Geert van der Veer, how Herenboeren is scaling community owned farms in Europe

This is the second interview with Geert of Herenboeren. We talked to two years ago, we discussed his reasons, soil investment fund and how to channel all that energy of local communities that wanting to start their own farm yesterday and not wait until tomorrow (Here the first interview with Geert!)

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This time we discussed with Geert van der Veer, co-founder of Herenboeren, their international plans and their land investment fund.

Herenboeren helps local communities to buy a farm with 200 families and helps find the right farmer to farm the land in the most productive and regenerative way possible. Producing about 60% of the daily food for the families at prices lower than a supermarket.

Next to the first few farms in The Netherlands, France and Sweden will probably soon have their local version of Herenboeren.

farmingcommunities.org

www.herenboeren.nl

We discussed the new farmland investment fund Geert is working on. It will give investors the opportunity to put money to work by investing in a fund that buy land and leases it to Herenboeren through out The Netherlands.

Geert is also Ashoka Fellow and on his profile page you can read a lot more:
www.ashoka.org/en/fellow/geert-van-der-veer

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TEXT SUMMARY OF THE INTERVIEW

Geert van der Veer: I believe last time we had one farm open in the Netherlands and Boxtel. At the moment we’re working on over 20 projects all over the country from Rotterdam, Haarlem, Utrecht, be all over the country and South to North East, West, up and running out at this moment as we speak to farms.

Geert van der Veer: Three months later we would have at least four or five or six farms, we’re running up to deadline for opening for new forms at the moment. So next season we will have five or six farms up and running. So that’s just for the concept of the farm. But in addition, we have been working on our soil fund. The idea is that investors can buy in and the fund will buy lands, which will keep it for eternity in the fund. And yes, as we have finished the construction, we have already managed to buy land in Weert, the city of Weert, in the province of Limburg, where we have offered a 2.4 percent return on investments. The investor. And so this farm is also going to be open this year.

Geert van der Veer: What we see right now is that we have a person in France who wants to copy, who wants to bring Herenboeren to France. So that’s, I think, a very serious one. Sweden is another one and Germany too, but we have we will keep it off as long as possible so we can concentrate on improving our concept and doing things in the Netherlands at the moment.

Koen van Seijen: Just to give a very brief. It starts with a group of families, about one hundred and fifty to two hundred. It buys a farm and hires a farmer to operate it. So it’s not the families that have to do the farming. It’s really a farmer that has then a stable income and is producing as regenerative me as possible. I think about 60/70 percent of the daily needs of those families when the farm is fully operating.

Koen van Seijen: It’s how you tap into you and utilize in a good way and facilitate local energy. So all the farms are only started when there is a strong local community that does most of the earlier work and does most of the actually fundraising and the structure, etc. And you assist in that. It’s not that you open the farms. How has that been going when you have a lot of them starting basically the next weeks, the next months until the end of the year and probably a lot of them in progress as well. How are you managing all these super energetic local communities that probably want to start yesterday?

Geert van der Veer: So the most of the energy is going to facilitate groups of people who want to do that. So what we did, we standardized a process which was never done because it always differs from place to place. But it helps us to have the storyline to guide these people with towards their farm. And at the moment, we have standardized it. We were able to manage expectations. You know, everyone wants to start his farm tomorrow, but you have to have the soil, it is more important. You have to have at least one hundred and thirty five, one hundred and fifty people, households to join before you can start.

Geert van der Veer: What we have right now is a team of people working almost on a daily basis just on supporting groups of people. And for these people who are locally working on their own Herenboeren farm. They, of course, are occupied during the day. So what our team does is spending a lot of times with these people in the evenings, in the weekends. So the effort we have to put is enormous. But on the other hand, what you see right now is that communities are finding each other. So we put a lot of effort upfront. And right now, there is a kind of spin off that these communities are helping each other. They are visiting each other.

Koen van Seijen: One of the key aspects of the Herenboeren is that the land is either bought or secured for a very long time. But if it’s bought, it’s never going to be sold. The business model of a traditional farm in many cases, unfortunately, is selling the land at some point and hopefully for more than they bought it. But this creates a huge amount of issues in terms of inflated land prices and, mainly for young farmers, it is extremely difficult to get into this space. You are going into a completely different direction, but at the same time you still need land obviously to a long term land because you’re building the soil to operate Herenboeren Farms on. Can you explain a bit about the rationale behind the soil fund and how it’s actually coming to life?

Geert van der Veer: Let me remark this to begin with there is a difference between ownership of land and access to land. We are really thinking of it from the test strategy, how can we access land? How can we improve that land for the seventh generation after us that still can work on the land?

Geert van der Veer: We started first with our own initiative, but in the end we found a partner in the Netherlands who is ready for it. It is a foundation called Duurzaam Grondbeheer.

Geert van der Veer: And we are have been inviting wealthy families, family funds etc to invest in the fund. And yes we made our first deal. So there is a family investing in the fund. We have bought landfrom farm in Weert the province of Limburg and the first twelve hectares have been bought, a little farm house is still in there. Which we also bought. And so the community Weert is renting the land from this foundation. And we also have a role, Herenboeren in the Netherlands, to keep the continuity of the farming. So we have made this triangle agreement and we can work together in that. So the investor does receive between one and a half to four percent interest.

Koen van Seijen: Would it be accessible for the local communities as well as they are obviously investing? I think it was two thousand euros per household to set up the farm, but not to buy it. What’s the minimum? Would they be also invited to not only to help fund the setup of the farm?

Geert van der Veer: That’s exactly the topic we’re working on right now. This is the next thing to develop. We really want them. We want to invite them to invest. And not only the members of the farm, but also people around the farm. So we want to do work on this dialogue. When I own land, we can negotiate on how our land is treated. So, farmer, we think these are important topics. Like biodiversity or soil improvement, et cetera. So the concept we were working on is that households can invest not in the pure ownership of soil, but the rights resting on the soil. The ownership’s on. They have the rights to set out to choose the farmer, to use the concept. We’re working. We want to have as much as Herenboeren farms on community owned land.

Koen van Seijen: Yeah, I think it’s one of those missing pieces and one of the things it’s hardly ever discussed. I think it’s an extremely time consuming and difficult topic. Ownership of land, but something we have to work on. We have to look at if we want this movement to succeed, just as community ownership of farms, which is might be a bit faster than land. But yes, the land ownership topic is one of those elephants in the room that keeps coming back.

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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.

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