Lifestyle

Hidden gem: Traditional farming in the the Netherlands

Traditional Limburg-style homes are on show at Nonke Buusjke in the Netherlands.
Traditional Limburg-style homes are on show at Nonke Buusjke in the Netherlands. Liana Turner

A GROUP of men were working in a field of gold.

Just visible above the heavy heads of grain, they slashed at the foliage with hand scythes. Standing among species of 10,000-year-old grains was awe-inspiring. The stems shivered in the breeze and their rustling resembled the whisper of cane fields back in Australia. Even when on the other side of the world that sound of orderly vegetation, and the earthy smell of rain-drenched fields, felt like home. It was nearing harvest time.

There was plenty of wildlife, great and small, at Nonke Buusjke in the Netherlands.
There was plenty of wildlife, great and small, at Nonke Buusjke in the Netherlands. Liana Turner

Here, in Schinveldse Es, age-old species of grain are preserved and meticulously grown through methods that are centuries old. A worker showed us around the farm, his stories carefully translated by my relative, who lives nearby. Some of the species growing here are many thousands of years old, more or less genetically unchanged in that time.

In a far field are horses which, when the time is right, are used to plough the fields. A huddle of cows was also nearby, and I was told they were a Belgian breed. The fields of barley, rye and wheat were tall and heavy with a good yield.

We were in the far south of the Netherlands, just a few hours' train ride from the capital Amsterdam, near the town of Schinveld in the Limburg province. This part of the Netherlands is known as the "mountainous” region of the country, and by that they mean there are a few hills.

Even the cows give visitors a warm welcome and, right, traditional houses and tools on display.
Even the cows give visitors a warm welcome and, right, traditional houses and tools on display. Liana Turner

It is barely a stone's throw from Germany and Belgium, squeezed between the two borders. It may be a tiny country, but there is far more to the Netherlands than the famous cafe culture of Amsterdam.

The Dutch are renowned for their ability to tame nature, most notably through the use of canals and dykes to keep the nation - which sits below sea level - habitable.

But at least one group wants to keep this mastery of nature to its bare roots by using and showcasing centuries-old techniques and technologies. In winter, the region at the edge of the Schinveldse Forests becomes a wonderland of snow-covered fields. But at the height of summer, grain crops and flowers are everywhere.

When we arrived at Nonke Buusjke, it was raining, again, but that was to be expected in a country so green. Something of a tongue-twister, Nonke Buusjke is a traditionally built, well-preserved outdoor museum. Designed and built by Dutchman Thei Berkers, the museum offers insight into age-old farming practices.

Self-described as a place "quiet and thought-provoking”, it was a stark contrast to the bustling cities I was exploring days before. Traditional mud-walled buildings surround a quaint courtyard. Garden beds and old tools are scattered around. There's evidence of how life in the Limburg region looked in about 1900.

A traditional plow at Nonke Bussjke.
A traditional plow at Nonke Bussjke. Liana Turner

From the old milk-churners and hand-pumped fire extinguisher to the trove of tools, there's plenty to feast your eyes upon. You can feast your stomachs, too, and try out traditional tarts after exploring all the buildings have to offer. But it's what's hidden within the village that is most intriguing.

Beyond a gorgeous, meticulously kept garden and a huddle of beekeepers lie fields which have not withstood the blade of any contemporary machine.

Topics:  grains, heritage grains, netherlands, wholegrains


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