenda?

I used to spend a lot of time promoting events as a ‘general member’ and I joined a few theater productions as a general ‘member’ of Inspringtheater, and from there I became the Chair of Boerengroep and have been for about a year now.

Can you give us something secret away about the Boerengroep or Inspringtheater?

We are planning something really big this summer to celebrate our 50th year jubilee. It will successfully highlight our year theme ‘back to the roots’.

When you are asked what you do on Thursday nights, what do you say? (friends, family)

I’ve got to open and facilitate the Boerengroep meeting. There are too many enthusiastic students and too many great ideas to not be a part of.

If you be any kind of farmer/animal/crop/garden tool/machine, what would you be?

I would like to be a food forest ranger, or a raccoon. Perhaps a fusion of the two would be ideal.

What kind of food would you feed our board members during the meetings?

Quite simple. I would bring the Mexican kitchen to the table like quesadillas, tacos and enchiladas to celebrate my roots.

What is the most inspiring thing you have done with the Boerengroep/Inspringtheater? (event, meeting, lecture, excursion…)

With Inspringtheater it was for sure the play ‘Kring Lopen’ which was about circular farming. What a unique experience it was to intimately talk to farmers in different regions about the struggles that they face. With Boerengroep it was for sure the excursions to different farms and the lectures we hosted at the universities. These two things really brought knowledge and practice together and helped me become the person I am today.

If you had a private meeting with the Minister of Agriculture of your country, what would you ask/tell him/her? (Carola Schouten, Angela Merkel, Phil Hogan…etc)

‘Pacht’ or the renting or leasing of land and financial ownership of land is the worst thing for farming right now. We should abolish the idea that land has to produce money for simply being used or owned, after all, society made it up. You could ask 100 euros rent per hectare, or 1000 euros rent for the same hectare, it is all very arbitrary and only adds ‘fluff’ money to the economic system because it is not coupled to tangible things being produced and the ‘fluff’ money flows to the richest people so it looks like they have more power over the country. Right now this system allows for speculation and predation by wealthy entities not always interested in the sustainability of the soil and is preventing small scale agriculture from even taking place in a sustainable way, even though it is through all these small farmers that we will reach our planetary goals. By taking away pacht, you are taking away a way for investors to profit from exploiting the ecosystem according to the market.

Who is your hero? And why?

I have many heroes. Perhaps my parents have been my greatest heroes for their limitless proclamations for being a ‘happy camper’ in life and accentuating what is means to be free. These are two things that define me and have brought me to amazing places in my life and for that I am forever grateful.

On a scale of monoculture to polyculture, where would you place yourself?

I am a romantic food forest spanning 64 hectares, full of open and closed spaces where indigenous animal species have struck a healthy balance with tons and tons and tons of newly formed vegetations. There is also a swamp part with fast moving vines similar to the ones in Super Mario Bros that can feel when there are evil plans for profit afoot. Something has to feed the food forest I suppose!