Organic Times – first edition of the MOAgazine


Recently students of the Master programme Organic Agriculture (MOA) of Wageningen University launched the first edition of the MOAgazine entitled ‘Organic Times’. The magazine (Organic times online) is written and edited by MOA students and provides some insights into the programme, study and student activities and a variety of issues linked to MOA, including book reviews and organic recipes. As chair of the MOA study programme committee I have enjoyed reading the Organic Times and am proud of the time and energy the students invested in developing this magazine. It reflects the enthusiasm and commitment of this great and dedicated group of international students as well as the interdisciplinary character of the MOA programme.

WWOOFING – fifth post RUW-RSO studytrip to Poland

RUW Foundation and the Rural Sociology Group organized a studytrip to Poland. In a 10 day intensive program different cities and rural areas in Poland were visited, interesting people and organizations met and farm work is done. The theme of the trip is “Glocalise”. Students are asked to prepare themselves well on different themes in groups before leaving and to write a concluding reflexive paper on their impressions and findings, and to write a blog. This fifth blog is about the logistical side of the trip by:

By Lianne Vreugdenhil

After visiting different stakeholders influencing and regulating Polish agriculture, it was time to do more practical work. Public transport brought us to the small town called so “easily” Szczedrzyk, Opole Voivodeship. This village is the home of Ekozagrada, an organic farm owned by Iwona and Jens Frusek. They offered us a place to do WOOFFing. Continue reading

Profitable organic farming – contribution to ‘The Broker’ food security blog

Profitable organic farming is a contribution of colleague Ina Horlings the ‘The Broker online‘ blog on food security.  The Broker has four interesting blogs from a manyfold of people across the world.

IFSA 2012 workshop ‘The meaning of semi-subsistence farming in different cultural contexts’

Together with Imre Kovach and Catherine Darrot,  I will be hosting a workshop at the IFSA symposium in Aarhus, Denmark from the 1st of July until the 4th of July 2012.

The workshop is aimed at exploring the multiple meanings of semi-subsistent food production strategies in different cultural context. Two questions are at the centre of attention: 1) How has the meaning of semi-subsistent food production changed over time for producers, society and institutions? and 2) What recommendations can be derived from the research for policy makers of multi-state institutions (e.g. EU?). We invite researchers from diverse countries to present their empirical research in order to stimulate a fruitful discussion and knowledge exchange.

The deadline for submitting abstracts is the 31st of December 2011.  More information and a link to submitting your abstract can be found here. I hope to see you there!

Porto Alegre’s 22 year old farmers’ market

On the saturday of my arrival in Porto Alegre, the “Feira dos Agricultores Ecologistas” was celebrating its twenty-second birthday. The market is situated at the border of the big Parque Farroupilha Redenção in the city centre and is at least a kilometer long. Back then, the market started with a group of citizens in Porto Alegre in search for healthier food both for the environment and for human health. The environment was not something which was considered a ‘political’ issue at the time of the ‘dictatura’. The environment therefore, was a topic for groups to come together and of course, discuss politics more broadly. More than twenty years ago, an environmentalist consumer cooperative  was established which organised a wide network of farmers willing to produce differently which was back then, more of an activist- against mainstream – thing to do than today. The farmers called themselves ‘agricultores ecologistas’, which refers to this activism. They consider themselves different from the broader movement towards organic production which evolved later. The subtle difference between their name and terms like ‘organico’ or other terms such as ‘agro-ecologia’ can easily be missed by a visitor.

However, these things were explained to me by Flávia Marques with whom I went there and who is one of the professors at the Post graduate program for rural development (PGDR) and who has worked with various of the farmers for years. One of the farmers on the market is specialised in plants for medicinal uses, the topic of her doctorate thesis. Further down the market there was also an empty stand with an elderly woman sitting behind it. Here people can get free advice on ailments also from a natural medicinal or holistic point of view. This week, at the two farm visits near Pelotas, both farmers had an extensive garden with herbs for medicinal use near the house. Also the municipal garden in Dois Irmãos had an herbal garden organised around the various human organs. It is one of the many striking differences compared to home for me. I learned that knowledge of the beneficial use of herbs is widespread and is not limited to organic farmers or ecologically oriented consumers.

The Black Gold

Last week, students of the course ‘Agrarische en rurale ontwikkeling, sociologische perspectieven’  had two days of excursions and could choose from 4 different excursions to see different models of multifunctionality and institutional arrangements in farming (see Birgit’s blog about a different excursion). With our group, we visited the Stadsboerderij Almere and the nearby Zonnehoeve in Zeewolde. Both farms have different other activities related to farming, such as school education, cattle in nature reserves, home sales of products, relations with care institutes.

Both are also organic farms, or better; bio-dynamic farms, which goes a step further in closing the nutrient cycle than organic farming. The nutrient cycle turned out to be the key to understanding the multifunctionality of these farms. At the very core of it all was what Tineke called ‘the black gold’; good quality manure, the essential ingredient for a healthy and productive farm without dependence on external input.

To illustrate her point, she took a handful of manure from last year and encouraged students to smell it. Hesitantly a few did. To their surprise it did not smell bad. The mixture of straw, urine and feces of the beef cattle was far into the composting process. It smelled more like soil than like shit….

At the Zonnehoeve they heard again about the importance of building soil. Piet told many unusual stories which illustrated that building soil is quite literally building a resilient farm. He showed his long list of activities in which he diversified which dazzled the students (amongst others, a bakery, permanent housing for caretakers, facilities for therapy with horses, internet shop). But starting with his dairy herd, he emphasised the importance of  Tineke’s ‘black gold’ too.

The centrality of the herd in the farming philosophy of both the Stadsboerderij and the Zonnehoeve, illustrates very well the theoretical framework which the students had learned in class (see Ploeg et al 2003). Grounding the farm in this vital resource  for a healthy nutrient cycle, both farmers deepened their farm strategy by shortening the supply chain whilst delivering high quality organic produce and from that solid base they broadened their farm with new additional functions. Tineke explained this by showing her ‘black gold’, which had brought good economic revenue of their core activity; producing food (e.g. onion, pies, carrots) which made it possible to invest in an entire new facility consisting of a farm-house and barn for a further expansion into care farming.

Thesis possibility: Sheep & Wine in South Africa

The Rural Sociology Group offers a possibility to do your master thesis about organic wine production in South Africa.

As organic wine production cannot make use of pesticides, wine growers search for other ways to control the weeds in the vineyard, for example by mowing or burning.
More recently, the idea has come up to let sheep graze in the vineyards, see for example “If sheep avoid grapes, they can graze the floor of a vineyard, providing farmers an alternative to using herbicides and mowing.”

Although organic wine is also produced in South Africa, this idea has neither been studied nor applied in there. This offers interesting possibilities for a master thesis.

The research will be carried out under supervision of Rural Sociology (Birgit Boogaard) en Rural Development Sociology (Paul Hebinck) and in cooperation with the Unversity of Stellenbosch and an organic winegrower in South Africa – who is very interested in this concept.

If you are interested, just send me an email ( ) for further information.

Best regards,

Looking at organic+ activities and their perception by consumers in the rural web

Before I start writing about organic+ activities and consumers I would like to introduce myself.

My name is Corinna Feldmann and I study Organic Agriculture in my second year. I just finished my master thesis: ‘What does the consumer take up? – A case study on communication in the rural web around the dairy in Andeer’.

Everything started in late spring of 2009, when I decided that I would like to do my research on consumers and their opinion on producer’s activities which go beyond the minimum standards of organic regulations. So, I found my way to the Rural Sociology Group and met Bettina Bock. Doing some investigations on the internet I came across the first report of the EU Core Organic Project on Consumer Farmer Partnerships which deals with the identification of communication arguments used by small-scale farmers and producers who engage in organic+ activities. Thereupon I got into contact with the research institute for biological farming (FiBL) in Switzerland who is one of the partners in this EU project. In May I wrote my research proposal with the help of Heidrun Moschitz and Flurina Schneider from FiBL and Bettina Bock. The core of my research was to find out what aspects of the communication arguments consumers perceive as important. Continue reading

The Food and Farming Transition: Toward a Post Carbon Food System

More and more scientists are pointing to the fact that the end of the cheap oil era will require us to fundamentally change the prevailing current food and agricultural system; a system that has become addicted to and dependent on fossil fuels. This week I came across a report entitled “The Food and Farming Transition: Toward a Post Carbon Food System” published by the Post Carbon Institute earlier this year.  Although the report focuses on the United States, its contents applies to many other parts of the world as well. In this well accessible and readable report the authors not only point to the key vulnerabilities of a food system resting on an unstable foundation of massive fossil fuel inputs but also to the seeds of transition toward a post carbon food system:

The seeds of the new food system have already been planted. America’s farmers have been reducing their energy use for decades. They are using less fertilizer and pesticide. The number of organic farms, farmers’ markets, and CSA operations is growing rapidly. More people are thinking about where their food comes from.

These are important building blocks, but much remains to be done. Our new food system will require more farmers, smaller and more diversified farms, less processed and packaged food, and less long-distance hauling of food. Governments, communities, businesses, and families each have important parts to play in reinventing a food system that functions with limited renewable energy resources to feed our population for the long term.

Resistance and Autonomy in Western Mexico – local actors creating a place of their own

 By Peter R.W. Gerritsen, Department of Ecology and Natural Resources, South Coast University Centre, University of Guadalajara, Av. Independencia Nacional 151, 48900, Autlán, Jal., Mexico. Email:

 The local effects of global processes in the Mexican countryside are well documented; describing problems related to the quality of rural producers’ life, identity and traditional practices, as well as their resource management practices. Alike initiatives all over the world,  also in western Mexico local actors joined forces to counter these problems and created ‘a place of their own’ in a globalised world, a place for their own wellbeing.

RASA - Peter Gerritsen

In the state of Jalisco, located in western Mexico, 20 groups of peasants and indigenous farmers, supported by professionals from non-governmental organizations and local universities, joined forces in 1999 and created the Red de Alternativas Sustentables Agropecuarias (RASA: the Network for Sustainable Agricultural Alternatives). As such, the RASA can be considered an umbrella organization for many local organized producer groups.

The RASA is also a social organization with characteristics of the so-called new social movements. New social movements have emerged since the late 1970s in the Mexican countryside, due to the problems created by global processes. The struggles that have led to their emergence originate from the demand to defend local structures and to remain control over the different domains of daily life. As such, these movements stress the need for endogenous development approaches. Closely related to the issue of specific life styles is the defense of the territory, being the place of local identity formation. It is also here, where innovative forms of resource management have emerged.

RASA 2 PGThe RASA´s main objective is strengthening a development model that aims to mitigate the local impacts of global processes and that permits the transition towards sustainable local development. In practice, the RASA organizes workshops on organic agriculture and fair trade, and organizes farmer-to-farmer meetings for sharing experiences (including political discussions on the countryside). These activities take place in the rural and peri-urban areas of Jalisco. The RASA also designs and implements new fair trade-channels, mainly in the metropolitan area of the Jalisco state capital Guadalajara. As such, the RASA´s actions are also directed at urban consumers. Finally, articulation with other social movements is actively sought for. Thus, the RASA seeks to create new room for maneuver by establishing strategic alliances with different societal actors.

The creation of local transition paths towards sustainable development, such as promoted by the RASA, is related to the issues of agency and power. These, in turn, are (often) related to resistance and autonomy. Both elements are also recognizable in the RASA experience.

To start with, the RASA has created its own socio-political space in the Jalisco countryside, which has permitted to resist to and counter the dominant rural development model in Mexico and in Jalisco that follows global tendencies. However, the RASA´s efforts must be understood as heterogeneous in nature; not all groups are involved in fair trade, but only those with a production surplus. Moreover, some groups focus more on basic grain production, while others cultivate horticultural crops. Furthermore, the RASA emerged outside the realm of governmental intervention in rural areas. In fact, it has been systematically neglected by formal institutions, as the RASA has been considered a threat to the established formal – historically-determined – political spaces in the rural arenas. Moreover, within the rural communities the RASA-members are perceived as outsiders. In this sense, the RASA conceptual approach has permitted strengthening their self-consciousness and self-organization, as well as improving their position in their communities. It has also led to the dimension of autonomy in the sustainable development model, as designed and implemented by the RASA.