Farming has traditionally been the most essential source of income for manor house owners. However, this came to an end in many East European areas, like Poland, Lithuania, or Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in Germany. Moreover, most estates were dismantled and the land sold to companies or other private investors either immediately after World War II or as the communist regime crumbled. That is where the majority of today’s problems with maintaining manors find their origin.
However, even if you are a farmer with a manor, as Marie-Pierre Boel Andresen is, you are not spared from challenges. She runs a farm in Kærstrup on the Danish Island of Lolland-Falster. When she inherited her grandparents’ manor house in 2001, she shifted her focus from the world of art history and big city life toward agriculture and rurality. Soil and plants are now her major concerns. While growing her own crops, she is also growing fond of a new version of herself.
“We grow wheat, barley, and sugarbeet on nearly 700 hectares. Additionally, we produce grass seeds, spinach seeds, and rapeseed. We also have 100 hectares of forest, of which we recently harvested six hectares. However, little insects attacked the trees; I heard that this was a common occurrence in Germany as well. It’s most likely due to climate change, which has been unusually mild. However, things seem to be more balanced again after we made it through a “catastrophic year“ last year due to the drought.“
“I wish I had learned to farm earlier. I probably would have been too young at the end of my twenties. I was in my mid-40s when I started. But now that I am 56 years old, many people my age are beginning to hand over their farms to their children. I am not in that position yet; there are a lot of things to consider. I am a bit behind on them; I still have a lot to catch up on.
I am learning all the time. With a Masters of Art History, you can also use the methods on other topics, can you?! Asking questions has helped me a lot. “When I started farming in 2007, I took economics classes and started visiting an agricultural school. It was a tough time as my children were still young and my husband traveled a lot. We lived in Copenhagen back then. I asked a lot of silly questions, and, as you know, people have crisscrossed opinions on the matter. (laughs). I do not ask typical farm questions, and I expect unusual answers. If you are patient with yourself, you will realize that you can always learn.
I still do not know exactly what to put in the earth, and I am still unable to go out in the field and just know how to plant 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!’ However, my foreman does this, and we discuss our farming strategies and all other elements together. Besides that, I also need to know how to run a company. It is a business, and being on top of things and in charge is the most fun part of it. Taking ownership and being proud of it takes time, but I feel like I am getting there.“
FEMALE FARMERS GROUP
“As a woman 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 a member of a group of women 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 welcomed and that they wanted me to be a part of their experiences. I never thought I would get such a tremendous amount of support. I felt humble, just like I do when running this place.“
„It was my grandfather Esper Boel who 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. When the EU was formed, my grandfather sold the company 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. Olga was 74 years old when her husband suddenly died, and she was pushed into farming. I believe she had quite a hard time. She wasn’t a person who talked a lot. Olga was a feisty woman, proud but also struggling a lot. However, she would 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 some men, one of them said he had transferred his farm to his son. Then he turned to me and said, ‘You have your husband to help you, don’t you?’ I looked at him and said, ‘I can do a lot myself; I am not that dumb.’ My husband is an economist and an engineer who, like me, also learned farming from scratch. 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 had 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 about it 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 earrings AND have a brain. It amazes me, in an odd way, that we are in the 21st century, and still, there is this perception of women; you see it everywhere.
I don’t know why men don’t like bossy women. Every time a woman says what she wants, she is labeled a bitch. I am mostly learning to be firm and say what I want in a nice way so that I am not considered a bitch. It has led me to trust myself and 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 in it at the same time.”
THE FUTURE OF THE HOUSE
I am certain that Kærstrup will continue to exist, as it has since the 14th century. This house was given to me, and I hope to pass it on to the next generation. Its 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 it is my turn right now. 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. However, you cannot just shut down a manor. The place grows on you, it gets into you, and you become a part of it.”
“I am beginning to miss art. When I first arrived 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; however, I still have friends who work in the field and with whom I can have decent conversations from time to time. My compensation is that I am a board member of the Lys over Lolland committee, a cultural association that organizes an Art Festival every August.“
„Oh, out here, you certainly feel the seasons, and living with the soil gives you a different perspective on life—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, the present, and the future at the same time. I literally feed people with what I am doing here, 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.“