A leek for change!

The belgian trio on a mission to save seeds

By Adèle Pautrat

Jorn showing me around De Kollebloem farm © Adèle Violette

It was during an anti-GMO action organised outside the European Parliament in early 2024 that I met Jorn. He approached me with a leek in his hand asking if I needed more information about the movement protesting that day.

We began a discussion on the controversial legislative proposal on new genomic techniques (NGTs) debated within the EU institutions at the time. That's when I learned that Jorn was working for a farm in Flanders committed to seed conservation and multiplication, as part of a partnership with two other farms.

The leek he was holding in his hand came from the De Kollebloem where Jorn works. And by ‘came from’, I mean it in a very literal sense – it's a variety that has been reproduced for so long on the farm that it's now specific to it.

In this way, the leek was a symbol of the seed autonomy he defends as a young farmer, opposing the proliferation of genetically modified varieties that could further remove farming from the central role of seed in adapting each farm to its specific conditions.

We ended the discussion with the idea of meeting again for a visit to the farm as soon as possible. And there I was on April 9, surrounded by Jorn, Manu and Ruben from De Kollebloem, as well as Ana from De Zonnekouter, and Carl from the Ourobouros.

Ana, Jorn, Manu, Ruben and Carl at De Kollebloem farm © Adèle Violette

De Vroente – Together, inspired, biodynamic

De Kollebloem, De Zonnekouter and Ourobouros farms are the proud members of the cooperation project De Vroente, which started in 2003.

The basis of their cooperation is land pooling: they grow crops for each other, and have established agreements, depending on who grows and sells what. This system is coordinated during winter, ensuring they avoid duplication and optimise their resources.

For example, one farm grows orange pumpkins while another grows green ones; one farm handles the first beetroots, while another manages the second. This collaborative approach allows them to specialise, streamline production, and offer a diverse and attractive range of high-quality products to their customers.

This commitment to quality is particularly shown in their dedication to farming according to biodynamic principles. It is also what drives them to save and use their own seeds as much as possible.

“That has always been our reason for not buying seeds or baby plants from large companies. Because we want to select and develop the best varieties tailored specifically to our conditions and purposes” says Carl from the Ourobouros farm.

Three farms, one common commitment

Today, the farmers grow heirloom varieties of leek, winter lettuce, fennel, radish, beetroot, carrots, chards, paprika, tomatoes, celery and so on.

They obtain varieties in different ways. Some are bought from the German seed company Bingenheimer, which specialises in the production of organic seeds of open-pollinated varieties. Others are gleaned from neighbouring farmers, or gifted by retiring ones.

All the varieties collected are then grown on the three farms to test their ability to adapt to the different growing conditions. On this basis, each farm chooses whether or not to continue growing a variety according to its performance but also according to the affinities of each farmer – one with a love of celery, the other with a passion for tomatoes.

Sometimes, in the end, none of the three farms chose a variety that had been tested. And on other occasions, all three continue to grow it, making an even greater contribution to cultivated biodiversity!

Baby plants and seeds at De Kollebloem farm © Adèle Violette


To have a feeling of De Vroente’s good impact on

agrobiodiversity, let’s get back to the militant leek!


The three farms started growing the same

variety about fifteen or twenty years ago.


Today, if you compared the vegetables grown

on each farm, you’d immediately notice

significant differences – visual and taste.


The leeks were influenced differently by the flat,

sandy soil of De Zonnekounter, the heavy soil of

the Ourobouros and the sandy-loamy soil of

De Kollebloem – resulting in the development

of three new hyper-local varieties.

The economics of saving seeds

One of the main incentives for De Vroente farmers to save their seeds is the arrangement they have with Vitale Rassen, a local seed company specialising in the sale of heirloom varieties to amateur gardeners.

“If you grow your own seeds, you’ll most probably end up with enough stock for half of Belgium!” says Ana from De Zonnekouter. But in reality, it is very challenging for a farmer to store very large quantities of seed without running the risk of losing them, and thus losing the hours of work devoted to their production and harvesting. Making seed saving profitable is therefore a real obstacle to the commitment of many farmers.

Here’s where small-scale seed companies such as Vitale Rassen can step in to lend a helping hand.

Vitale Rassen buys the excess seed stocks from the De Vroente farms. It also sometimes offers them to multiply specific varieties that are on the verge of extinction and/or highly sought-after by its customers. Ultimately, each structure enables the other to increase its collection of varieties, while guaranteeing its own economic viability.

Vitale Rassen then takes care of cleaning and drying the seeds, meaning farmers only have to manage the processing of the stocks they keep for themselves – very small quantities that do not require any specific infrastructure.

An eco-friendly land optimisation

De Kollebloem farm mainly grows vegetables, aromatic herbs, flowers and a small amount of spelt. They have 6 hectares, of which 4 are cultivated, the rest being left as pasture for their small herd of 2 to 4 cows.


Ourobouros grows fruit and vegetables on around 4 hectares of land, while one last hectare is used by sheep. De Zonnekouter owns a total of 17 hectares but, with a slightly larger herd of cows, only 4 of them are used for growing vegetables.


Compared to large monoculture farms, which typically produce one or two crops a year using tractors and chemicals, smaller farms like De Vroente farms might seem less productive at first glance.


Even by working the ground warely and employing human labour though, the three of them achieve a high yield per square metre. If we analyse the production rate per hectare, we actually farm very intensively – but without compromising the health of our soil,” Jorn said.


This is made possible in particular by the exchange of expertise and the possibility for each farm to concentrate on the varieties that perform best on their land. One of their key practices is a two-year rest period for the soil during which they plant grass, preventing exploitation and ensuring the soil’s long-term fertility. In their very diversified market gardening model, this sustainable method of crop rotation can be practised on very few hectares without threatening yields. Back in 2023, De Kollebloem farm succeeded in producing 21 tonnes of leek per hectare without any specific machinery.

De Kollebloem farm was awarded the Demeter biodynamic label several years ago © Adèle Violette

Control over sales prices

The De Vroente partnership lays the foundations for a story that helps farmers promote their products to customers and set fair prices.

The story of a commitment to quality and sustainability, which highlights some of the challenges associated with farming, such as access to seed, and the efforts needed to overcome them.

Customers learn about the care, dedication and higher production costs associated with maintaining high standards, helping them to understand why De Vroente products are sold at an above-average price. This transparency fosters trust and appreciation, making customers more inclined to support the project on a long-term basis.

This is further reinforced by direct sales, which is at the heart of their partnership. By joining forces to offer a greater diversity of products, they attract customers who come specifically to support the quality they offer.

“If you sell products with this quality and this taste to a grocery shop, you don't get the price you need. For most of them, a tomato is a tomato, and you get an average price for every tomato you grow, influenced by market price,” says Ana.

Ruben from De Kollebloem preparing products delivery © Adèle Violette


Passion and determination first

Jorn explains, "In our rotational farming system, we have four hectares for cultivation, including half a hectare dedicated to trials. This leaves us with a very narrow margin for experimentation, and challenges our ability to be profitable.

For example, to go back to the leek – other farmers usually buy baby plants, grow them to maturity, and sell them. We go through a more involved process: selecting and harvesting the leeks, replanting them to flower, collecting the seeds, sowing them, growing them into baby plants, and then finally harvesting them for sale.

The costs also are significantly higher. You might pay around four to five cents for a single baby leek. Growing them ourselves, the production cost per leek is at least three times higher!

It's difficult to quantify the success rate of this method, but it's evident that it requires substantial time and effort. This approach is only feasible if you are passionate about it and committed to the process.

Ultimately, it results in a strong, tasty crop that becomes valuable. However, financial motivation cannot be the primary reason for undertaking this labour-intensive method; it stems from a deeper commitment to quality and sustainability."

Here too, the collaboration between the three farms is a key factor, helping to share and minimise risks. De Kollebloem takes care of the cultivation of the baby leeks sown by Ouroboros, because their sandy soil is favourable for it. Ouroboros thus gains time and space to take care of other cultures, and together they can increase the quality and quantity of what they will sell.

The community behind food

Cooperating locally to commit to better production also means taking part in a wider movement driven by the insatiable need to learn, exchange, experiment and share. It's a subject we've often touched on in our interviews: in the alternative agricultural sector, exchange begets commitment, and commitment strengthens exchange.

(Re)creating community is a sine qua non for the transition to agricultural practices that are more respectful of farmers and the environment. And in this perspective, seeds are an inexhaustible source of passion to bring a community together.

At this year's agricultural conference in Dornach, Jorn met people from South America. He told us that one of the participants started talking to him about sorghum. “I'd obviously brought my seed collection to the conference and, coincidentally, I had some sorghum seeds with me that I'd grown in Europe after a friend had brought them back from Latin America for me. I gave this Chilean some seeds adapted for Europe so that he could try them out in Latin America. I included some tomato seeds as well, and he might send some seeds back to me soon. This exchange happened because we took the time to connect and found out that we shared similar values. It was a truly community-built experience.”

And you could tell from the excitement that shone from Jorn’s eyes that it's also the kind of experience that fuels his commitment.

You can find De Vroente’s vegetables and more at the Brussels’ organic market of place Flagey every Saturday and Sunday mornings, and at the Gent organic market in front of the train station every Sunday morning.

tLeft, facilities designed to welcome the public to the farm. Right, Two young oxen of an ancient breed from East Flanders © Adèle Violette