Interview with ‘climate farmer for life’ Anne van Leeuwen

Anne van Leeuwen founded the ‘regenerative farm’ Bodemzicht together with her friend.

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When climate farmer Anne van Leeuwen walks past the green meadows in the Netherlands, she sees no nature, but above all potential for life. “Some people might think: it’s green, so it’s nature. I think so little is happening in this field and so much could happen.”

Two years ago she founded the ‘regenerative farm’ Bodemzicht with her boyfriend. She opposes the dominant narrative of sustainability, which tells us that we are harming nature anyway, and at best we can strive to be ‘less harmful’.

“I don’t get out of bed for that,” says Van Leeuwen. “Where sustainability is about reducing your negative impact, regenerative farming is about maximizing your positive impact. In two years, our soil has improved enormously, an incredible number of animals, plants and microbes have come to live on Bodemzicht.”

Soil life

Starting her own farm is the most beautiful thing she has ever done, says Van Leeuwen. She calls herself a ‘climate farmer for life’. Fostering relationships between all kinds of creatures such as chickens, worms and butterflies is her main goal. “If you do that right, you also increase your production.”

Every few days, the ‘tip-mobiles’ move to a new spot on the field.

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Chickens activate the soil when they scratch and defecate, says Van Leeuwen. Every few days she moves her chickens to a new spot on the field with ‘chicken mobiles’, a kind of chicken coop on wheels. This prevents overgrazing and builds a living soil.

“The more life in the soil, the more water you retain and the more CO2 you capture. A resilient soil system leads to higher production. And it produces a landscape that makes you happy. That also gives me energy. It is a win-win-win relationship: ecologically, socially and economically.”

While Van Leeuwen talks about her farm, two apprentice farmers are given instructions further down the road. Today they are going to lay out the remains of the compost heap, and plant potatoes and pumpkin in it. In the no-dig-market garden of 3000m2, there is a rule: as little digging and hoeing as possible. This destroys the soil life, and that should do the work for you.

Obligation to raise

The intention is that soil insects will eventually take a large part of the work off your hands, says Van Leeuwen, but at the moment she still calls working on the regenerative farm ‘top sport’. Her energy goes not only to working on the land, but also to finding ways to comply with laws and regulations.

“Legislators divide the world into culture and nature,” says Van Leeuwen. That makes working with nature difficult.

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“We get them all on our plate: rules for fruit growing, arable farming, livestock farming,” says Van Leeuwen. “Those rules are made for large-scale industries. If you have more than 249 chickens, you are subject to a coop obligation. Such a rule prevents serious competition with factory farming.”

The phosphate ceiling allows her to use a limited amount of compost. “I build a living soil with compost. Phosphate is absorbed by the vegetation. It’s about how it circulates in your soil. Our legislation and regulations for agriculture are not yet ready for that interrelationship between things.”

One of the biggest obstacles appears to be the Nature Conservation Act, which is intended to promote biological diversity. That’s exactly what Van Leeuwen wants, and yet: “If I discover a crested newt in my pond or a badger burrow in the field – which is what I do it all for – then it might become difficult to keep farming.”

Making a change in your pond, or pruning a tree, is suddenly no longer possible. “Legislators divide the world into culture and nature,” says Van Leeuwen. “You have agriculture or nature – we no longer even know ‘cooperation with nature’ as a zoning plan.”


We need a new story, thinks Van Leeuwen, aimed at positive impact. “In which we learn to listen again to other creatures – plants, animals and microbes – that we thought were soulless and far removed from us. Now it turns out that we really need each other.”

We need a new story, thinks Van Leeuwen, aimed at positive impact.

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Regeneration means restoring relationships – with other living things, the Earth and future generations. Regenerative agriculture is about restoring ecosystems, but regenerative work can also be done in healthcare, education or politics, according to Van Leeuwen.

Regenerative health care is about planetary health (planetary health) and a healthy living environment. ‘Regenerative politics’ is a policy that takes into account other-than-human beings. ‘Regenerative economics’ means that you act within the planetary boundaries. Regenerative education revolves around the well-being of all life.

“Everyone can do something”, thinks Van Leeuwen. “You can start by asking yourself: What kind of world do I want to live in, what kind of life do I want to lead, and what do I have to do to get there? I think many people allow themselves to be blocked by fear and expectations. They get burned out because they don’t get any energy from their work at all. More attention should be paid to the question: what drives you, apart from existing vacancies and expectations? I also searched for a long time for a vacancy that suited me, but it turned out that it didn’t exist at all. Now we are building a different world.”

Thinking Planet

Come and listen to Anne van Leeuwen at the event ‘Thinking Planet: from ego to eco’ (29 April 2022, Amsterdam). Read more.

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