Chris van der Sterre

Ekodorp

Hi, my name is Chris van der Sterre and I grow organic Brussel Sprouts with my wife Nel on our farm called “Ekodorp”. Like many other parts of The Netherlands, this region used to be below sea level and that is why we are able to grow our vegetables in the rich sea clay.  Apart from Brussel Sprouts, I also grow potatoes and onions.  Furthermore, here on the farm we take care of ten horses that belong to people living nearby.

I have been growing sprouts since 1978 when I was 18 years old. As a farmer’s son this was an ideal way for me to make some money during my studies.  After 35 years of working conventionally, I was unhappy with how things were going and wanted to stop completely.  During a period of reflection however, I started thinking about farming organically.  Organic farming is much more difficult and it was exactly this new challenge that I found so attractive.

So now for the first time, I am currently growing my sprouts on a piece of land that is owned by a friend of mine who is also an organic dairy farmer.

The biggest difference for me between organic and non organic agriculture is how you deal with insects and pests.  As a conventional farmer it is very normal to spray ten times a year, each time with three different chemicals.  In organic agriculture you have to work with nature and are dependent on “insect friends” like the parasite wasps and other natural predators.  I often go into the field to check out how the population of the hoverfly is developing.  This is important because this species of fly eats the cabbage lice.  To be honest I had never noticed these insects in the years that I was growing conventionally and in that sense a whole new world has opened up for me !  I am considering to now grow other crops organically as well.

Generally speaking, there is always a transition period before becoming a certified organic farmer.  Why was that not the case for you ?
When a conventional grower switches to organic, the transition period takes 2 years.  I was lucky enough to rent a piece of land of an organic dairy farmer that has been growing organic grass for more than 10 years for his cows.  The land I am using is therefore already organically certified but more important the soil is healthy and has a great structure.

How can you tell you have a healthy soil ?
One of the most important signs that you have a healthy soil is the amount of worms and in particular pendel worms.  These amazing creatures dig vertically and that means that, thanks to the worm tunnels, the soil is well drained.  In September we had a lot of rain and it was amazing to see the difference between my field, which looked fine and the neighbors non organic potato field which was partly flooded.  When you crop is flooded the roots rot and you can throw everything away .. that is why these worms are so important.

Do you have a lot of problems with pests ?
Not really, the cabbage moth is normally a big threat but to date I have no real issues with this particular insect for the simple reason that this insect has many natural enemies.  I am noticing a natural balance with the insects: when there are more lice, we see the population of hover flies increase who then take care of the lice.  For the first time I am noticing partridges in my field, so you can conclude that they are finding insects to feed on like for example snails.  Pheasants also love snails but unfortunately they also enjoy a nice young organic sprout .. apparently they are also health conscious and want to eat some veggies with their meat !

Do you also notice a difference between the organic and conventional sprouts market?
Certainly.  The conventional sprouts have to be completely perfect. 95% is not enough .. it has to be 100%.  But in order to go from 95% to 100% you need to spray 50% more chemicals !!!  The sprout then looks perfect but you will find more than 5 different chemicals on them.  In organic, 95% is good enough .. furthermore taste and health are equally important.

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