NL: Tomato grower cuts free from fossil fuels

Circularity is gaining attention in horticulture. Ted Duijvestijn, a Dutch tomato grower in Westland, would like to maximise waste utilisation and increase resource efficiency. He shares his innovative take on this: “We are moving towards a circular economy in which sustainability and social innovation play a key role. It is very important to focus on that future, and we have to start it now.” Collaborating with different growers, people from the industry and with researchers and students at universities, Duijvestijn is exploring where he can innovate and what he can improve on his farm to achieve a circular horticulture system.

Water use, for one, is a topic that is well suited for circular solutions. “We aim for 100% reuse of water,” Duijvestijn says. The main water supply is rain water collected from the roofs of the greenhouses. Excess rain water during winter is stored in a tank for use in the summer. Next, Duijvestijn is convinced that much more can be done with so called ‘green waste’ streams, such as residual stems and leaves from plants and unsellable fruits and vegetables. “We are exploring how we can make more from crop waste – we see it as fuel or as a resource for product development,” he says. He is experimenting with product wrapping made from tomato leaves and the creation of a box that is partially made from the stems of tomato plants. “We use so much cardboard and paper packaging, we thought it would be great if we could make our own packaging with fibres from the leaves of our tomato plants. Now, the challenge is to scale up – so far, we have produced 50,000 packages, but we would need to produce 500 million to make an impact.” It doesn’t stop there, Duijvestijn has also developed a drying machine for excess yield: “When we have a surplus crop and when our machines are producing surplus heat, the machine dries tomatoes. We will use them to market a brand of oven-dried tomatoes and tapenades.”

Duijvestijn continues on the topic of heat by explaining another of his circular ventures: geothermal energy. “There is heat and energy stored in the crust of our planet,” he says. “In 2012, we dug a well of 2300 metres deep. It gives access to hot water, and now we are able to pump that water up and use the heat, then we reinject the cooled water back into the ground.” To realise this geothermal project, Duijvestijn has worked together with Delft University’s geologists and students in the department of mining. “Their state-of-the-art knowledge has been incredibly interesting; they have taught us a lot.” Now, Duijvestijn Tomaten heats 19.5 ha of greenhouses with geothermal energy. “Next, we would like to supply a neighbouring residual district with our excess heat,” says Duijvestijn. “It makes perfect business sense. Not only in terms of being an additional source of income, but also in terms of being stable in its kind. This is welcome, especially as we have seen times that the tomato prices have collapsed.”

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