By Greg Lamp, 2018 IFAJ stipend recipient
By all accounts, Makandra is a small farm, really small. Yet every day as many as 25 workers, called clients, show up to hand tend 10 acres on the estate located on the outskirts of Ede, a municipality in central Netherlands in the province of Gelderland.
Makandra, which means “together,” was just one of many tour stops at this year’s IFAJ Congress held in the Netherlands, a country about the size of New York City where 16 percent of its surface is covered in water.
More than half of the Netherlands is located below sea level. Natural sand dunes, constructed dikes, dams and floodgates provide protection from storm surges. Also, there’s a complicated system of drainage ditches, canals and pumping stations to help manage water levels in low-lying areas.
Makandra is an atypical farm in this compact country and is part of a 300-year-old estate called Kernhem. The workers are atypical, too. “For example, people with intellectual disabilities, psychiatric problems, brain injuries and even dependency issues come here to work and heal,” says Stasja van Suchtelen, who manages the farm along with a team of four co-workers. The team also provides clients a variety of coaching to help them better cope with their daily lives.
The municipality-owned farm is well known throughout the region for not only its humanitarian efforts, but also for its homegrown produce. Workers help grow organic vegetables, herbs, flowers, berries, apples and mushrooms in six different gardens. Most produce is sold through the farm’s store which is open to visitors weekdays and Saturdays. Some products are sold in local markets.
“Providing care to clients is our No. 1 goal,” says Corine de Lange, who is a volunteer at Makandra. “The daily structure provides our clients with comfort and a feeling of usefulness. We also try to help them develop technical and social skills.”
As part of that goal, they’re building and maintaining a compost site to use on their poorer soils. “It seems basic, but some clients do well working with the compost pile because it makes them feel more grounded,” she says.
De Lange adds that clients have the option of working in three areas of the farm: fruits, vegetables or selling produce in the shop. “It depends on what they want to do and what gives them a sense of accomplishment.”
Workers arrive at 9 a.m. and start their day with tea and job assignments. At 3 p.m., the day concludes and they go home. The farm also regularly has eight interns on staff.
Since the farm operates on a trade-out basis by providing farm work as health care, no direct cash payments are involved. Makandra is part of ’s Heeren Loo, a Dutch health care organization.
This Kernhem Estate farm has a total of 875 acres divided among five farms, Makandra being one of them. Plus, it includes 2,500 acres of woods. The farms, which also include dairy, calves and chickens, generate more than 40,000 euros a year from sales.