A Bite of French Onion Soup in Food Forest Haarzuilens

Text by Anna Minke Roodhof, PhD candidate at RSO@CSPS. Pictures by Leah Rosen, junior researcher at HSO@CSPS

On June 10th, the Foodscapes cluster visited Food Forest Haarzuilens. This food forest was established in 2015 by Jan Degenaar and Maarten Schrama with the aim of bridging the gap between biodiversity and agriculture. On top of that, Food Forest Haarzuilens has a community function. Being located to the West of Utrecht, the food forest offers a welcome break to city life for many city dwellers. The food forest has a natural amphitheater enclosed by grapevines where events can be organized, and the food forest itself is open to the public.

We were met by Maarten on the edge of the property, after a scenic bikeride from Utrecht Centraal where the city streets slowly transformed into winding country roads. Maarten, who gave the tour with his one year-old son in a carrier backpack, explained that Food Forest Haarzuilens was designed to be in harmony with the landscape. The tour consisted of a walk through the food forest, where Maarten stopped to talk about specific plants. Every now and again, Maarten’s son chimed in, but his comments were mainly about being bored or hungry.

The food forest consists of many different layers, including grasses and herbs, shrubs, vines, and trees. But because in the Netherlands the sunlight is a scarce good, Maarten and Jan opted to spread out the vegetation, so each species could thrive in its own right. On a little south-facing slope, more sun was available while crops were simultaneously shielded from the wind. Here, Maarten and Jan planted species that need more sun, such as fig trees and sage bushes. We continued walking to another, more level part of the food forest, where walnut trees dominated the vegetation. Maarten informed us that walnuts have a very complex and competitive root system underground, and as such, other crops tend to not do well when walnut trees are in the vicinity. As we walked, the landscape transitioned into a more shrubby area, where Maarten offered us herbs and berries from the plants as we passed them. One extraordinary herb was what Maarten referred to as ‘French onion soup plant’, because it tasted exactly like French onion soup!

We ended the tour with some elderflower lemonade, homemade by Maarten, as he gave us some last words on food forestry. The beauty of food forestry is that the harvesting season is almost year-round, meaning there is always a berry to pick, an herb to try, or some nuts to collect. During this short tour, there were so many foods hidden in the food forest we had yet to try, so we would simply have to come back.

The Foodscapes cluster is one of the CSPS research clusters. It brings together researchers interested in critical food studies from within and beyond WUR. We meet every 3rd Tuesday of the month to discuss literature, give peer feedback on draft articles and explore opportunities for collaboration. In addition, we organize field trips, workshops and seminars. Our next session will take place on Tuesday September 27th from 12.00 -14.00 at the Wageningen Campus and will focus on “Eating Earth”, the human consumption of soil. Interested in joining the foodscapes cluster (or one of our sessions)? Please write to anna.roodhof@wur.nl or thirza.andriessen@wur.nl.