Colruyt Group reaps what De Lochting sows
Everyone deserves an equal opportunity on the labour market. Even without the right qualification or with a handicap, you should be able to find a good job. And specifically to help those people, Colruyt Group is working with De Lochting vzw in West Flanders. This association combines social employment with organic farming. A project which is better for everyone.
De Lochting vzw is primarily a social entrepreneur. ‘We help people who can’t get on in the ordinary job market,’ says Dirk Lammertyn, managing director of De Lochting. Eighteen years ago the association started with a modest vegetable garden (‘lochting’ in West Flanders dialect) in Roeselare. Since then, the garden has grown into 30 hectares of organic farmland and De Lochting now employs 150 people. Not everyone works in the organic fields. Some pack fruit and vegetables, others look after organic maintenance. ‘Our ultimate dream is to stream a number of people through to the regular job market.’
And Colruyt Group is happy to contribute to making that dream come true. ‘Together, we look to see how we can make the dream come true,’ says Rony Neufkens, head buyer of fruit and vegetables. ‘Because, for us, De Lochting is more than just a supplier. We’re partners, we help each other out in good times and bad.’
Vegetables in transition
De Lochting offers vegetables in transition. But what does that mean? ‘Vegetables in transition are grown organically, but in ordinary or non-organic soil,’ explains Rony. ‘Even if you work the ground from day one according to organic principles, it will still take two or three years before the ground is completely ‘pure’. Only then can we talk about organic soil, and thus organically-grown vegetables.’
But why offer vegetables in transition? ‘The demand for organic products continues to rise. Not just at Bio-Planet, but also at Colruyt and OKay,’ says Rony. ‘Our preference is for homegrown organic vegetables. Even if that’s not always easy. In Belgium, organic farmers are mostly small scale and they can't always meet our requirements,’ explains Rony. ‘We’ve worked with De Lochting, organic vegetable grower and social entrepreneur in Roeselare for over fifteen years, since the opening of the first Bio-Planet in Kortrijk. When the association decided to expand its organic fields last year and asked us to help, we were immediately excited.’
From fallow to organic
Land which was previously used for growing ‘ordinary’ crops must first lie fallow for one year. ‘We can grow grain and legumes such as clover,’ says Dirk. ‘After that, we can start to grow vegetables according to organic principles and get the ‘transition’ label. Only after two or three years can we sell them as organic vegetables. During this transition period, we have a lot of costs and less income. Worse still, we normally sell considerably less vegetables when we’re in transition.’
Colruyt Group helped De Lochting in this financially difficult period. For example, Colruyt and OKay bought transition kohlrabi, flat leaf parsley and radishes. We expanded that range with beetroot, chestnut pumpkin and winter purslane. The near-organic vegetables are sold under Boni Selection Bio, but are easily identified by a sticker on the packaging. They are slightly more expensive than ordinary vegetables and cheaper than organic products. And Colruyt Group is not a test market. Bio-Planet has already sold transition chicory from De Lochting. ‘It’s a win-win situation,’ says Rony. ‘We support our partner and at the same time we ensure high quality Belgian organic vegetables.’
How can you recognise these products?
You can recognise transition products from the label where it clearly states ‘in omschakeling’ (in transition).
Met dit initiatief dragen we bij aan het realiseren van deze Duurzame Ontwikkelingsdoelstellingen van de Verenigde Naties.