8 Questions with Patrick Stoffer of Grow Local
In a lot of ways, Patrick Stoffer isn't your average 28-year old. To start with, he is a hydroponic farmer, but perhaps even more unusual, he is roommates with a 90-year old, Harrie, just one of the members of his community he is passionate about serving. Patrick lives at Humanitas Independent Senior Living Facility in Deventer, The Netherlands. In exchange for room and board, Patrick spends time with the residents, who help him grow, harvest and prepare the fresh produce from his Freight Farms operation, Grow Local. Harrie, by the way, is his marketing manager. Patrick started his project in 2016 and was the first to get growing in a Leafy Green Machine™ in Europe. We recently spoke with Patrick about his favorite crops to grow and his experience as a modern farmer in The Netherlands.
Freight Farms (FF): Tell us about your relationship with Humanitas and how you first get involved with them?
Patrick Stoffer (PS): At the end of 2015, I was looking for a room to rent after I got back from studying in Austria. That’s when I read about a place where young and old people live together in a retirement home. Immediately I saw the ‘win-win’ situation. The room is rent-free, and in return, they ask you to help out the residents by doing 30 hours of volunteer work per month. As a young person, you bring joy back into the house and the lives of the Humanitas residents. A walk through the park, drinking coffee together or even playing beer pong with the elderly is part of daily life. It's all about being a good neighbor.
FF: What do you grow and who do you sell to? PS: I grow a variety of crops like Mizuna (which is a type of mustard green), two kinds of kale, swiss chard, three varieties of lettuce, turnip tops, and endive. My customers are a retirement home, a few restaurants, as well as a catering service. I harvest, package and deliver the fresh produce right into the hands of my clients by bike. Also, I have a designated pickup spot where local consumers can buy their fresh produce.
FF: Do you find that customers are willing to pay more for your premium product?
PS: In my experience, customers are willing to pay more for my produce once they hear my entire story. Knowing where the food is coming from, the way it's produced and the freshness of the product are topics that play a huge roll in the motivation to pay more.
FF: What is one small change everyone can make in their daily lives to make a big difference in our food system?
PS: Eat more salads and less meat.
Meet Patrick Stoffer as he takes us through a day in the farm
FF: What’s the most pressing issue in food and agriculture that you’d like to see solved?
PS: The most pressing issue in my eyes is the vast amount of products that contain added sugar. In my opinion, we need to learn how to cook fresh, local and healthy dishes that include a lot of vegetables. Add a salad on the side, and I’m a happy man.
FF: What has been the impact of the Leafy Green Machine™ on the residents of Humanitas?
PS: I see Humanitas as my community. I feel that it has offered me so much in terms of support and a place to live, and that’s why I wanted to give something back to it. The Leafy Green Machine™ gave me the possibility to provide the home with the freshest greens available on the market year-round. But the LGM™ also gave the opportunity to involve my community and show residents how food can grow with the help of some really impressive technology. These days I even get the help of my 90-year-old friend and roommate who has become my ‘marketing manager’. I love the way that the LGM™ is making a tremendous impact on my community by bringing us together through teaching, learning and experimenting together.
FF: What’s your favorite crop to grow and why?
PS: My favorite crop is ‘Nero di Toscana.’ It's a variety of kale that I'm crazy about. I love the taste, the way it grows, and it gives me a proud feeling when it’s on someone’s plate.
FF: What reaction do you typically get from people when you tell them what you do for a living?
PS: The funny thing is that people are surprised when I tell them what I do. Somehow most people have a stereotypical image of what a farmer should look like, especially here in the Netherlands where “all” farmers wear the famous wooden shoes.
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