Every month Katharina Prause, master student Organic Agriculture, writes a weblog
My name is Katharina Prause and I come from Germany. Before I came to Wageningen, I did my Bachelor `Voeding en Diëtetiek` (Nutrition and Dietetics) at the University of applied science of Amsterdam with the specialization `New Product Management`. Normally you would not see the Master Organic Agriculture as a plausible follow up, but during my Bachelor I always was confronted with terms like organic and sustainable. In a student projects we had to develop new products with the criteria of organic and sustainable. Furthermore, I had a course of Food Ethics, which was really interesting and in some way inspired me. There were more things that directed my interest towards organic and sustainable food, like a project about Slow Food and a presentation about biodiversity during the `excellence program`. And last but not least, I wrote my Bachelor thesis about local food initiatives in the Netherlands, who sells their products through a short chain. So, I wanted to learn more about organic food. What does organic actually mean and what are the opportunities and challenges. Is locally grown food better than food from the other side of the world? Why is organic food so expensive compared with the conventional food? I have much more questions that I want to answer.
I chose Wageningen, because I wanted to stay in the Netherlands, it is a well-known university in the food world and has a good reputation. In addition to this, the Master Organic Agriculture has a social science perspective and the specialization of consumer & market. So, I can combine my commercial knowledge with the new organic and ecologic knowledge I will get. I have now finished my first period (8 weeks) in Wageningen and I enjoy this study, although the contact hours are quite a lot. We did a lot excursion during this first 8 weeks.
Next to my study, I ride two times a week horse, I work in a restaurant and when I have time I paint and do photography. For the future, I can`t tell what my plans are. I want to see what experience I will make during my Master and then decide which direction I want to go.
Participatory observation The sixth period is divided in two parts. For the first part of this period I choose to follow a course that will prepare me for my thesis. Especially, with the methodologic part like observations and interviews. The course is called Methodology for Field Research in the Social Science.
During this course you have the opportunity to practice ethnographic methods. With my fellow student, we decided to train our skills at the Hoge Born care farm nearby the university. We want to focus on the seasonal and local food.
The Hoge Born has a farm shop in which they sell all their own produce, which is grown organically. But also, a lot of other products can be found there. For my first field work, participatory observation, I wrote field notes. I tried to write down as much as possible, using the jotting method. This means you can write down just some words, which help you later to remember the situation when writing down the whole field notes. Participatory observation is a kind of observation in which you are allowed to intervene. Normally, when I think of observation than the ‘researcher’ needs to leave the observation side as natural as possible and do not participate in it. This type of observation was different. Now, it was possible to ask the people in the farm shop some questions to clarify their behavior and also their motivations, or just to get some new insights. This interviews were informal and nice to do, just getting in touch with the customers and hold a short conversation with them about whatever you want to talk about. Of course, keeping in mind your research questions.
During the second and third fieldwork I conducted interviews with customers at the farm shop. The difference between the first and the second interviewing session is that the first was open and broad. In this way you as a researcher are able to explore a little their answers and their direction of thinking. During the second interviewing session I used a semi-structured interview guide to focus more on the aspects we want to know about in order to answer our research question.
I can say that I have learned new aspects of observation and interviewing. Furthermore, I came to the conclusion that I like to interview people, get to know them and their ideas. But still I can improve my skills and I know now what I need to keep in mind for the next time I will interview people.
Agriculture from a social perspective In period 5 I followed two courses of the Rural Sociology chairgroup to gain some new insights in this field and to get some more concrete ideas for my thesis. The first course “The Sociology of Rural Life and Farming” is focusing on the social aspects of practices and farming styles. For this course I went also on an excursion to the Remeker farm in Lunteren. I like to go on excursions, because it combines the theory I learn in class with the reality of practices. In the classes of Jan Douwe van der Ploeg, I learned about the skill-orientated technologies. In the modern world, technology, the artefact, is often very sophisticated, but the skill-orientated knowledge is very simple. For example, the technology behind artificial fertilizers is very complex but the application easy. In more traditional, peasant farming, it is often the other way around. The technique or the artefact is simple but the knowledge how to read or to use it is complex. On the Remeker farm the latter form of technology is more present. For instance, the Jersey cows of the Remeker farm have horns. The farmer can see the status of the cows when looking at the horns. Especially the mineral status can be seen in the rings that are shaped through the lack of minerals, e.g. due to calving.
For the second course “Sociology of Food Provisioning and Place-based Development” I went to the multi-functional care farm “The Paradise” in Barneveld. This farm was an example for the do-it-self democracy and self-governance. The organization of the farm and its network is more flexible than the traditional. The Paradise farm operates in broad network and contributes to place-shaping. The farmers want to be able to steer the development of his own farm in an autonomous way. The Paradise farm is multi-functional. It means that the farm income is gained from different farm activities and/or products, like eggs, beef, vegetables and fruits. The Paradise farm is a care farm for elderly people with dementia and for children with autism. Here, they are no patients anymore, but workers. It’s a quite innovative farm to combine agricultural activities with caring activities and thereby enhances the level of participation of people from the region.
This is very shortly what kept me busy the past month. And I got even more inspired to write my thesis for the RSO.
Visit to the Mini-Rondeel in Amsterdam
In one of the last days during my course Globalisation and Sustainability of Food Production and Consumption in period 4 I visited the Mini-Rondeel in Amsterdam. This is an example of urban farming, because the Mini-Rondeel is placed central in Amsterdam.
The Mini-Rondeel is a smaller version of the Rondeel, in which high environmental and high animal welfare is combined. The stable is built to meet both needs, so the chicken can express their natural behaviour and being inside the stable. The stable has different areas and also the `outside` area with some artificial grass that they can forage and a place for a dust bath. In the middle of the stable is a packaging station and the manure is collected via a belt to produce pallets. Not only the stable is innovative, also the packaging. They use potato peel, a by-product, for packaging 3 or 7 eggs in a round box. This eggs are certified by the Dierenbescherming with 3 stars and Mileukeur, which means that the chicken welfare in this stable is the same as organic chicken and the last one means that less energy is used, less emissions are evaporated due to the dried manure and less land is used; compared with other stables. Another interesting part is that the chickens are slaughtered and the meat is sold in the form of chicken sandwiches. Normally, laying chickens are not used for meat production.
This system is patented as a franchise idea. They want to export this system idea to other countries and not export the eggs. In this way it is more sustainable. Furthermore, the idea is also that first a demand has to be triggered and then the stable size can grow. This helps to prevent overproduction.
It was a nice excursion to see that farming and linking food production to consumption within urban areas is possible, helps to connect the people and build awareness. Sadly, the stable in Amsterdam has to move within two year, because of city planning. But, the stable will be placed in the North of Amsterdam.
A visit to the world biggest organic trade fair: Biofach
This month I visited with a group of students from the MOA Masterclass and a group of students from the University of Applied Science Van Hall Larenstein the organic trade fair in Nürnberg. On Wednesday we left early in the morning by bus to travel about 8 hours for a 3 days excursion to Nürnberg. After this long trip we arrived at the youth hostel and eat dinner. In the evening most of the people went to the center of the small village where the youth hostel was located and had a nice evening in the local pub with local beer.
The next morning at nine in the morning we arrived at the huge fair complex. We could listen to a lot of seminars. I started with the seminar about ”Consumers demand for local organic food”. It was really interesting. First, the speaker presented different definitions. Is it local when the food is produced in a certain amount of kilometers, or do the political boundaries count more like the federal states of Germany, or special boundaries that are applied referring to Parmaham for instance, or it is more an emotional aspect that the food is produced in your neighborhood and thereby a direct relation with the farmer exists, so you can call it “homemade”. Furthermore, he elaborated his study in which they tried to find answers of the attitude-behavior gap lot consumers have. This means that people see the benefits of buying organic and local food, but taking the actual step to buy it, is often lacking. In his experiment they placed a computer inside a supermarket and let the consumer choose between three choices. Within these choices they distinguished between the origin (Germany, local place, imported e.g. from New Zeeland), the price and if the product was organically produced or not. The consumers could also choose to not buy any of the given options. Their finding were that local and organic are often substitute to each other and that for general supermarkets local is more important than organic. And a surprising and strange finding in my opinion that organic-minded consumer have a larger attitude-behavior gap than not organic-mined consumers.
After this seminar I also listen to the seminar “Market and movement – who drives organic?” and later on I visited the different stands of the fair. First I was a little surprised that it is all about selling products, but after a while I discovered that you can find a story behind the products if you ask the people at the stands. I liked to visit the Biofach, there are so many opportunities to learn about different products and why they choose to produce and sell their product in this way, but also to think critically about hot topics that were presented during the seminars.
Integral Leadership for Sustainability. For this period I choose to follow MOS-modules, this is a modular skills training about diverse subject to train you. One of these courses is Integral Leadership for Sustainability. This course is about Leadership qualities integrated in a sustainable setting. In the first session I learnt about the model of Joiner and Josephs Leadership agility, four competencies a leader has to have: The Self-Leadership Agility, Context-Setting Agility, Stakeholder Agility and Creative Agility. Later on we had to develop a 1-day sustainability project, in which we had to challenge ourselves in one of these leadership competencies, use our own talent and set it in a sustainable setting, what does the world need. In my project I was working on the self-awareness of the Self-Leadership Agility. I want to become more aware in how I act and react in a conversation with unknown people. So, I perform interviews in a supermarket in my neighborhood and asked them about local food. I want to know what people think of when local food is addressed. And surprisingly, a lot of people had different ideas about what it is. For example, one older man was talking about the aspect that in the region of Twente and Enschede they are drinking Grolsch as a beer and not Heineken. This is completely different from my own idea about local food, which is that food is grown in our own countries by a small scale farmer and not produced by a big company. Furthermore, I noticed that local food is not a common thing to buy, only on occasion during a holiday. Also, people said that in the region Het Gooi there is not a lot knowledge and attention about local food. In bigger cities like Amsterdam, Haarlem of Alkmaar it is more common, that you can ask friends or neighbors, which restaurants works with local food or where you can buy nice flour for you pancakes. What I learnt about myself during this leadership challenge, is that I find it difficult to keep asking question when the answers are short and I get the feeling they are not interested in this subject or do not know anything about it. During the interviews I wanted to keep the eye contact, but after a while it felt intruding to constantly look them in the eye. So, I tried to balance it a little more. After the interviews I felt good and I hope that the people I was talking to continued thinking about local food and become a bit more aware about it.
Do you eat insects? Two times a month a Masterclass takes places. One part of this is the organization of a MOA Café. Last time fellow students presented the issue of eating insects. For some cultures eating worms of bugs are quite normal, but in the “western” part of the world most people are unfamiliar with it. First, the students presented why we should eat insects. We should, because of the great diversity of 19.000 edible insects. Not only, the great variety makes it attractive, also the nutritional value of insects differs from other food. Insects consist of a great amount of proteins, minerals and vitamins. Furthermore, the environmental impact of producing it is less when comparing it with beef or chicken meat. But, most people don’t want to see the actual insect when food is prepared with it. For them the idea is just too disgusting. However, already 3 restaurants are cooking with insects in the Netherlands. So, making insects attractive for human consumption is an important issue when it comes to marketing. An idea would be to ground the insects and include it in dough.
The students invited a guest speaker who is working on a daily basis with insects as food. Daisy Stauder from the “Bugbon” gave a short presentation and prepared some meals for us, with insects! I was first a little reserved to actually taste it, but I wanted to know how insect’s tastes like, so I did. I experienced the insects as crunchy and light without much taste. The taste was mainly coming from the other ingredients of the meal. I think the insects would taste more if herbs and spices were used. In this way it could get more attractive as well.
At the end of the MOA Café students had to discuss in groups the issue of how sustainable is it to produce and to eat insects. My group discussed that the origin of the feed and other inputs have to be well considered. So, it has to come from an organic or sustainable resource. Furthermore, we discussed that when eating 1 kg of insects, a lot of insects have to be killed and are maybe suffering from pain. For 1 kg of beef, “only” one cow has to be killed. So, the amount of dead animals would be higher in the case of insects. Next to this, insects are beneficial for the maintenance of the environment and are a part of ecosystem services. This MOA Café made clear that there is a lot to think about when addressing insects as food.
A Thursday of my study life. Every day I stand up round 6.00 in the morning. The morning course starts at 8.30, but I have to travel by train and by bus for about one and a half hours. So, my day starts quite early compared to other students of this course who live nearby the university. My morning course in this period is called Integrated Natural Resource Management in Organic Agriculture. It is about management practices to control natural resources like nitrogen and carbon within the farm. Today, we used the farming model “FarmDances”, in which you can change different parameters in order to achieve a higher nutrient use efficiency, a higher gross margin or to reduce losses of volatilization and leaching. For example, as in organic farming the use of artificial fertilizers is not allowed, you have to eliminate the total amount of artificial fertilizers and replace it with another source of nitrogen, like animal manure. Only if the nitrogen is available for the plants, it can grow. After this class was finished, I had to travel to the campus building where my afternoon classes take place. There I eat my lunch and at half past one the afternoon course starts. This course is called Analysis and Management of Sustainable Organic Production Chains. We analyse the broiler production chain from different perspectives of stakeholders. My group is assigned to the group of the environmentalists. This week`s topic is business economics and we calculate the financial situation of an organic broiler farm. In this farm we implement different practises, which are better for the environment. The organic broiler production is not that environmentally-friendly as other organic production chains, due to the ammonia emissions and, because an organic broiler needs twice as much space and twice as long as a conventional broiler. So, as an environmentalist, we implement locally fodder, hedgerows and an apple orchard. At around 17.15 my study day was over and I travelled back home. I came home and my boyfriend already had prepared diner. Together we closed our day with a nice bottle of white wine.
My first course is Organic Agriculture and Society. This course is about elements in the chain from farm to fork. It starts with lectures about soil, plant and animal components in organic agriculture. Later on, other aspects as consumer and marketing, innovations, policy and an integration part are taken into account. So, I got a total overview of the production and supply chain.
One of the excursion I went with the course Organic Agriculture and Society was the CSA in Wageningen, called `De Nieuwe Ronde`. CSA means Community Shared Agriculture or Community Supported Agriculture. First we got a little presentation of the two farmers about the history of their farm. The group of this year’s course is so big, that we split up in two groups. Together with the farmer we walked through the CSA. Different kinds of vegetables grow there, like cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts and chard. We went there at the end of the season, so a lot of winter vegetables were ready to harvest. In the summer period asparagus, strawberries, lettuce and many more crops are grown. In front of every field the farmer placed a sign, that everyone knows what crop is growing in this field. He explained that the members often mix up the leafy vegetables before the signs were set up. In the back of the CSA we saw a little field, which seemed at first site a little chaotic. A member started a permacultural garden there with herbs, flowers and vegetables. So, members can bring their idea into the CSA, which is really nice to participate in an active way.
The idea is that people pay the farmer in advance for the cultivation of crops in a growing season. In return the farmer grows and takes care of the vegetables, fruits and other crops for you. So, instead of paying per kilogram, you pay for the whole season and can harvest so much, as you want. Of course, you have to eat it, otherwise it is wasted and you do not want that. It is not only an advantage for you, but also for the farmer. He has a sort of guarantee that the products will be consumed. The members come regularly to the CSA and harvest the crops. The relationship between the farmer and the member is really close. It is also possible to decide together with the other member, which crops the farmer will grow for you in the next season.
I like this kind of farming a lot, because the social aspect is high and you can participate.