Future Farmer Part IV: No healthy soils without farmers!

December 8, 2020

Dear readers,

Skipping the Austrian winter, I now find myself back in Holland, working on the desk-based project I previously referred to. It is slightly hard to explain without getting too technical, but I will give it my best shot!

Not only is Alfred Grand an incredibly innovative and experienced farmer, he is also very involved with on-farm research and puts a lot of time and effort into outreach and engagement activities. Growing food sustainably is not enough, the world needs to know about it. In that too, he is an inspiring example to me.

Alfred participates in many seminars on behalf of the Mission Board: Soil and Health and GRAND farms.

One of the initiatives Alfred is involved with is part of the European Commission Research framework, Horizon Europe. With 80 billion euros, it is the biggest research and innovation program ever and set to kick-off in 2021. In the past, the EU has received criticism of being a bureaucratic institute unknown to the people and therefore unloved by the people. In response, an important element within Horizon Europe is connecting to - and engaging with citizens. One of the ways in which this will be achieved, is by structuring a part of the research and innovation around the five most challenging topics facing Europe.

These so-called mission areas have been identified as:(1) Adaptation to climate change, (2) Cancer, (3) Healthy oceans, seas, coastal and inland waters, (4) Climate neutral and smart cities, (5) Soil Health and Food. For each mission area, a board of experts has been established to propose a mission with concrete goals towards 2030. For the mission area Soil Health and Food, Alfred Grand was selected as the only farmer on the Board.  

Click here to access the full report.

The Soil Health and Food mission has been given the catchy title ‘Caring for Soil is Caring for Life’ and an ambitious goal has been set: ‘By 2030, at least 75% of all soils in each EU Member State are healthy,-.’ An important step towards achieving this goal is the proposed establishment of a European network of Living Labs(LLs) and Lighthouses (LHs). Through this network of ‘real world’ farms, the gap between research and practice will be bridged, peer-to-peer learning will be facilitated and citizens will be reconnected to the food system. The active participation of innovative front-runner farms, co-operating with science and policy makers as well as showcasing their sustainable innovation to their peers and the public, will therefore be fundamental to the success of the mission.

Operating a ‘real world’ front-runner farm himself, Alfred knows the ‘real world’ challenges faced by such farmers. Without the proper support it is practically impossible to do all of the above AND maintain an exemplary farm. As a friend recently said to me: “Farming is a tough, full-time business in which you work hard and earn little”. On top of that, it is no secret that Europe does not always have a very good reputation among all farmers, and if they don’t trust European policies, why should they be eager to participate in a European Network?

It is for these reasons that I am spending the desk-based part of my internship on a research project that explores the subject of how to stimulate bottom-up farmer participation in the proposed European Living Lab & Lighthouse network. Alfred and I aim to “inform relevant European policymakers on this subject and aid them in formulating sound policy and structure regarding the implementation of a successful LL&LH network.”

This is an ambitious and challenging task, making it extra important not to lose sight of the good news between the lines: the concept of Lighthouses as proposed by the Mission Board is undoubtedly inspired by the Global Network of Lighthouse Farms; through the hard work of our farmer/policy influencer, Alfred!

This is great, as it shows that the concept of Lighthouses is being embraced at the highest European level! The same can be said for the subject of soil health. While not much more than a decade ago, we simply referred to our soils as ‘the black box’, awareness of the importance of soil health has now reached such a level that European policymakers rank it right up there with fighting cancer and climate change.

Why? Because ‘Caring for Soil is Caring for Life!’

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