Math Kersten

Vorster Hand

Hi, I'm Math Kersten and I grow organic chicory for Nature & More in the Netherlands. Thank you for buying my vegetables, I hope you'll enjoy them!

Our farm is located in the south east of The Netherlands near the village of Sevenum. I have lived on this farm for all my life (I am now 59 years old) and have seen it develop and change over time.  When my father started, we had a typical mixed farm with arable land and livestock. In 1980 we were one of the first farms to start specializing in chicory production and today, more than 30 years on we are still producing this delicious and very special vegetable. In 2010 we received our organic certifcation.

Our farm is also a care farm, for people with special needs. The care activities can be split into two main groups.  Firstly, we have a group of young people with a handicap who help us out with all our chicory activities and work around the farm. My wife Toos is supervising this group. The second group are our elder guests, for whom the day activities are focussed on light activities. They are guided by my daughter Eefje. Apart from chicory production we have quite a few farm animals; our guests love to work with the animals and treat them like royalty!



Interview with Math Kersten

N&M: Chicory is a very special product, how is it grown ?
Math: The process is indeed rather different than other crops since the chicory roots are not grown by the chicory growers themselves. Basically chicory is produced in two distinct steps: The rootstocks are started in the soil in a similar way as a nursery provides seedlings. Consequently we “grow out” the witlof (white leaf) in special dark cellars where the chicory roots grow without light and produce the sprouts. These are consequently sold as chicory in the stores.  The darkness basically ensures the leaves remain white.

N&M: What was your main motivation to start organic farming?
Math: I have always had a strong sympathy for the organic movement so I don’t think my colleagues are very surprised.  The two main reasons are the fact that there is a logical combination between organic farming and care farming. Secondly, our business became too small to compete with the huge conventional chicory farms.

N&M: What are the main differences between organic and conventional growing practices?
Math: Apart from the fact that we are buying certified organic rootstock and are obviously not allowed to use any agro chemicals, we are also monitoring the growing process more closely.   The emphasis now is on avoiding mistakes before they occur. This means that we spend a lot more time observing the roots and checking for evidence of disease.

N&M: What type of problems – or challenges do you encounter?
Math: The main problem in growing chicory is fungi which causes the plants to rot. Instead of using fungicides, we now pull out all the affected plants and then rinse the rest with fresh water to wash off the fungi spores. This is a very labour-intensive process.

N&M: How did the care farm come about?
Math:  When in 1980 we started growing conventional chicory we were one of the first farms to do this.  During the following 20 years we enjoyed some good years but also some very poor ones.  1998 was a particularly poor year and consequently my wife Toos decided to go back to work in the health care sector.  A few years later when business picked up again she decided to come back and work on the farm but also wanted to continue with her care work.  It was therefore a logical step to start a small care farm.  In 2004, we experienced another poor year for chicory and had to make a decision as to how we were going to run the farm in the future.  It was then that we decided that care farming would become our major activity.  In 2008, our daughter Eefje joined the farm to run the elderly day care activities.

N&M: What activities do you provide for your younger workers (with a handicap)?
Math: Let’s see, obviously the work involved in chicory production.  Then we have quite a few animals that need taking care of including 15 sheep, a couple of cows, 4 ponies, a donkey, chickens, 2 dogs,  4 cats a few rabbits and some gold fish.  Furthermore we make our own wine, chop wood, run indoor activities, feed the neighbours geese, wood carving and much more.  For the elder guests the most important thing is not what they do but the fact that they feel comfortable and at home here !

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