Sustainable Organic Farming in Prague: An Interview

One thing that has frustrated me about living in Prague is that I haven’t always known how to find good sources of food here in the Czech Republic. My husband and I stopped eating almost all processed food almost 5 years ago, but it wasn’t until I got pregnant about 2 years ago, that we really started thinking about where even our “unprocessed” food comes from. We started learning about farming practices and the difference between organic and non-organic produce. We started reading about sustainable farming practices and how commercially raised animals are treated. We came across research about what different animals should naturally eat and how commercial farms give them foods that aren’t best for their health, or ours, just so that they can produce a higher yield more quickly. We wanted to start eating grassfed livestock and pastured chicken and only organic produce, but it felt totally overwhelming to find that here in Prague. Since I don’t speak much Czech I had no idea how to search for this type of thing. That’s why I was so excited to learn about Bohemiae Rosa. This local Czech farm has blown me away with all that they offer grassfed beef, lamb, and goat meat, pastured chicken (which means that the chickens are TRULY free range and spend most of their time outside), eggs from pastured chickens, homemade pate, homemade bacon, homemade pickles, organically grown produce, unpasteurized honey, and so much more. They are not officially certified organic yet (the process takes 2 years), but they follow organic principles. Even better they also implement sustainable practices and think about what is best for the animal, the environment, and our own health as well.

They speak WONDERFUL English and deliver right to your door in Prague (as well as having a few distribution sites throughout the city). I’ve gotten three orders from them so far and I’ve been so happy with each of them. We’ve gotten delicious vegetables, fresh fish, tons of eggs, tasty bacon, and even some beautiful liver. I have been so excited about this farm that I decided to interview the farmer so that we all could learn more about this sustainable farm right in our backyard.

So, without further ado, here is my interview with Ingmar:

You call yourself a “sustainable farmer” what exactly does that mean to you?

Sustainable means that production methods need to include the nature of the animals, the surrounding nature and general welfare of our planet and all that live. It takes organic much further. Organic means no artificial fertilizer, no pesticides, fungicides or herbicides.

It is perhaps best to give some examples:

If you feed a cow organic feed, you can call the beef organic (it it spends a certain amount of time outside). However, the nature of the cow is that it is a ruminant: it does not naturally eat grain! Grain actually increases the acidity of the stomach, causing the cow to get ill. This can be so severe that in the US cows are slaughtered at 14-16 months, they cannot keep them alive any longer. Sustainable practices then ensure that the cows only eat grass and straw (or in winter).

Flying your lettuce or other vegetables around the world in a airplane is obviously not good for the environment, sustainable in this case means buying local (officially with 160 km of the farm).

Chickens raised in a barn with 60,000 together, on organic feed and access topasture is called organic. The nature of the chickens (bred to sit and eat all day), is that few will actually go outside the barn. Anyway, just imagine the logistics, a day has 86,400 seconds, will each chickens go out and in the barn, they would have only 14.4 seconds each to do so (7.2 seconds to get out and the same to get in). This is not something that actually happens, so the chickens rarely go outside.

Sustainable means that the chickens are raised outside in small groups of max 250 each on sufficient land and grass. They do have a chicken house where they can sleep and shelter from the rain, but they spent most of their day outside eating grubs and insects that increase the omega-3 in the eggs tremendously.

How did you become a sustainable farmer? Did you grow up wanting to be a farmer or did something happen in your life that led you to that path?

When our children were born my wife and I started looking at the labels of store bought food, and what we read scared us! We became avid readers of books and reports on how food was converted from something that was essential and healthy to something that kept long well and looked good, but did not contain anything of value. Instead we realized that much of the food available in stores was actually dangerous to eat because of the toxins etc. Along the way we also learned that the production and processing methods applied were not friendly to either human or nature in the long and short term. It was then that we decided that enough was enough and if big business could not feed us properly, we would do so ourselves. One thing led to another though and it is easy to produce too much for one family, so we decided to share our food with those people who would appreciate it.

How long have you personally been farming? How long ago was Bohemia Rosa started?

In 2003 we started looking for a farm in the Czech republic, and in 2004 we found the Statek in Otradovice. It took 2 years to finalise the purchase and another 4,5 years to renovate it and start production in earnest. So we have been farming for almost 3 years now, building up the herds and learning along the way.

What does an average day on the farm look like?

At the moment I start the day at 7 am, but in the summer much earlier than that, and finish in the evening when I lock up the hens. This is in summer at about 10 pm but in winter around 7 pm.

During the day I still spent too much time on sales and marketing, as we are still busy building our customer base. The rest of the day I organise the farm work and the food production.

How many people work at Bohemia Rosa?

We have a group of 10 very good employees that work with us permanently, and depending on need to employ a further 20-25 people, especially in summer.

What are you most proud of at Bohemiae Rosa?

That our customers love our food!

You produce your food “without using pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or artificial fertilizers.” So, I’m curious how do you control pests and produce a good yield? What types of natural fertilizers do you use and what advice would you have for home gardeners who want to grow organic produce?

Yield is a problem when you do not use chemicals. On average the yield is about 50% at the moment, but with special planting techniques, a lot of hoeing, companion planting and selection of pest resistant plants we aim to increase the yields. What we discover is that after a few years the yields actually go up because we do not use chemicals, the plants seem to develop their own resistance in absence of chemicals.

We use our own farm manure and use horse manure from a neighboring horse farm  as fertilizer. This we compost in a sustainable way for 1 year (with a minimum of heavy machinery and labor).

We actually produce sufficient volumes now that next year we will start selling our compost to the public.

You also do not use antibiotics or growth hormones on your animals and all your animals are given good living conditions. Your live stock is grassfed and your poultry is pastured. I think this is truly wonderful, but I’d be curious to hear why you personally decided to raise your animals this way?

It is a personal choice as well as concern for our health and environment and animal welfare. It is bad enough that we need meat, so we might as well make the life of our animals the best we can.

Do you ever supplement with grain for your live stock and under what circumstances?

Our sheep, goats and cows are only grass-fed, but our pigs and poultry get grain as part of their diet. We never deviate from that rule as it is bad for the ruminants but also bad for us. Grain has a deleterious effect on CLA in ruminants (this is a good fatty acid, that keeps the animal lean), and thus on us. In effect, feeding grain makes the animal obese by removing the level of CLA, great if you want to produce meat fast and are not concerned about health, but a no-no if you want the best for yourself and others.

What do you do when one of your animals gets sick?

We usually separate them from the herd or group so they have more rest and are able to feed at their leisure (but always in view of the other animals). A common problem with pigs is that they misstep and strain their ankles. In this case the vet sometimes gives them a shot of codeine to alleviate the pain. This goes out of their system within 6 hours by the way). When they get a cold the vet gives them a cocktail of vitamins, which is harmless but makes the animal feel much better.

Sometimes in summer poultry or rabbits get affected by coccidiosus, to which they will build up a natural resistance. It the worst case we will feed them medication and when better, process them into dog food.

What goals do you have for Bohemia Rosa and how would you like to see it grow in the future?

What really surprised us is that many of our customers want fruit, vegetables and dairy, all organic of course, next to their meat. So we have already expanded our gardens with an extra 1,5 ha for next year and will plant even more fruit trees in spring. Many customers have also expressed concern about the slaughterhouse we use. We know it to be a good one, but still have decided on building our own so we will be able to get organic status on the slaughterhouse as well. An additional benefit is that we can slaughter more often in smaller batches, so we can sell most of our meat fresh instead of frozen. Hopefully the slaughterhouse will be ready in spring. Having a slaughterhouse on the farm also does away with live animal transport, which is stressful to the animals. We will be one of the very few organic slaughterhouses in the Czech Republic.

I know that at this time you don’t offer dairy, is this something you might offer in the future? Do you know of any good grassfed dairy farmers who sell raw (unpasteurized) milk?

I just had a talk with the health and veterinary inspection last week about this, and they told me that we can sell raw milk, as long as we make it clear that the risk is with the customer. Having calculated the cost per liter I hope that the customers are willing to spend 50-60 kc per liter however, and this will leave only a few crowns for ourselves. Anyway we have decided that we will test the market, as soon as we have purchased the milk cows.

Cheese production requires large investments in facilities and if the milk sales come through in sufficient volumes than it is something that we consider as well.

And last, a more specific question that I’ve personally been wondering, Is your honey pasteurized? Or raw? Do you offer Royal Jelly, Bee Propolis or Bee Pollen at all?

Honey is one of the fastest selling products we have, and all the Royal Jelly etc are now used in expanding the number of bee hives. Out honey is not treated in any way, we take it out of the hives, remove the honey from the frames by centrifugal force and put it straight into the jars. The additional benefit for hay fever sufferers is that this way they build up some resistance to pollen (as these are now naturally in the honey).

Is there anything else that you would like me and my readers to know about Bohemiae Rosa?

We work hard at making good food for our customers and obviously sometimes still make mistakes when selling it. We have had issues with wrong labels, no labels, wrong prices and quantities etc. Please forgive us if we do. We offer a 100% guarantee when you complain, so please let us know when something is wrong up that we can correct it.

Our farm is open to inspection by the public and we also have a small hotel, so please visit us at least once to see for yourselves how we do things for you J

I loved doing this interview and learning more about Ingmar and Bohemiae Rosa and I hope you enjoyed it too. After my husband read Ingmar’s response all he could say was “We need to be friends with them.

Well, Ingmar, we love your philosophy about food and we’ve loved all of the food we’ve tried from Bohemiae Rosa! Thank you again for taking the time to share with us about Bohemiae Rosa. I hope that my husband and I can make it out to Bohemiae Rosa soon, to meet you in person, and see your beautiful farm for ourselves.

Personally, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Rejoicing in the journey - Bethany Stedman

PS – I was not paid or compensated for doing this review/interview, this is just my honest opinion and I genuinely am completely excited about this beautiful farm.