Puur Origine cultivates excellent organic products
Fred Willemsen and his wife are joint owners of the organic nursery Puur Origine.
The company is located in the village of Grubbenvorst, in the province of Limburg, and covers 45 hectares of land. 40% of this land is attached to the farm, whereas the rest is spread out over the surrounding area. Fred says, ‘As an organic grower, you not only need a lot land, but also have to spread the risks.’ He would be glad to tell us how and why.
From conventional to organic
I took over this company in 2012.
It was an organic chicory nursery at the time, and I have continued that part. I was a conventional grower originally, but I wanted to convert the land I already had into organic land, which is a complicated procedure. For starters, the conventional soil needs to be organically cultivated for two years, even though during that time you can’t sell your products as “organic”. This is financially very disadvantageous, so it’s best to just grow grass for the duration of these two years. This is also better for the soil itself. The crops cultivated in this soil may only be called “organic” and sold as such in the third year.’
Fred continues, ‘An organic grower has to plant a different crop in the same soil every year.
So if I plant lettuce in this soil this year, I have to plant something else next year. This could be anything, as long as it’s not part of the lettuce family. Only after four years can I plant lettuce in that soil again. Every crop has a different growing period, which is determined by Skal, a Dutch control authority dedicated to proving the reliability of organic products. Crop rotation keeps the soil fertile, which results in excellent organic products. But it also means that organic growers need much land in order to satisfy the market demand. This is why our company collaborates with another organic cultivator. We swap plots of land amongst each other, so that we can keep planting the same crop while continuing the crop rotation.’
Brussels witloof (chicory)
As I said, I continued growing organic chicory,’ Fred says.
He continues, ‘We sow the chicory roots in May at several different organic growers’. These growers take care of the entire process until the roots are ripe and as thick as we want them. In October or November, we lift the chicory roots and place them in crates inside a cold-storage room. Our cold-storage room is inside a large shed. Every week, we defrost part of the chicory roots and put them in containers with garden soil. These containers are placed in a shed with a soil surface of 300 m2. The containers are perforated, so that the roots can continue to grow through the holes and establish themselves in the shed’s soil. This is why we call it “grondwitloof”, which means “soil chicory” in Dutch. After about three weeks, we harvest the chicory heads. After the harvest, the content of the containers – meaning the chicory roots and the soil – are transported to the compost heap, which is used as nourishment for other crops,’ says Fred.
All-round and intensive
Our company is all-round and intensive.
Besides chicory, we cultivate lettuce, pak choi, early pumpkin, strawberries, potatoes, kale, leek, green peas, and medicinal herbs. The range is so wide in part because of the crop rotation. Running an organic nursery is a demanding job. You can’t use fertilizer or chemicals, so sometimes you have to accept that some things just don’t work. But our team of twelve people enjoys producing good, organic products. It’s absolutely worth all of our effort, and I really believe in the value of what we do. I also see that there is much attention for organic cultivation. Consumers and buyers are both very interested in our work,’ Fred concludes.