The idea of becoming a coach for organic growers to make a leap in quality and return on investment and to help conventional growers switch over, has been with Aldo van Os for a number of years. Because he had his own organic farm for the past nine years, it never quite happened. But now it has, because his company was sold at the beginning of the year and he can start working with full focus on sharing his knowledge about organic growing. “Together with five partners from business and science, I am entering into a new partnership with The Conscious Farmer (TCF). Our goal is to help increase organic production, deepen the knowledge and skills of the profession and also to take myself a few steps further.”
The motto with which Aldo and his partners set to work is: “I am the earth”. A bold statement, both Aldo and Friso van der Wal, one of the partners, realize. “We are connected to the earth, the earth is in us. If you realize that, you deal with agriculture and horticulture and food differently.”
The organizational side of organic growing
A major start has been made with a large project in Canada. “I have been active for a few months as a coach at an organic company in Canada that wants to make a quality improvement. They wanted to see if it could be different and better and then approached me to come and have a look in my greenhouse.
Less than a day later they were already on the phone asking if I could come and help on location. In other words, coaching on the spot. As a coach, I help improve organic cultivation methods, including training two growers who can run this large greenhouse horticulture business independently over time.”
The cultivation side with, among other things, biological fertilization and pest control and ensuring an optimal climate in the greenhouse immediately catches the eye, but according to Aldo the organizational side is just as important.
Growers can turn to him about both aspects of organic business. Aldo: “In companies where I was active as a manager at the start of my career, others noticed how calm it was in my greenhouse. Nevertheless, I achieved high yields per square meter and my costs were always low, without stress or overtime. When the basics are in order, there is peace in the greenhouse and you have the time to deal with unexpected issues down the road. And there are actually always those in organic cultivation. With this you prevent ad hoc decisions, which can cost a lot of time and money.”
A healthy earth, a healthy plant, a healthy product
According to Aldo, it is all about a grower’s collaboration with nature and crop. “If that is connected to each other, you arrive at solutions to problems. That is a process. Every day is looking again, sorting out, working out, trying out. And so you develop the right approach for your cultivation step by step. Timing is important in this. You do that based on years of experience, knowledge and your intuition.”
Mark Velders, agricultural engineer and also a partner in TCF, says about this: “My experience is that it pays to work with the forces of nature instead of putting them out of play. Nature is often very capable of repairing and preventing problems itself. You can use that capacity as a grower.”
The partners continue to say: “An important foundation in organic cultivation is also healthy soil. When you grow in healthy soil, plants are by definition less susceptible to pests and diseases. Our goal is a healthy earth, a healthy crop and a healthy product without chemicals.”
At the beginning of February it appeared as a simple, short announcement on the website of real estate agent Vollebregt-Barten: “Sold: organic greenhouse horticulture company in IJsselmuiden”. However, there is a whole story behind that statement. Aldo van Os, because that is of course the grower linked to the announcement, stops after 30 years as a grower and will continue as a coach of (organic) growers. “For a number of years I have been thinking about doing more in the field of coaching.”
Aldo has transferred the 2.5-hectare organic nursery to the ‘neighbors’, the Gebroeders Vahl. As Organic nursery Vahl, they will continue to grow organic tomatoes. “André Vahl has been growing cucumbers conventionally for years. When he visited me in the garden, the specific smell of organic growing in the open field reminded him of the past. It made him long to grow organically too. When I put my company up for sale, everything was arranged rather quickly.”
Although Aldo stops as a grower, he will remain involved as an advisor to his former company. Just like his employees, who will remain active at the company at the request of the Vahl brothers. “Over the years I have developed a specific method of organic cultivation with high yields per square meter, but also with a self-developed method of biological control that has since been taken over by various other growers.”
Sharing knowledge with (organic) growers
In the coming years, Aldo will be supervising the switch for growers from conventional to organic cultivation methods. “In fact, in recent years I have already combined that role as a coach with my own cultivation company. For example, a conventional grower in central Netherlands has switched and I am currently also helping a large Canadian grower to improve their organic cultivation method, including management and everything that has to do with running a greenhouse horticulture business.”
More about his role as a “switch coach” and the transfer of his knowledge to (bio) growers will follow in a second article about his new partnership The Conscious Farmer.