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"The fish don't swim underneath the lettuce"

The NKWK, a conference about water and climate, took place on May 14 in the Netherlands. Greenhouse horticulture could not be left out of the program, and so a group of civil servants, policy makers, and scientists went, after a full morning program and a series of workshops, to Vers van Voorne, where Jan Varekamp could talk about his special company and the challenges in the sector.

Around 2 o'clock in the afternoon, the bus brought a group of eleven to Tinte. The name tags of the participants to the conference of the National Knowledge and Innovation Program Water and Quality carried the names of the ministry of Agriculture, Nature, and Food Quality and the ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, while from the Province of South Holland, the Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management, and Wageningen University & Research were present for the excursion to 'a vegetable grower with an ingenious, sustainable method of working', as it is written on the program.

Explanation of the sowing, which is done in-house by Vers Van Voorne

Three stories
Jan is growing quite a variety of products on 1.2 hectares, such as leafy greens on water. But he also experiments with radish on water, for example, while the greenhouse is an explosion of colors this year because of the bedding plants which are grown in cooperation with Huyskwekers. This is all intended for the local market. It certainly is not a regular company, Jan tells the visitors, but that is his intention. "I want to tell three stories. One of those is the story of Dutch greenhouse horticulture, because the gap between grower and consumer has become so big that the people no longer know where their food is coming from."

Radish on water

Healthy food is another focal point for Vers van Voorne. 2.5 years after the start of the company, they are still building a lot. The goal is for students to come and learn how to cook on location, and can harvest their products at the spot, and sell the dishes in a local restaurant.

Revenue model
For the excursion participants it raises the question whether Jan is solely doing this out of idealism. Jan: "Of course not. I also see a revenue model in this combination of concepts. If I can get enough people to come to the greenhouse and caravan storage, so I can effectively organize 'Come into the Greenhouse' year-round, they will certainly spend something here. What's more, I also sell my products in the region through local cooperation De Proefschuur, also to supermarkets. Because the product is regional, people are prepared to pay a price that is good for the grower."

Fish and speedy lettuce
Even before Jan has reached the 'third story' about sustainable energy, the questions of the visitors follow each other in rapid succession. "Why is the greenhouse so high? And how does it work with cultivation on water: do fish swim underneath the lettuce?" Jan loves to answer those questions. "It is good that policy makers know how growers work, it's the same as with consumers, and I like to show how things work in greenhouse horticulture."

It turned out that some participants made a bet amongst themselves how long the lettuce takes to grow. When Jan tells them it takes 12 weeks, his visitors are somewhat surprised, thinking more about explosive growth...

All electric
Before the group is going into the greenhouse to conclude the day, they first spend some time on sustainable energy. Vers van Voorne is 'all electric' and makes use of solar panels on the roof of the adjacent caravan storage. In the future, geothermal heat will be added from a source on Jan's land. Together with fellow growers, Jan took the initiative for geothermal energy, but now Hydreco-Geomec has taken over the lead. That's because the effort of realizing the source threatened to come at the expense of the attention of the growers for their cultivation. The growers are now no longer shareholders, but will only pay for the heat they use.

After the group photo, it is finally time to board the bus again, filled with new knowledge and some with a bag of fresh vegetables or a tray of bedding plants. The program was concluded, and in the coming days the excursion participants will undoubtedly tell about what they have seen and heard. Exactly as Jan imagined. The next group is welcome.

For more information:
National Knowledge and Innovation Program Water and Climate

Vers Van Voorne 

Jan Varekamp
+31(0)653-718 795

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