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Soilmates: New collaborative project campaigns to protect fertile soil

Soilmates organic farm event
17:29 12/08/2020

Chefs, farmers and artists have come together to launch Soilmates, a Belgian movement that aims to protect the fertile top layer of soil for growing healthy vegetables and plants.

With intensive farming threatening to deplete soil and impact the quality of produce in and above the ground, the collective is keen to promote the culinary and cultural heritage of Belgium and neighbouring countries.

Their inaugural event Soilmates@Millecouleurs on 23 to 25 August is an artistic and culinary tribute to the fertile ground. It involves seven chefs from Belgium, France and the UK, a sommelier and four performance artists. Tickets are currently only available on Tuesday at 12.00, with all other dates and times fully booked.

Dries Delanote organic farm Ypres

The event is being held at eco-farm Le Monde des Mille Couleurs, near Ypres in West Flanders. It is owned by Dries Delanote (pictured above), an organic wild farmer who supplies fresh produce to top chefs in Belgium and France. He is offering guided visits of his farm during the three-day programme, which also features multi-disciplinary performance designer Alexandra Swenden.

The project was launched during the Covid confinement period when restaurants were forced to close and small farms such as Delanote’s were under pressure to find alternative clients for their produce. It was the brainchild of sommelier, artist and historian Caroline Baerten, co-owner of award-winning Brussels restaurant Humus x Hortense.

Caroline Baerten and Nicolas Decloedt

“One of the reasons we created Soilmates was because it expresses in the purest form our core values,” says Baerten, referring to the pioneering sustainable restaurant in Ixelles that she runs with her partner, the chef Nicolas Decloedt (Caroline and Nicolas pictured, above).

It was reading a UN report about the serious threat to the quality of soil if industrialised agricultural practices continued, that sparked Baerten’s campaign. “I was so shocked. Why had we not been aware of this? It is crucial because if there’s no soil, there’s no life,” she says.

Their restaurant is unique in offering plant-based gastronomy with tasting menus inspired by the produce supplied by Delanote’s organic farm, served alongside cocktail pairings using up the kitchen’s leftover vegetables and herbs. The pair are committed to furthering their ecological and zero-waste mission.

Baerten affirms that she and Decloedt are activists at heart: “We want to create a paradigm shift. Before the chef was the star and then the farmer became more important in the picture. But it’s really about the soil, and where delicious food comes from.”

Le Monde des Milles Couleurs organic farm

And the confinement proved to be a fertile period for Baerten who also started researching bean varieties during the restaurant’s three-month closure. Her curiosity resulted in the Heritage Bean Project, with 43 bean varieties currently being test grown both at Delanote’s farm (pictured, above) and the garden of Baerten and Decloedt’s Brussels home. Humus x Hortense clients can look forward to tasting these beans in some of the restaurant’s future beautifully balanced and crafted dishes.

Soilmates@Millecouleurs: 23-25 August
Estimated duration of performance: 3 hours
Number of dishes: 7
Tickets: 155 euros pp (all included)
Location: Le Monde des Mille Couleurs, Zweerdstraat 6, 8900 Dikkebus

Photos: Le Monde des Milles Couleurs and Dries Delanote (c) Menno Dejong; Caroline Baerten and Nicolas Decloedt (c) Kris Vlegels

Written by Sarah Crew