Ard van Gaalen

Biostee

Hi,  I am Ard van Gaalen of Biostee and I grow organic vegetables including onions and celeriac.  Biostee is a collaborative project consisting of three organic farms in South-Beijerland, in the Dutch province of “Zuid Holland”. In 1999, together with Arian de Jong and Pieter Hugo Visser, I ventured into organic farming. The three of now grow potatoes, onions, celeriac and carrots and these products are also being sold by Nature & More.

The Biostee land consists of marine clay and is perfect for our crops. We met at a lecture about organic arable farming and realised that all three of us were looking for a new direction. There are unique challenges involved in organic farming: the soil serves as the basis and the soil structure is easily destroyed by heavy machines. This can be prevented by weeding and harvesting manually, but this type of labour is expensive here in the Netherlands.

We worked out a system involving row crop farming and have bought machines that track widely and can work a large width at a time. The machines always drive on the same paths, so the wheels touch the ground as little as possible. This results in a wonderfully loose soil which is perfect for crops. Weed control without herbicides is also a challenge, but we enjoy finding new methods that do not require any spraying of chemicals on crops. We opted for a GPS-controlled hoe that moves right past the plants and allows us to work large surfaces. People sometimes say that it is impossible to feed the world population with organic agriculture, but we think it is possible.

We aim to feed the soil with organic material, to not deplete the soil with artificial fertilisers or chemicals, to not destroy the soil structure by driving heavy machines across the land and to use modern technology to fight weeds. This way, our company delivers delicious products and we hope this will continue for generations to come.

 

Interview with Ard van Gaalen, one of the three founders of Biostee

N&M: Ard, what is the story behind Biostee?
Ard: ‘As I explained above, Biostee originated as a collaborative project between three farms in the region of Hoeksche Waard, one of the islands in South-Holland. It has been declared a national landscape and is protected against advancing urbanization. ‘Stee’ is an old Dutch word for farm. Our parents farmed this soil and were dairy farmers. Our old barn still shows the signs of how the old cowshed was built and we even have a couple of old milk cans. Arian de Jong, Pieter Hugo Visser and I wanted to grow vegetables, but disliked spraying food and soil with chemicals. We were looking for methods that would make us feel happier and found our answer in organic cultivation. It is a niche market, but socially very broad. It’s new, adventurous and we see that clients are interested in our story!’

N&M: What makes Biostee special?
Ard: ‘That we are a farm whereby we are showing that organic agriculture can go hand in hand with modern, innovate techniques.  This allows us to farm more efficiently and cost effectively which in turn helps to bring down prices.  This is important because people want to buy organic products, but do not understand why these are more expensive. One of the main reasons for higher costs is logistics and if you can solve this it is an important step. As a result of our joint collaboration and the use of GPS-controlled machines, we can continue to grow on a considerable scale without incurring high labour costs.
This helps to keep storage and logistical costs low. We think our production helps in the discussion that organic can feed the entire world population”.

N&M: What are you most excited about when it comes to organic farming practices?
Ard: ‘We work the soil as our parents worked the soil yet we are avoiding the pitfall of using more chemicals in order to survive in the battle against decreasing prices. Farmers have families and require an income, and it is quite understandable that many colleagues are afraid to step out of the chemical circle. But I am proud if I see barn owls in the attic that love to hunt our organic field mice. The soil and natural environment stay healthy and it results in great products.’

N&M: How do you imagine the sustainable future?
Ard: ‘We have not finished developing by a long shot. In the beginning, you make concessions and step into a development process, both personally and company-wise. This goes beyond agriculture as we try to involve our environment in this too. People used to know what you were growing and how crops were harvested, but today there is much greater distance and anonymity. People buy their products at the supermarket instead of from the farmer, as a result we have to explain more to consumers.
We try to do that by offering excursions to companies and groups. We also share knowledge and experiences with other farmers. This is a development that is becoming stronger as we progress. Added to this, we continue to pursue a sustainable future by selling part of our harvest locally through local vendors and fruit & vegetable boxes.’

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