Future Farmer Part I: Howard Koster

September 10, 2020

Dear readers,

Welcome to the first of my blogs for the Lighthouse Farm Network!

My name is Howard, I am 37 years old and am currently in the final year of my Master’s degree Organic Agriculture.

Exploring the impact of agriculture on the Bolivian rainforest

With an applied-science Bachelor in Hotel management and 10 years of professional military service, I suppose my route towards organic agriculture (and this blog for the Global Network of Lighthouse Farms) can be called unorthodox. I strongly believe however, that as we develop in life and gain new insights, we should be unafraid to realign that what we do to whom we have become.

My latest journey began in 2017, when I noticed myself feeling increasingly uneasy with my role as officer in the Royal Netherlands Army.  I decided to quit and find something new to focus my energy on. Therefore, I embarked on a 14-month journey through South-America (on motorbike) and North-America (on foot) where I was confronted on a daily basis with the huge impact that feeding the global population is having on our planet and environment. From the bare hills of the Peruvian Andes and the burnt rainforests of Bolivia, to the millions of almond trees in California’s parched central valley and the rolling fields of grain where bison once used to roam in the great North-West; I kept seeing evidence that man’s influence truly leaves no ecosystem untouched.

Then, while volunteering on an organic farm in California, I read the book ‘Agroecology’ by Prof. Gliessman, in which he addresses the inadequate and unsustainable food production systems currently in place and explains the concept of ‘agroecology’ as an alternative. Looking back it is maybe slightly naïve, yet still it felt like a revelation to me that the vague concepts and ideas of nature inclusive food production that had been forming in my mind, had already been thought out and developed by so many others. With the experience of my travels added to my multiple military deployments to hunger struck places such as Mali and Burkina Faso, my personal conclusion became increasingly clear; I want to contribute to a solution in which food production activities are reconnected with natural systems in a regenerative manner. I want to become a sustainable farmer!

Now in my second year of MSc Organic Agriculture, inspiring lecturers and their cutting edge research are a daily reminder that I made the right choice. I have noticed, however, that despite increasing efforts, there is still a large gap between agroecological research and the actual implementation in practice. There are many reasons for this, such as: knowledge simply not reaching the farmers, results not being applicable due to existing regulations, as well as implementation problems related to farm level practicalities. These barriers are some  of the reasons why the transition to a sustainable food system is not going as fast as it could/should be. Luckily, at academic, practical as well as policy level there are various initiatives to increase multilevel connectivity and speed up sustainable change.

As you know, one of these initiatives aimed at connecting research, practice and policy is the Lighthouse Farm Network, using ‘best practice’ farms around the world to show the way. I am happy and proud to announce that in the coming period I will be completing my internship for one of these farms, the Grand Farm in Austria. There, I hope to learn as much as possible about combining a commercial organic farm in close cooperation with research institutes.  

In the next months I look forward to using this blog to keep you updated on my experiences at the Grand lighthouse farm in Austria. I will do my best to describe the farm and its many aspects, including photos, which are worth more than a 1000 words. I will write about my activities and learning curve as I get settled into my new ‘farm life’ and where appropriate I will zoom out to fit my experiences in my higher goal of becoming an agroecological ‘research’ farmer. Finally, as they say that life is not only about the destination, you can be sure that I will be stopping to smell some of the flowers along the way!!  

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