The Mechelen Hundred

Portraits of a city's people, today

Nestled between Brussels and Antwerp, Mechelen has often been overshadowed by its larger neighbours. Yet teaming up with the City of Mechelen, our line-up of 100 of the city’s most prominent people, places and projects proves the extent of its potential. From artists and creatives to critical thinkers and fighters, these are the powerhouses driving Mechelen forward one step at a time.

Sander Van Nieuwenhove

Sander Van Nieuwenhove

Biological farmer at FERM (1984)

Can you describe what you do?

My partner Veerle and I just started our own eco-friendly farm called FERM. We have a field in Hombeek (just outside of Mechelen) where we grow biological vegetables, herbs and (edible) flowers. We plan to sell these locally, on street markets, in shops and to restaurants. We really try our best to ensure the cycle from field to market is completely eco-conscious: we only grow seasonal plants, we mainly use renewable energy, and we started a collective of local farmers called M’akker to keep our business local.

Right now, we don’t live in Mechelen, but I grew up close to the city and went to school there, and it’s our plan to move back to the city as soon as we find a suitable place to relocate to.

How do you perceive Mechelen? In your view, what kind of city is it? Its people, its cultural landscape, its vibe? How does it compare to other, similarly-sized cities?

I know there’s a lot of talk about how Mechelen has been cleaned up over the last 10-15 years, but to be honest, I always thought it was a really nice city. Of course, all the recent developments are great, but even when I was a kid, I was always in awe of the many things the city offered. To me, it’s much more appealing than a large city like Brussels, where you can easily get lost and become anonymous. When you go for a walk in Mechelen, you usually end up meeting people you know to go grab a coffee with.

How has Mechelen contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?

Our choice to start our business in Mechelen was quite personal. I like the idea of providing food for my community, and many if my close friends and family still live here, so I feel very connected to this region. I’ve travelled around a lot, but in the end, I always come back here. And then there’s a practical consideration: Mechelen has really good soil for growing vegetables!

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?

Well, of course every downside has its upside as well. Recently, it has become somewhat difficult to get around by car, but on the other hand, I like the idea of a car-free city. In fact, that might be an answer to your question: I’d take it another step further and move all the parkings outside of the city completely and instead install a free tramway network. But I’m sure there are some practical considerations that prevent this from happening.

To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Mechelen?

The Beguinage is without a doubt my favourite spot in Mechelen. I never miss the annual flea market, it has a tremendously cosy atmosphere.

Aside from that, you can always just follow the Dyle river from the inner city through Nekkerspoel into Muizen, and you’ll discover a lot of pretty sights. There’s an abundance of small green places scattered throughout the city, like the little pond ‘Het Groen Waterke’.

And if you’re about on a Saturday, come and visit us at the weekly market. A long time ago, I would go there myself as a visitor, and nowadays (much to my surprise!) I am a vendor.

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