Mieke, introduce yourself.
My name is Mieke Verniest and I turned 40 in February – oh my God!
I have been living in what we call the Flemish Ardennes, a vallonated area in Flanders, with my husband Luc for about 15 years and I run a pig farm.
Tell us all about your business!
We started the “Zwalmbeekhoeve” (named for its vicinity to the town of Zwalm, red.) in 2006 after taking over an existing farm.
Initially there were 120 sows and 1000 fattening pigs and I ran everything myself.
In 2008 our company expanded to 200 sows and 2000 meat pigs on another location. 2008 was also the year that my husband joined me full time.
We try to work following the principles of a closed loop and sustainable agriculture as much as we can. We grow our own corn, wheat, barley and winter field beans as feed for our pigs on our 60 hectares (+/- 148 acres) of land. Solar panels provide for our energy needs and we also collect rainwater for stable cleaning and to provide cooling for the pigs in summer. This is how we want to work towards a sustainable agriculture on the one hand, but also run a viable, small family business.
In 2017, I opened a little shop on the farm where I sell the meat from my own crossbreed “Het Vlaamse Ardennen Varken” (The Flemish Ardennes Pig, red.), a cross between a British Duroc and my own German sow.
What is your job on the farm?
My main role is to take care of my sows and piglets, which was also my initial vocation. Taking care of piglets has always been my thing. On my first paycheck from the time I worked for a pig farmer, I was even listed as a “pig midwife”(laughs)…. I also run our farm shop with my colleague Els. Through our shop and our Facebook page, I also try to bridge the gap between farmers and consumers and open the lines of communication between our two worlds, trying to show the consumers what farming really is like.
What advice would you give to young women who dream of a career as a farmer?
My main advice to young women would be to surround yourself with the right people and educate yourself very thoroughly before taking this step. Go to business management school, make sure you are well informed about issues such as leasehold, easement, environment and permits and make sure all your agreements are confirmed in writing. It’s going to sound a little harsh, but don’t just trust people on their word. Good agreements make good friends, as they say, and it’s very true.
But above all else, look for the best way for you to start your business. For us, that ‘right way’ was starting small and growing according to our own capabilities. There is no greater pride than to be able to successfully turn your passion into your profession!
Who will you pass the pen to?
I am happy to pass the pen to Kris Van Royen from the Saeftingerhof.
Kris is a passionate, enthusiastic farmer from Kieldrecht (Belgium, near the Dutch border) whom I met at Agri Flanders during the Short Chain Day and who immediately fascinated me. She breeds cattle with a unique “pre salted” taste and I am convinced she has a beautiful story to tell. Kris is an experienced lady to whom I look up!
Mieke Verniest (40) and her husband Luc run the Zwalmbeekhoeve near the Belgian village of Zwalm. The Zwalmbeekhoeve specialises in breeding its own crossbreed, the Flemish Ardennes Pig, in free-range conditions and in accordance with sustainable closed-loop farming. Besides managing the farm, where she is responsible for the maternity ward, Mieke and her colleague also run a farm shop where they sell meat packages from their own pigs. Mieke Verniest was elected the “Schoonste Boerin” (Miss Farmer) Flanders in 2017 and is committed to informing and involving citizens in her sector.
For more information about the Zwalmbeekhoeve or the Flemish Ardennes Pig, visit the Facebook pages:
Mieke’s story was published in Women in Ag Magazine #1
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