The potato plants are blooming, but a lot of fertilizing action is going on, dunging the fields, a penetrating smell. When I have my bathroom window open, even my towel smells like, well… shit.  Last Saturday I made a relaxing tour through the countryside, near the Wadden, the delta lands of moist and clay. Cycling on the small farm roads, along fields and ditches, I am happy to see that wild flowers are allowed to grow, lining the road. Up close, the smell suddenly turns sweet, the aromatic molecules are spread through our atmosphere by gentle breeze and fierce winds, subtly contributing to livable air. Removing flowering “weeds” from our surrounding was and is a big mistake. These molecules may turn out to be more important than we think in our survival as a species (Roman Kaiser, Scent of Vanishing Flora).

My goal that Saturday morning is to see some of the flax fields. Flax grows extremely well in the Netherlands, thanks to its wet soils. Unfortunately, due to the rise of synthetic and cotton fabrics, linnen, made of flax, has lost its importance in daily lives and economy. But the need for sustainable practices has spurred on some people to start growing flax again. The Flaxroute in my neighborhood is one such initiative. The fields are small, but a beautiful sight of little blue flowers dancing in the wind awaits me. The individual flowers only open for a day, the total blooming period is a couple of weeks.

A local basket maker explains the old process for me. When the flax fully bloomed it will be cut and the top flower heads threshed to win the flaxseed. The fibers are encased in the woody outer layer and to remove it, the shafts used to be submerged in the ditches to ‘rot away’. This was tricky as too short would not totally remove it, while too long would also rot the fibers. 

When grown in ideal geographical location (like northern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands) the cultivation of flax produces no waste. It is a beautiful material, the remaining roots fertilize the soil.

The flowering potato plants have their own charm, but I hope that flax cultivation will expand, as a way toward more sustainable practices in this region. The blue wave is an incredible sight.