Normally, I get a Sudoku book and just do as many puzzles as I can, until I make myself so tired I just fall asleep for the rest of the flight except this time I forgot to get one. Instead I ended up talking to my classmate sitting next to me for pretty much the entire trip and it really turned out to be an awesome flight. It really set the tone in a positive way in the sense that I had been focusing so much on what I was going to learn about the Netherlands that I had kind of overlooked how much I would be learning about my classmates.
Immediately after landing in Amsterdam we were off to our first stop; the U.S. Embassy. An amazing experience to learn how government officials work together from various countries as part of the global agricultural industry. It was only a brief stop there for roughly an hour, but in that time frame we were able to listen to a presentation and have a short Q & A, which really opened my eyes to the wide array of government job opportunities there are for those who love agriculture and travel alike.
Next stop, The Hague.
The first thing that caught my attention was the centuries old brick buildings, but once we got a chance to walk around the city we saw a wide array of modern shops, various types of architecture and open courtyards for dining or simply spending a nice afternoon. One of the most impressive things I noticed during our free time was the ability of people we met at the various shops to speak multiple languages. I stood in line to grab a coffee because we had been nonstop and the gentleman behind the counter spoke to three different patrons in their native languages fluently and I was just stunned with amazement.
After lunch we were off to our official last tour visit for the day at Urban Farmers. As you walk in the building there is a sign painted in white paint on the brick, “Real freshness means food is grown where it’s eaten.” The main objectives of this is to cultivate in urban areas to reduce land usage, while also being able to produce higher yields, reduce water usage, and leaching of nutrients back into the environment. That is why Urban Farmers was such a special place to see because they used a combination of hydroponics for growing the plants, aquaponics to generate nutrients for their plants, while also having a sustainable system of maintaining their multiple fish tanks.
After a seven-hour flight, a full day of exploration and learning it was finally time to unwind for some dinner and much needed relaxation at the promenade and fishery harbor of Scheveningen at the North Sea Beach. Much to all of our amazement it had a very familiar feeling to the New Jersey beach side by having a long boardwalk, shops, restaurants and we were lucky to have a such an uncommonly warm day that it really made for a nice night cap for the first day.
Finally, we would check into our hotel in Rotterdam, which we would be spending the next six nights at and using that as our focal point for going to and from the various sites and tours, but first things first; sleep.
Feeling refreshed and ready to go we were headed off to our first stop of the day at the “De Groote Voort” dairy farm. I don’t know much about cows at all, but the nice thing about going on a group study abroad trip is that we had a wide range of majors on the trip and a few large animal science majors who were teaching me all about cows before we got there. The amount of dairy farm owners I have ever met is incredibly minimal (just him), but if I were a betting man I would have to say he would probably be the most passionate of them all. Using a full circle approach, he explained to us how he does not de-horn his cows, how he created a new specialized barn to accommodate his cows with horns, uses no fertilizers or pesticides, and explained to us the various types of worms that decrease soil compaction at varying depths in the soil. In addition, he explained that by taking into account all these various factors is why he calls his operation one more step above what is labeled as “organic.” Truly the epitome of passion and all for one purpose; delicious cheese.
Next stop, Elburg.
An old harbor town that has maintained its charm from hundreds of years ago with lined brick, cobble stone roads and the harbor running directly through the town with multiple waterways intersecting throughout. It was a really nice place and the locals were incredibly friendly as they saw our huge group of 21 people coming through this quiet little town. We had a relatively quick lunch and weren’t able to walk around afterwards because we went a little overboard at the dairy farm, but it was a unanimous group vote that staying longer at the farm was worth it.
Farmer Scholtens in Luttlegeest.
The importance of this trip was to see how traditional agriculture in the Netherlands was still being utilized even with the country being relatively small geographically. The primary crop spread over hundreds of acres was seed potatoes, which does well with this particular soil and climate type. The family-owned operation has been incredibly successful with this crop for decades. One of the things I enjoyed the most about this particular trip was that I was able to see large-scale equipment, such as a massive cooler system to retain freshness of their product, as well as the machinery used to make a large-scale farm like this possible.
The tour I was looking forward to the most was at the Royal Flora Holland the world’s largest cut flower exhibit and auction. Immediately walking in you are just overwhelmed at the sheer size of the facility spanning football field lengths across, with crate drivers driving around through the lanes flawlessly in order to distribute millions of flowers each and every day. We toured through the facility saw research rooms where the shelf-life after receiving was tested and saw the digitized auctioning rooms. Where a great number of people sat in a large lecture hall type seating area viewing the images of plants and watching the clock waiting for the perfect time to buy their product.
After our tour we visited OZ Export/Import, which is also another major specialized cut flower exporter in the Netherlands. Automated machines moved crates of flowers down conveyor belts and into their correct section to be set to ship to the buyer of the product. The one thing that grabbed my attention the most was how positive the work environment was. The main office was an entirely open lay out, no cubicles and just long shared desks that were grouped based off what country the employees worked for. For example, there was a team of employees that would work with businesses from a specific country and with each team focusing on their specialized country they had created a global sales force all within one room. So many different languages being spoken all in the same open area and then I would hear the employees so effortlessly just go back to speaking Dutch or their preferred language with another coworker like it was no big deal at all. It was an incredible feat to see and also makes me want to pursue language learning for two reasons. The first being so I can continue travelling and studying agriculture in various countries and the second is to make myself a stronger candidate for a wider range of future career options.