Who? Maxime Veenhoven (24)
What? Thesis research on organic farmers’ strategies
Where? Palmerston North, New Zealand
Farming life in New Zealand
Palmerston North is on New Zealand’s North Island. My job was to map the diversity in organic farming in that area. I visited 19 farmers and looked at their values, relationships and work methods, the three things that together make up a strategy.
Four types of farmer
‘In the end I concluded that there are four different sorts of farmer: soil farmers, spiritual farmers, old-school farmers and new-school farmers. Soil farmers focus on maintaining the balance of nutrients in the soil. Spiritual farmers feel a connection with nature and try to treat the environment with as much respect as possible. They are also keen on spreading their ideas. Old-school farmers are more conventional. They have often inherited the farm and regard it as a source of income. New-school farmers are people who have decided to give up their office job and have made a conscious decision to go into organic farming. They are often idealistic and innovators. It turns out that norms and values have the most influence on the farmers’ strategies and relationships.
Narrow country roads
I had a rental car to get from one farmer to another. Driving along narrow country roads, I ended up in the most gorgeous spots in the mountains and among the volcanoes. It was all stunningly beautiful. I stayed with some farmers for a few days to get more of a feel for life on their farm. I discovered that I actually knew very little about the farming life.
Organic farmers are very passionate about their work and are very willing to talk about what they do and why. I also noticed that they were proud of farming organically. A big cultural difference with the Netherlands is that nearly all the children in these families go to boarding school because the farms are too far away from local schools. There are separate boarding schools for boys and girls.
Because I was doing research I ended up in very different places and got to know people better than if I had been a tourist. I learnt a lot personally too. I had the time to think about my life and put things in perspective, and I found it easier to think about what I want. I find it easier to be on my own now and no longer worry about missing out on things. I’m also more confident that things will work out fine. It wasn’t all great of course. I was on my own and I really missed people. But I had little choice other than to accept the situation. And in the end that gave me more self-confidence.’