It was long lonely days for Bas Hofman. He would milk his 70 cows every morning and night, while his wife, Greet Cazemier, worked as a psychiatric nurse at a large care institution.
Hofman knew if he wanted to continue as a farmer he would have to expand his farm. Cazemier, on the other hand, was discontented about how the care system was being run for her patients.
The two sat down and decided they could solve both of their problems if they opened a ‘care farm.’ The plan was to convert their dairy farm to a care program for people with intellectual disabilities.
“It was not difficult (to switch businesses). I like these people and it is thanking to work with them. You see them grow (as) people,” Hofman said during a visit to their farm near Noordwolde, Netherlands during the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists Annual Congress.
In 2002, they opened their new business, Golden Raand, and 16 years later business is booming with five locations. The dairy farm is their largest location, offering programming with cows, horses, gardening, ice-cream making and arts and crafts. The business also includes locations with smaller animals and a coffee and tea shop in the nearby community of Bedum.
They started in 2002, only offering programming for people with intellectual disabilities. “But now we also (offer services for) children who don’t go to school because they have behavioural problems, aggression and that kind of thing,” Cazemier said.
Overhead costs for the farm are low and the couple says their profits have increased since adding the new venture. They have 14 employees, including a teacher who was hired after they expanded their services to offer youth programming.
About 70 clients attend programs at the farm during the day from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Clients either attend for a half-day at 30 euros (C$46) or for a full day at 60 to 70 euros. The Dutch government pays for the clients to attend. In the Netherlands, people are able to choose where they receive care.
Clients choose which part of the farm they want to work on, with all staff, including Cazemier and Hofman, working side by side with them. Clients who work in parts of the farm where products such as ice cream, flowers and vegetables are sold receive a share of the profits.
Hofman still is the primary caretaker for the dairy business, but clients help him with chores around the barn. Three years ago the couple purchased a milking robot, which allowed them to expand other programming on the farm.
“(Before) I started at 7 o’clock and I milk the cows and then the clients come and when the clients go home I had to milk again… it was a long day,” Hofman said.
If they hadn’t converted the farm, Hofman said he probably would have tried to increase his dairy herd, but he would have faced financial challenges.
“It is expensive to grow here in Holland because the ground is expensive,” he said.
Due to Holland’s small land base and growing cities, farmland prices are high, with land selling at an average of 63,000 euros per hectare (C$39,000/acre) as of 2016, according to Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics agency.
It is also expensive to be a dairy farmer in the Netherlands as the Dutch government implemented phosphate pricing this year, which requires farmers to have phosphate rights for each cow they own. Each farmer was given a certain amount, but could also buy additional rights.
With the rising costs many farms in the Netherlands have side businesses to cover expenses. Many dairy farms have their own cheese or ice-cream businesses. Some crop farmers rent small parts of their land out for wind turbines that generate electricity.
Hofman and Cazemier went the unique route of starting a care farm. For them it was the right fit due to Cazemier’s previous job as a psychiatric nurse. The farm received certification in 2011 but Cazemier said since then it has become harder to get into the care program business.
“So if you start a care farm nowadays it’s more difficult, but we already existed for 16 years and we have shown that we are very good.”