Unlike most Guild members, Caspar van Vark does not live anywhere near a field or farm, and never has. “Home for me is north London,” he says. “But I do have Hampstead Heath on my doorstep.”
Caspar has been a freelance journalist and editor for 13 years and gradually started working his way towards agricultural topics about six years ago. He has freelanced as a sub-editor on Horticulture Week and for a Friends of the Earth magazine, and edited reports for WaterAid and various other charities.
“When I began writing more about food, farming and sustainability for the now defunct BBC Green website, I decided I wanted to learn more,” he says. “So I went back to university part-time for an MSc in Food Policy at City University, taught by the venerable Professor Tim Lang.”
He finished that in 2012 and, since then, has become a regular contributor to the Guardian on food and farming in a global development context, with features on agroforestry, agroecology, post-harvest losses, and the use of SMS technology in linking smallholders to markets. A recent item on his blog discusses the value of radio as an agricultural extension tool in developing countries.
“I also still do a fair bit of editing – my first few jobs were in magazine production for Haymarket and Emap, so I’m trained at cutting copy, rewriting and looking out for dodgy grammar,” says Caspar.
He suggests his interest in global agriculture probably stems from early years spent growing up in Indonesia, Hong Kong, Bahrain, and the Cote d’Ivoire – Caspar’s father worked for an international shipping company and was posted around the world, spending a few years in each place.
“My formative years were spent in Jakarta, where we had a garden full of papaya, mango, mangosteen, banana and various other weird and wonderful fruit trees,” he recalls. “At the weekends, we’d escape to a little mountain retreat outside the city, surrounded by tea plantations; so although I’ve never lived in the countryside, I’ve always had interesting flora and fauna around me.
“These days,” he adds, “I have a tiny courtyard garden, where I coax tomatoes, beans and raspberries out of the London clay.”
Caspar came across the Guild entirely by chance on the internet; and is very pleased he did: “It looks like a great way to meet people with shared interests and build up new contacts.”