What the Soil Association allow us to do on the farm is often a balance between the fundamental organic principles of working with nature and what is practically possible in order to keep the farm financially viable. For example, tractors have taken the place of horse drawn ploughs that are simply too inefficient for modern organic farming.
One of the most delicate areas of balancing principles and practice is heated glasshouses that tend to be fairly big structures using energy to create heat. Recently we have worked with a Dutch heated glasshouse grower called Fons (and strangely he does look like Henry Winkler) for the large round vine tomatoes and romero peppers. In order to find out a little more about his growing system we visited him last week.
It is certainly a very intensive form of organic production. The investment put into the glasshouse is massive and long term, so Fons needs to get a good return each year to keep the bank manager happy. This means he can only afford to grow expensive crops like tomatoes and each year his yields need to be high. In order to achieve this he does a few interesting things. Firstly, he has worked with a local energy company who built three mini power stations next to his farm to supply the local community, channelling the waste heat into the glasshouse to keep it warm year round. Secondly, the carbon dioxide produced by the power stations is diverted away from the atmosphere and into the glasshouses to help the plants photosynthesise. Finally, he has invested heavily in a composting site producing fantastic compost to feed his plants.
Having pondered on my visit to Fons I am still a little unclear how I feel about this organic approach. On the one hand it is fantastically innovative, produces great vegetables and Fons is certainly striving to be as environmentally sensitive as the bank manager will allow. On the other hand it is a controlled environment and intensive production system that is some way from the vision of an organic farm held by organic founders.
You can find out more information about Fons (and see his picture) on Nature and More website www.natureandmore.com by entering product code 126. We would be really interested to hear what you think. We may even send a few customers over to meet Fons at some stage so you can give us an opinion first hand!