Alumna Julie Van Overmeiren went from her desk to the field

3 min
Text Katrien Verreyken
Image Sebastian Steveniers

From academic to bio-farmer: Graduate Julie Van Overmeiren (Environmental Sciences) did it. She traded her office job for the open ground of her organic care farm Zilt en Zoet (Salty and Sweet). With the boots in the mud. 




Salty & Sweet 

On Vendoornstraat in Melsele is the organic farm Zilt en Zoet, run by Van Overmeiren. It is early October, and the ‘Field’ is looking very colourful. The nasturtiums and the tri-coloured pansies are still beautifully in bloom, the last tomatillos are being harvested, the yellow butter beans are merrily winding around the black maize, the wild rocket is fraternising with the shiso and the oyster leaf, and it smells deliciously of sweet and salty herbs: sage and thyme alongside sea fennel and sea bran.  

CSA farm 

After studying psychology and environmental sciences at UAntwerp, with a specialisation in water issues, Van Overmeiren went to work for the NGO GoodPlanet: ‘I started many projects and sensitisation initiatives, but I never knew what effects they would have in the long term. I felt a need to have a “grounded” and tangible impact. Twelve years ago, I was introduced to the concept of CSA farms: Community Supported Agriculture. As a participant, you make an upfront payment at a CSA farm and eat tasty fresh produce from the field every day. In this way, you give a professional farmer a secure livelihood and help ensure the survival of sustainable agriculture. I wanted that too! To this end, I took a three-year course in biodynamic agriculture. It was quite a transition from my little office to the wet earth.’ 

Saline agriculture 

‘Ideally, I wanted to engage in saline agriculture and thus grow salt-loving crops’, recounts Van Overmeiren. ‘In 2019, I had the opportunity to start a Zilte Tuin (saline garden) in the Antwerp’s Droogdokken area, in addition to renting this large garden in Melsele. This is how we got started: my Mom, my friend Laura and I, along with 15 volunteers. Unfortunately, we had to discontinue the Zilte Tuin, as research by UAntwerp and others showed that the PFAS values were too high there. Fortunately, however, our Veld in Melsele was found to be PFAS-free, even though we are only three kilometres from the 3M factory.’ 



At the Veld, the principles of permaculture are applied. ‘We have a ‘No Dig’ garden’, Van Overmeiren explains. ‘We no longer dig into the soil, instead working on the soil, where we apply a thick layer of mulch—organic ground covers like garden waste and compost. In this way, we stimulate soil life, retain nutrients better and release less carbon. My inner scientist likes to conduct comparative studies between crops grown on mulch and in the soil. The results indicate that some crops do better on compost and others do better with traditional farming. In the future, I would like to do an experiment with living mulch—for example, by planting cabbages in a layer of clover.’ 

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No improvements are being made in nutritional value or taste these days; only in growth and efficiency. 

Julie Van Overmeiren


‘Biodiversity remains the most important focus of Zilt en Zoet’, notes Van Overmeiren. ‘We have more than 200 types of vegetables, herbs and edible flowers that are planted and harvested by hand, and without chemical pesticides or fertilisers. We also invest in ancient and forgotten varieties. For example, we have seven different types of maize and many varieties of cabbage, including the Melsele cauliflower that is not grown anywhere else, because the head is too small. No improvements are being made in nutritional value or taste these days; only in growth and efficiency, and that’s a shame.’ 


Care farm with time 

People with psychological problems or burnout can also turn to Zilt en Zoet. ‘They find peace and regularity here’, Van Overmeiren believes. ‘The work is meditative, without a set structure. People come and go as they please, and we cook together in the afternoon. The coaching takes extra time, but it is wonderful to see the transformation. Above all else, we are a “slow” farm. We are not efficient; time is the key. In this way, I am able to combine both of my passions: psychology and environmental sciences. For me, farming is both sustainable and social.’ 

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