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Golf and greenhouses, or what to learn from horticultural old-timers

It was this summer when a greenhouse builder shared his memories of a family member that breathed horticulture. Coming from a big family he started working aged 12 and grew into the industry by experience. Just like the greenhouse builders from back in the days he travelled the world without speaking the language of the country he visited. Phoning home was hardly an option back then, not to speak of flying home each week to help take care of the kids or the household. Weekends were for work, or - let's be honest - for spending the weekly wages in the local bars.

These times have passed, but these people started the internationalisation of horticulture and laid the base for the Dutch horticulture in the world. On top of that, not always being the perfect nice guys when travelling abroad, they also have many good stories to share so the series was born. Together they bring over 6 centuries of expertise to the table, of which more than 350 years were spent in horticulture. Let's take a look at what we've learned so far.  

Golf and greenhouses
“A mix between playing golf in Tenerife with ideas and working out the ideas at home. And of course occasionally watering the geraniums!" That's how Piet Bom explains that at the age of 82 he's still developing new concepts for high-tech horticulture. This year he launched the Fiberglass greenhouse concept. 

He worked non-stop with Rob Grootscholten, who has seen the industry change in 42 years of greenhouse building. "Particularly in the Netherlands, long relations and knowing each other well played a role. But the grower has become an entrepreneur. The familiar nature made way for a more businesslike approach. As a representative, we used to go into the field with a measuring tape, now we get complete specifications," Rob says. 

Left: Piet Bom 

Rob Grootscholten

Idealism and capitalism
"As a Dutch-American, I like to combine idealism and capitalism," says Peter Stuyt with Total Energy Group. At the age of 22, he left Netherlands for California.

Peter found himself in the glasshouse cultivation hub of Carpinteria. But, the size of this glasshouse area was nothing compared to that of Westland in the Netherlands. Well, that is something that has changed. "I thought growers would always be more important than machines. Now it is no longer strange to see 100-hectare companies in the US too." 

A little imagination
"With a little imagination, you will get quite far", is how Henry van der Lans explained how he was able to do business in France, without speaking a word French. He learned that 'a good boss is OK with every accommodation and every dinner. Because if he does not, his personnel will not either'." 

Guts, happiness and a bit of cheek
"With guts, happiness, a bit of cheek and staying true to your word, we now have wind power 14 propelling us forward. Great, isn’t it?" Speaking is Leo Alsemgeest who's bit by bit taking a step back from Alweco. 

Nico Niepce and Leo Alsemgeest

What Leo has in mind, is quickly put into practice. Within Alweco, colleagues call that ‘Leo’s way'. There are many examples of this. Just ask Leo why he said goodbye to his boat, his birds or a certain car brand. Leo will be happy to tell you. 

Fixtures for the future
He doesn’t speak Chinese and his English is shaky at best, but Harry Dullemans, the founder of Agrolux, is still a successful fixture developer. The fact that he is 77 years old doesn’t keep him from his work. In his workshop, he tinkers on new fixtures and the requests for his work keep coming in. “You should never say you’re not there because then they will pass you by.” 

Founder of horticulture
His house was filled with notes about coupling pieces and sealing profiles - the newspaper's edges were filled with small drawings. Now, at 79 years, ideas still fill the head of Kees de Groot, the man who often is referred to as one of the founders of the modern horticulture.

Voskamp en Vrijland was the largest greenhouse builder in the world, particularly because clients abroad preferred the largest company. Other companies were much smaller. Only after the bankruptcy on 1985, smaller greenhouse builders got the chance to grow,"  he remembers.

Leo Alleblas

Real adventurers
That Dutch greenhouse builders are real adventurers, Leo Alleblas can confirm. He has been around in the sector and has traveled a lot. "The current generation does not believe their ears when you tell the stories of the old days. Everything was done by hand."

He started his career in the world of cars, but soon found himself hooked on horticultural techniques. Carel Zwinkels recently waved goodbye to AAB nl, but it can’t be called a real farewell. “I have almost 40 years of horticultural techniques on the counter. I will keep on following the developments in horticulture", he says. "You can set up any project you like, but it should still be able to stand after fifteen years. A grower needs to keep on developing in order to stay afloat in this market."  

The tenth article in this series will be published next year - but we want to give you a sneak peek into what Willem van Dorssen with Dorssen & French has to say. "'International trade in capital goods is something special. Especially in a cowboy-like market like greenhouse construction used to be. You do trade in all sorts of languages. I think it's a relaxed life, although there are always risks involved. You have to be able to organize and you have to communicate very well with your suppliers."  

Looking for more
Starting with ten articles from the Dutch industry, now we're also looking to expand the article set with international stories - so feel free to send an e-mail if you, your father, grandfather or colleague has some good stories to share.