While visiting the Netherlands this summer, I was offered the rare chance to join a local fishing family on their boat for the day in The Wadden Sea, a shallow, coastal water way between the north coast of mainland Holland and The Frisian Islands. Barbara and Jan have been fishing here for over 25 years, and follow old traditions of coastal fishing. This means they use a small, flat bottomed boat (pictured above) with simple nets which they cast and retrieve by hand. The Wadden Sea is also a UNESCO wold heritage site with many environmental protections in place. Barbara and Jan are very proud to be one of the few small family fishing companies allowed to harvest within these waters using low impact methods for sustainable fishing.
Barbara gave a great talk on sustainable fishing, in English, which you can find here:
Her other Ted Talk can be watched here:
Though most of the trip, they were conversing passionately in Dutch. Jan and Barbara are both very good English speakers, and did take time to talk with me about their shared passion for slow food, and ethical fishing. They work very hard to catch enough product, while still abiding to strict regulations which limit what they can catch and how. We went out into the very shallow water and actually walked in the sea to set the nets. Then, in our chest waders, we drove the fish into the nets on foot, literally running at the school to push the confused animals at the net. That day we only caught two fish. Jan explained that eastward winds were pushing in jelly fish and driving out the schools of fish for the day, so we were not going to catch much, but we tried none the less, and had a great time learning about the slow methods uses by sustainable coastal fisherpeople.
At the close of our fishing day, Barbara invited me to take the wheel, literally, and I enjoyed a little experience in guiding our boat back to the harbor in Lauwersoog. You see me wearing an oil slicker jacket in this picture, and I want you to know; even though it was mid July and a relatively nice day out (no rain), I was still cold and wet most of the time working, and that’s summer weather. These amazing people fish this sea year round, and yes, there is a wood stove in the hull of this boat. The cold and wet were not difficult when I had the chance to leap off the boat and wade out into the shallow sea to work the nets. It was such a beautiful place, and so worthy of our attention as a world heritage site; a special habitat for many sea creatures, from seals to salmon. That’s right all you Pacific Northwest people, the salmon are coming back to The Netherlands too!
Though Leafhopper Farm is a totally different ecosystem, it shares the same principals of people like Barbara and Jan. We all want small, local, sustainable food for out community. We understand that large, commercial industry around food has no real connection to the land, the ecology, or the communities near them, which they directly impact with pollutants and abuse of natural resources.
Environmental protection is very important, but it can also be a hindrance to the small businesses that are most connected to the landscape they make a lively-hood from. Sometimes in the quest to protect, we push out the very people trying to make a difference. For Jan and Barbara, this battle is very real. They are only one of a handful of small businesses still legally allowed to fish in the Wadden Sea. That privilege is quickly disappearing.
For Jan and Barbara, keeping a close watch on the health of their water is so vitally important. They see it first hand every day, walking in it, observing the health of the fishery in everything they harvest. These holistic actions are very connected to environment, and the local community they feed. If you are ever in The Netherlands, and would like some great fresh seafood, which was harvested holistically by people who practice good fishing methods, check out: http://www.ailand.nl
For more videos and a chance to directly fund these thoughtful people in their work, check out: https://crowdaboutnow.nl/tailand
Please take time to get to know where your food comes from and how it gets to you. Go and see farms; meet farmers face to face. Talk with fishermen, trappers, hunters, mushroom cultivators, bee keepers, and anyone else you know who produces food. Connect with what you eat, please, because if we do not start paying attention, asking questions, and supporting local food, it will disappear. I am very passionate about this, and I hope that by taking time to connect with other small, slow food producers, I will better understand the mission of Leafhopper Farm.