Welcome to the farm Aarde-Werk de Stegge! Spreading across two hectares of rich and biodiverse land, you can find a small forest, meadows, an orchard, several ponds, and an organic vegetable and herb garden. All those areas provide a year-round bounty of organic food, building and medicinal supplies which are enjoyed by the people living and working here.
Six very unique buildings house both the residents of the farm (7 at the moment) and short-term guests who want to taste the “Stegge-life” themselves! There are many secluded spots where you can sit down, relax and peacefully observe the beauty of nature.
Curious to know more about the buildings, the nature and life at the farm? You can follow here this digital “farm tour” which will give you a better idea of what De Stegge looks like.
Or even better, come and visit us in Kotten, we will be happy to show you around!
Farmers’ house 1868
Let’s start with the main building of Aarde-Werk de Stegge, the farmers’ house.
Although the current building was built around 1868, the farm itself is probably much older, as “De Stegge” is already mentioned on maps from 1832! Until 1985, the farmers’ house was both a living place and a working place which held mixed agricultural functions.
The current living room used to be a barn which housed cows, pigs, chickens and a horse. There was also a dedicated space to collect manure and a hayloft above the cows where the farmers’ children slept. The wooden beams are still here today.
The original building was probably quite dark because of the wooden double doors and the small stable windows only located in the West and South façades. Now, the doors have been replaced with huge double windows which transformed the place into a large, sunny living room.
Connected to the barn, there was a small living room with a wood stove and an adjoining bedroom for the farmer and farmer’s wife. In the modern building, this has been transformed into a kitchen and storage/office space. The kitchen floor however remains unchanged, and it is thus still possible to admire the beautiful, authentic pot cracks, a waste product from the Winterswijk brick factory.
Here is another building from the past which found a second life in the present.
When the farm was bought in 2006, “De Schoppe” was just an old-fashioned and damaged barn. The building was completely rebuilt in 2012 and converted into a comfortable living space able to house groups of guests.
A lot of the original materials were reused during the reconstruction, such as the wooden beams, the roof tiles and the bricks. Thanks to the timber frame construction, the three-layer glass, the loam finish and the exterior planking made of Winterswijk oak, the Schoppe has received an “Excellent” Certificate from BREEAM, the international certification for sustainable buildings. The building benefits from a good air quality and can be heated with a minimum amount of energy with the woodchip central heating system, thanks to the low-temperature floor heating and the efficient insulation.
Both the main room and the kitchen are spacious, which allows for groups of guests to stay, work and gain knowledge and experience at the farm. Many groups have been housed in the Schoppe and followed diverse trainings, courses, workshops, or concerts. Upstairs, there are two sleeping areas with a total of 7 beds for the guests.
Located next to the farmers house and the Schoppe, this beautiful Radmakershuuske was originally occupied by the local wheelwright, a craftsperson who made and repaired wooden wheels. It was then used as an office space by the previous owner until 2006. Made more sustainable thanks to the installation of double glass windows and better wall insulation, the house is now a holiday home that welcomes short-term residents of the farm.
At the same time that the Schoppe was renovated in 2012, the Radmakerhuuske was connected to the central heating system and the helophyte filter, which uses plants to purify wastewater and reuse it. In practice, this means that the toilet can be flushed with recycled and purified wastewater.
Situated right at the entrance and close to the food forest and the vegetable garden, this authentic-looking haystack was one of the first buildings to be added to the farm in 2006. Originally a storage place for diverse agricultural products (grain, potatoes, apples…), it has later been transformed into another holiday home. The insulation of the walls consists of straw.
The haystack is housing short-term residents of the farm who can enjoy sunny afternoons and a nice view of the vegetable garden from the living room windows.
Let’s now cross the meadow to discover where the volunteers live!
Because our volunteers sometimes stayed for a long period of time in the summer, living in a tent in the meadow was becoming a bit challenging. This is why we spent a few weekends building a self-designed 'Stroyurt' with a group of motivated people, taking inspiration from traditional Mongolian yurts.
This six-sided building is made entirely of straw bales and wood. The unusual shape of the building makes for an equally unusual and very interesting roof: the six supporting beams are relying both on the wooden construction filled with straw and on each other. This creates a spacious open space in the middle that receives daylight through a dome. The roof has been covered with substrate and sedum (small plants) that provide good insulation and a pleasant look for the eyes.
The Stroyurt is heated thanks to a fireplace and is connected to electricity for lighting, internet and charging devices, but there is no water access. The outdoor kitchen and the shower can be found in a separate building just nearby. The residents can thus enjoy a beautiful view of the meadow while cooking!
Although originally this Stroyurt was meant to welcome up to four people at night thanks to the four beds inside separate rooms, it is now used by one or two ESC long-term volunteers.
Another interesting building can be found close to the Stroyurt: our self-designed and self-built Tiny House. The main concept of a Tiny House is showing how one can live comfortably in a small, reasonably-priced space with only a few necessary items. This building can also be considered as sustainable housing, with straw for insulation, self-made wooden furniture and a toilet pump using rainwater.
This house was built in 2017 by our volunteer Tomas Civin from an old trailer. He lived there until his departure from the farm. It has then been the home of Edith, our former gardener who was able to keep a close eye on the bees living in the beehives right behind the Tiny House.
Nowadays, the Tiny House is home to one ESC long-term volunteer.
Now that the buildings have no more secrets for you, let’s have a look at the rest of “De Stegge”!
Vegetable and herb garden
This is the most intensively worked area of the entire farm: all year round, volunteers can be seen sowing, planting, weeding, tending and harvesting products in the vegetable and herb garden. This area requires a lot of attention and care to provide us with tasty, organic vegetables.
The vegetable garden consists of 14 beds which are arranged in a semi-circle shape around a central place. To preserve soil quality and obtain good harvests, every year we rotate the cultures around 9 different zones of the garden.
Even in winter, there is always something going on in the garden! We are able to harvest different kinds of vegetables all year round and the residents of the farm can therefore always enjoy fresh produce.
In spring and summer, the garden becomes very colourful thanks to all the flowers in full bloom. Some of those flowers are edible, others can be used for preparing healing tinctures.
Next to the vegetable garden there is a smaller herb garden which contains some herbs for cooking (thyme, sage, parsley…) as well as flowers and small trees. Good for the bugs and the birds!
Another important feature of the vegetable and herb garden is the “garden centre”. This special spot is located at the crossing of several ley lines, the energy pathways of the Earth (just like the meridians in our body). Those ley lines were discovered in 2005 by permaculture designer and architect Fritz Griffin. The whole vegetable and herb garden is designed based on those ley lines, which allows us to see above ground the beautiful earth design energy which is lying below.
In November 2016, the piece of land behind the vegetable and herb garden was transformed into a so-called “Collection Orchard”. Our orchard is indeed part of a larger initiative to plant old fruit trees species in the Achterhoek region, under the initiative of the Pomological Association and in particular Hennie Rossel and Jansen Manenschijn. The idea is to preserve the valuable genetic variety of old fruit trees by creating new generations of those trees in the whole region.
In our orchard, you can thus find “forgotten” fruit tree varieties such as peterselieappel (“parsley apple”), oranjepeer (“orange pear”), enkele benderzoet, pediezen bredevoort and kwets. The trees had their first major growth spurt in 2020.
In 2022, more than 100 kilos of apples and pears were collected at the end of summer. This enabled us to prepare a delicious apple juice (almost entirely) “made in Stegge”!
These 1600m2 of neglected forest area were added to the farm in 2013 as they came up for sale: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to extend the perimeter of the farm!
The idea was to transform this forest into a “food forest”, a low-maintenance place where edible products can grow on several layers, relying on and helping each other. For instance, our food forest grows apples, pears, plums, quinces, chestnuts, all kinds of berries (raspberries, blackberries, blackcurrants, wild berries, goji berries…), wild edible herbs such as postelein.
To make space for those new plants, we felled several high trees, laid them on the ground and covered them with forest soil that came from digging a pond in the middle of the forest. Over the years, the tree trunks are composting and providing a living and fertile soil for our various plants. The pond is a popular place for meditation: you can sit on one of the benches to ponder and relax surrounded by nature.
In December 2022, the last of the original high trees were cut because they died during the droughts. This opens up a new phase of transformation for the food forest!
Originally a sheep-grazing area, the meadow is now a zone rich in biodiversity with some trees, flowers and high grass. It is also a nice place for relaxation in spring and summer times thanks to several sitting spots from which it is possible to meditate and observe nature. It is also nice to meet up with friends and enjoy a nice meal or a tea around the two ponds or the fireplace!
This farm tour could not end before mentioning our cutest residents: the eight chickens! They live in an old trailer transformed into a chicken coop and are free to roam in a large, fenced area in the forest behind the Stroyurt and the Tiny House.
The chickens produce delicious eggs that are very much appreciated by everyone living at the farm. Taking care of the chickens is a daily task for ESC volunteers.
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