Being a foreign visitor, meeting interesting and diverse people can be a challenge because there is an abundance of data, risk they will tell you what you want to hear and not always the reality. People are proud by nature! At times, the Nuffield traveling study component can be somewhat of a race, however I am very greatfull to my Dutch hosts who welcomed me into their homes, families and busy lives. Dutch Nuffield Scholars, Ruben van Boekel and Roy Tomesen allowed me into their homes for six days, to operate as a makeshift base. However, it isn’t just a bed to use, but the conversations about community, culture and local agriculture issues that provide a sound framework to compare, contrast and double check some of the facts and figures.
Ruben van Boekel and his partner Lonneke van den Brand are from the small village of Overasselt. Ruben is an agriculture journalist focussed on pork production, in addition works with his family on a 500 sow farm where half the pigs are finished and the balance sold at 20kgs. The world is very small, Ruben’s cousin (3rd or 4th) is my hog producing neighbour with the same family name. Lonneke works as a recruiter in the financial sector which has similarities to recruitment strategies that my wife Kathryn and I discuss at home. On my first night in Holland, Ruben had me in the barn talking production, planning and how they deal with manure.
Roy Tomesen and his wife Maud, have two young boys, Job (6) and Huub (4), the same age as my two oldest daughters. They live on the edge of the Doetinchem, a city of about 50,000 people. Roy’s family has been in the egg business for over 50 years where he has purchased the business from his parents. The farm consistis of 120,000 layers, all in an aviary system, 50,000 of the brown eggs remain in the Netherlands and the balance are white eggs, exported to Germany. Expasion is in the plans for Roy and Maud with a new project starting next week where 40,000 aviary birds, equipped with a ‘winter garden’ will be situated on 1.5ha.
It was in Roy’s on farm egg shop that I saw the self serve egg vending machines, that was a first for me. By explaining firsthand the challenges of balancing low margins and intensive production, this quote that remains in my mind “in cages you manage the birds, but with aviary, the birds manage you”
Many of my friends, family and colleagues have questioned what its like staying in strangers homes. However I am quick to correct them insisting we are only strangers to a point, but rather we are part of a network with common goals of agriculture and personal development and have embraced a certain mindset. My visits this week will be repaid later in the year when each of Ruben and Roy plan to visit Canada.
The best part of staying with Dutch farmers is there is a tendency of being thrifty (being realistic, Dutch can be cheap). So when I requested a couple of extra nights, it all worked out, and they would have thought poorly of spending unnecessary money!
Ruben and Roy deserve real credit in helping me with my agenda. They connected me with Dutch turkey farmers, Rondeel and an egg grading business, plus the local dairy farm visits. In addition, each of their own farms serve as unique businesses looking to survive in the low cost, intensive Dutch model of agriculture.
But culture is important was well, the coffee, and more coffee, food, some Dutch beer and recommendations of Keukenhof and the World War 2 Memorials made the trip complete.
So to my Dutch hosts and friends, Ruben, Lonneke, Roy and Maud; thank you. Travelling alone can be a strange situation, but having familiar faces at the end of the day makes the world a little smaller.