Growing Ideas: Organic veggies make festival debut

A local farm feeds Lowlands

Organic farmer Carel Bouma supplied vegetables for the ultra-local ‘Biddinghuizen salad’ on the menu at the Lowlands music festival in the Netherlands last week. Bouma says: “Climate change is allowing us to grow different crops.”

The farmer was born and bred on the Biddinghuizen farm started by his father. These days Bouma runs it with his wife. Starting in the nineties, Bouma began to feel uncomfortable using chemical agents to protect his crops. He has been fully organic since 2008.

“As an organic farmer, I aim for balance,” Bouma explains. “Because of the heat we have problems with the Colorado potato beetle, a pest which dislikes being splashed with cold water. So we irrigate the land – which is necessary anyway because of the drought – making it much easier to manage the beetle.”

Bouma speaks here about the challenges of organic farming and how his crops are finally making their debut at the famous Lowlands Festival.

Carel Bouma supplied some of the vegetables for the “future-proof” Brasserie 2050 at Lowlands

What do you produce?

We grow three main crops: potatoes, carrots and onions. In addition we grow beans, sweet corn and more exotic crops such as garlic and sweet potatoes. Everything is organic.

Tubers and root vegetables like potatoes are demanding on the soil. That’s why we have divided our land into six plots. To prevent soil-borne diseases, we only sow a particular crop in the same plot once every six years. We rotate using soil-conserving crops, such as gluten-free oats and clover. These conserve the soil, allowing it to ‘rest.’ I deliver the clover to a livestock farmer and he, in turn, supplies me with manure.

We also produce organic seeds and planting materials. We sell roughly 80 percent to wholesalers such as market gardeners, arable farmers, therapeutic care farms and school gardens. The other 20 percent is sold online to private individuals in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and the UK.

“As an organic farmer, I aim for balance”

- Carel Bouma, Bouma biologisch poot- en plantgoed

And now you are going to supply vegetables to Lowlands?

We live right next to the festival site and have been regular visitors from the start. I contacted the director years ago to see what our business could offer the festival. Nothing came of it then, but this year we were approached by Rabobank and the catering company The Food Line-Up. They opened Brasserie 2050, which serves Lowlands visitors food we may be eating in 2050.

Ultra-local eating: the Biddinghuizen salad

We supplied two potato types, including a blue variety, onions, runner beans and garlic. Garlic is known as a subtropical crop, just like the sweet potato. But because of climate change we are now able to grow these crops in the Netherlands. In a decade or so, we might even be growing watermelons.

What is the biggest challenge you face?

Having to keep up with the times. Some crops disappear and new ones are introduced. Brussels sprouts are back, but there was a time when there was hardly any demand for them. They are now sweeter and less bitter than in the past. There are also new vegetable varieties on the market that are more resistant to diseases, for example onions which are immune to mildew.

Another challenge facing us is weeds. Weeds are most vulnerable when they are just sprouting, but that also applies to the crops. With the aid of satellite and GPS, we use a fine weeder harrow that is accurate to within 2 cm, so that we only remove weeds, not crops. In future, I expect to be using more new technologies such as robots.