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"Laid-back Canadians grow Dutch tomatoes"

Fourteen years ago Marleen van der Torre left for the United States to work for Koppert Biological Systems. She is now living in Canada where she works as an advisor for breeding company Rijk Zwaan.

In 2003 Marleen, having just finished her plant cultivation studies in Wageningen, emigrated to the United States. She lived in Arizona for over a year, where she was stationed at EuroFresh for Koppert Biological Systems. Marleen: "It was a turbulent year in which I have learned very much." She then moved to Michigan for Koppert and was then asked to come to Leamington in Ontario to strengthen the team. "This is how I ended up in Canada. After having worked for Koppert for seven years with pleasure I wanted to put the focus back on plant cultivation instead of the bugs. So I ended up at Rijk Zwaan as an advisor."

Marleen now lives in Harrow. This town is about a half hour from Leamington, and slightly over an hour from Detroit airport. "An excellent base of operations for the rest of North America". Leamington is at the heart of greenhouse vegetable cultivation in North America, with an acreage of around 1000 ha. The area also houses the majority of the marketeers. Marleen is working as a tomato crop specialist for Rijk Zwaan in Canada and the United States. "Rijk Zwaan is one of the largest vegetable breeders in the world. I visit tomato growers and marketeers, who grow our crops and conduct trials. Besides selling our tomato seeds, I conduct research of our new varieties that are suitable for the North American market and growing conditions. The close cooperation between our breeders in the Netherlands on one hand and my customers on the other hand, from growers to retailers, makes the job very diverse."

Dutch demo greenhouse on the other side of the ocean
In Canada Rijk Zwaan is active in high tech greenhouse vegetables with dealers who sell their seeds. One of the dealers is located in Leamington and is a grower himself. "Five years ago we were given the opportunity to realize our own demo greenhouse when he was expanding, based on our demo greenhouse in Kwintsheul. One half of the tomato cultivation in the greenhouse is accessible to visitors, such as growers, marketeers and retailers, and the other half is the playing field of our tomato breeders to select new varieties under our growing conditions." Every week during the season Rijk Zwaan displays the tomato assortment for North American in the showroom. During open days, other high tech greenhouse vegetables are shown here. "Besides this we have a kitchen in the greenhouse where we regularly receive groups from the entire chain, from growers to retailers and every one in between." Rijk Zwaan's seeds find their way all over the world. The high tech greenhouse vegetables in North America are mainly bred in Canada for both Canadian and American growers.

The aspect of Canada which appeals most to Marleen is its vastness. Canada is an enormous country with relatively few people living there, and there is a lot of space. The land also has a lot of nature, an ideal living environment and a good economy. It comes as no surprise the country is popular amongst immigrants. "I grew up with lots of space by Dutch standards, but it is very expensive to realize this in the Netherlands nowadays. I am feeling fine here now, but I am not bound to this place. Greenhouse horticulture is still growing fast in North America, and a lot is happening in our industry now. The accompanying dynamics and developments make the job very interesting."

Relaxed mindset and structured hierarchy
Although she finds it hard to generalize about Canadians and Dutchmen, she does take note of the laid back mentality of the Canadians. They are also a bit conservative when compared to Dutchmen. According to her it would not be amiss if the Dutch became a bit more relaxed and the Canadians a bit more assertive. Another big difference is the hierarchy. 

"The Dutch speak their minds and this does not always sit well with the rigid North American company culture. They dare not go against their superiors while the Dutch are almost allergic to the word boss. We have a flat company organization but American companies have a strict hierarchy. People here often recoil from the Dutch directness and they view it as impolite while we do not intend to be impolite at all." In Canada Marleen can do everything she can do in the Netherlands, such as gardening, photography, reading, going to concerts, sporting and traveling. She does miss her family and friends here. "You cannot find the Dutch 'gezelligheid' here, like spontaneously visit a friend by entering though the back door to share a cup of coffee. I miss that sometimes."

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Publication date: 3/8/2018



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