How are things going with Aldo van Os, the organic grower who stopped last year to start coaching (organic) growers, with his partner Mark Velders of The Conscious Farmer? Good, as it shows after reading the story below in which both gentlemen share their experiences. "Organic crop protection and fertilization are often a challenge for our customers, and running a professional organic organisation often is too. Particularly in those fields, we have been able to help our customers over the past year”, Mark, the agricultural engineer within TCF, summarises from Doha.
Doha, you read it well. Mark is working on a project in Qatar en Aldo is with a customer in North-Germany at the moment of the interview. Both gentlemen advise internationally and have travelled often during the last year. Their brand new training center in Germany, the TCF home base, was shut down for a few weeks due to the Corona crisis, however they also have not sat still there.
Photo right: Mark Velders in a greenhouse in Doha, Qatar
For planet earth
One of the spearheads of The Conscious Farmer is organic greenhouse horticulture. In this trade, Mark and Aldo give substance to their motto 'I am the Earth' on a day-to-day basis. "Working with nature and biology, instead of chemistry, that is our dedication. We can all see the natural infrastructure deteriorating (look at the news about the disappearance of insects, farmland birds or fish mortality), for which the finger is often pointed at someone else. We believe planet earth is our own responsibility, and our work is based on this commitment."
Coaching on the job
Does it actually work, working with nature and biology? This is often still the question. "One of our customers, Jakob Johannson, Westhof in Germany, recently gave part of the answer. 'Aldo's coaching on the job takes our company to the champions league!'. And that is great feedback."
Thirty years of experience in working with the plant and biology has made us alert Jakob noticed. Acquired an eye for detail. In the organic horticulture, it is particularly about those details. Clients who make the switch from conventional tot organic often need time to get used to that. Being used to chemistry, you end up being less alert. But you can train that and that is exactly what Aldo does. 'Coaching on the job" is what we call this, in which the grower continually achieves higher levels of working, without chemicals, good for the Earth."
Aldo van Os and Jakob Johannson in the greenhouses of Westhof Bio-Gemüse
Practical knowledge with scientific foundation
Aldo works closely with Mark Velders. Aldo is a fourth generation grower, Mark an agricultural engineer from Wageningen University. Aldo is the practical man, Mark the scientist. "Science and practice are often far removed from one another”, Aldo explains, “but with Mark and me, they come together in the TCF”. More than a year after their foundation, it has proven a golden combination.
In the last year, The Conscious Farmer could be seen in Canada, Mexico, Arizona, Germany and Qatar. Aldo also worked with various Dutch organic growers. "Because we combine science and decades of experience, working with nature becomes very practical and well founded."
More production with less fertilizer
Mark points to their fertilizer recommendations. "In conventional cultivation, you replenish a shortage by adding more. In organic agriculture and horticulture, that does not work. You first have to get to the bottom of things. Shortages or excesses often stand for something else. So you have to tackle things holistically and thoroughly. Our approach immediately saves on fertilizer cost and over time production also increases. An eye for nature, it really works!”
Stronger soil life, less Pythium
Another example, "Pythium is a hardy soil disease and an often-recurring problem. At a customer in Mexico, our integrated advice reduced Pythium plant failures from more than 10% to less than 3% in three months. An eye for the essence: oxygen and temperature in soil and water, strengthened by a healthy soil life. If that basis is in order, Pythium has much less of a chance. Without that, it is like pushing water uphill."
Besides recommendations on cultivation, they also cover the organisation. Particularly Aldo has much practical experience in this field, as he already told last year. "In companies where I was active as a manager in the beginning of my career, others noticed how quiet things were in the greenhouse. Nevertheless, I achieved high yields per square meter and the costs were always low, without stress or overtime. When the basis is in order, there is calm in the greenhouse and you have the flexibility to deal with unexpected obstacles, that always occur in organic cultivation. This prevents ad hoc decisions, which can cost a lot of time and money."
Making their own compost
More and more customers of TCF were getting convinced of the value of compost this year, as Aldo and Mark noticed. "They want to know more, and be able to do more, themselves. Together with befriended experts, we developed a workshop, especially for commercial growers, about how they can make their own compost and compost tea. Customized for their soil, their crop, and very practical. The workshop is offered online and, even better, soon on location at our training center in Germany."
Training center with own organic food garden
In Germany, in Sauerland to be precise, no further than two hours driving from the Dutch border, a former hotel was modified into a training center. "Due to the Corona crisis, everything came to a halt for a while, but we have not been sitting still. We have revived this beautiful location, refreshed it, but left it in its authentic state."
The training location is now suited for groups up to thirty persons, including overnight stays with organic breakfast. "We are constructing a food garden in which various layers of crops grow next and below each other. Nuts, berries, fruit, herbs and various vegetables in one place. There is no agricultural system that is more productive and sustainable. It is beautiful to see how it develops, with so much life, flowers, insects and birds. And this is only the first year. The beauty and workings of nature. Nice to take our students there with us soon."
"Thanks to our customers and befriended experts, we strengthen and broaden the knowledge and experience of our trade. So necessary to regain faith in biology and the intelligence of nature", according to Aldo and Mark. At the end of the interview they conclude, also on behalf of the other partners in TCF: "The past year was a 100% organic and fertile year!"
Aldo van Os
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