Traditionally farming was the most essential source of income for manor house owners. This ended in many East European areas like in Poland, Lithuania or in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in Germany. Either right after the end of World War Two or with the decline of the communist regime, most estates were ripped apart and the land was sold to companies or other private investors. That is were most of todays problems of maintaining manors find their origin.
But even if you are a farmer with a manor, like Marie-Pierre Boel Andresen, you are not spared from challenges. She runs a farm in Kærstrup on the Danish Island of Lolland-Falster. When she inherited the manor house of her grandparents in 2001, she turned her focus from the world of art history and big city life to that of agriculture and rurality. Soil and plants are now her major concern. While she is growing her own crops, she is also growing fond on a new version of herself.
„On almost 700 hectares I grow wheat and barley and sugarbeet, moreover we produce grass seeds, seeds for spinach and we gow rapeseed. We also have 100 hectars of forest, we just cut six hectars of it. Little insects attacked the trees, it was happening a lot in Germany as well, I heard. It’s probably the climate change, it has been too mild. After we made it through a „catastrophic year“ last year due to the drought, things seem to be more balanced again.“
„I wish I had learned farming earlier. I was in my mid 40s when I started. At the end of my twenties I probably would have been be too young. But now that I am 56 years old and a lot of people at my age are starting to hand their farms over to their children. I am not in that position yet, there a lot of things to consider. I am a bit behind them, I still have to catch up a lot.
I am learning, all the time. With a Masters of Art History you can use the methods on other topics as well, can you?! Asking questions has helped me a lot. „When I started farming in 2007, I took economy-classes, too and started visiting an agricultural school. It was a tough time as my children were still young and my husband was travelling a lot. We lived in Copenhagen back then. I went to ask a lot of silly questions, you know and people have criss-crossed opinions on the matter. (laughs). I do not pose typical ‚farm-questions‘ and I assume that poses unusual answers. If you are tolerant to yourself, you know that you can always learn.
I still do not know exactly what to put in the earth, I am still not able to go out on the field and know how to plan crops. I wish I could look at the plant and say: ‚Ah, it has got yellow spots because of this and that fungus…or this and that insect, but I just haven‘t got the expertise!‘ My foreman does so we discuss our strategies together and all elements on farming. Besides that I also need to be aware of running a company. It is a business, being on top of things, in lead, that’s the fun part of it. This taking ownership and being proud of it – it takes it‘s time, but I feel that I am getting there.“
FEMALE FARMERS GROUP
„As a women in farming you cannot come with just 95 percent knowledge, you have to have 120 percent. Somehow you have to be more aware. I am in a group of woman, who own and run farms. It is a private group, a network, they knew me from old friends and when they asked, if I would like to participate, I said: YES PLEASE! The first time I joined this group, I was a bit nervous. I felt very much welcome and that they wanted me to be a part of their experiences. It was a tremendous amount of support, which I never thought I would get. I felt humble, just like I feel in running this place.“
„It was my grandfather Esper Boel, who had bought Kærstrup manor in 1972 – he established the company of his father, my Great grandfather Marius Boel, who had invented the Danish blue cheese Danablu at the beginning of the 20th century. My grandfather sold the company when the EU was formed and bought this place to become a farmer. His wife Olga, my grandmother, from whom I inherited Kærstrup manor, had lived here until she was 98 years old. She had this beautiful Japanese Garden established across the house. She was 74 years old, when her husband suddenly died and she was pushed into farming. I believe, she had had quite a hard time. She wasn’t a person, who talked a lot. Olga was a feisty women, proud but also struggling a lot. But she did not want to show her insecurities, though. The older I get, the more I become like her – that’s what my younger sister tells me at least.“
„At a meeting the other day with all this men, one of them told me that he had passed his farm to his son. Then he turns to me, saying: ‚You have your husband to help you, do you?!‘ I looked at him thinking: ‚I can do a lot myself, I am not that dumb.‘ My husband is an economist and engineer, he also learned farming from scratch, just like me. We are quite a team and it was a huge decision for us to take over this estate. We discussed it a lot. It was a big thing for us since we have no personal background in farming.
When we are out together somewhere, everyone turns to him, asking: How is the farm doing? They don’t come to me. Meanwhile he understands my frustration and when someone asks him now, he points to me. There is this perception, that heavy stuff does not go together with pearls and make-up but you can wear pearl earings AND have a brain. It amazes me, in an odd way, that we are in the 21st century and still there is this percetion on women, you see it everywhere.
I don’t know, why men don’t like bossy women. Everytime a women says what she wants, she is a bitch. I am mostly learning to be firm and say what I want in a nice way, so that I am not being considered as a bitch. It has lead me to trusting myself, my instincts, and I do that much more now than five years ago. I am more confident these days. The key is learning and being confident at it at the same time.”
THE FUTURE OF THE HOUSE
“I am sure that Kærstrup will always exist, it does since the 14th century. I was being given this house and I hope that I can pass it on to the next generation. It’s future depends on my contribution, though. So, once you are in, you might not just want to give up. There are 39 previous owners ahead and right now it is my turn. I am part of that history, which is a nice thought. I am developing this estate in order to make it last – you don’t get the same feeling at a gallery, though. You can certainly maintain a gallery and close it once you have enough. But you cannot just shut down a manor. The place grows on you, it gets into you, you became a part of it.”
„I am beginning to miss art. When I started here in 2001, I was very busy getting into farming and I was still working in galleries and auction houses. I haven’t been in the art business since 2007 but I still have friends, who work in the field and whom I have a decent talk to from time to time. I am a board-member of the Lys over Lolland-commitee, a cultural association, which organizes an Art-Festival every August, so that’s my compensation.“
„Oh out here you certainly feel the seasons and living with the soil you sense life in a different way – other than being in a shop, of course. I can feel the presence of the many generations before me and I am aware that this is an ongoing process of development – (pauses) – you do not feel that in a gallery, I feel more grounded here and I feel the history. I feel the past and the present and the future at the same time. With what I am doing here, I am literally feeding people so I am contributing to life. I know it sounds a bit strange but I don’t think that you get this intensity in the art world, although history is also very present there.“