Years ago, when Petra Barendse's father brought 10 boxes of bell peppers to the auction, he was given some odd looks. What were they supposed to do with this new vegetable? History has proven him right in the end: nowadays, Petra and her husband Leon's company cultivates more than 70,000 kg on a good day.
Bell peppers as far as the eye can see
Interested parties from all over the world visit their company to see how you can practice sustainable agriculture that requires less energy on a large scale. 'I was just talking about it with my father. How everything developed in such a short period of time. He was here the other day and looked around in wonder'.' And he is not the only one. Barendse receives delegations from South Korea, Spain, America and other parts of the world on a weekly basis. They are all full of awe. Not only due to the size - we use the bike to get around the greenhouse - but also because of the technology, sustainability and cooperations we have established. 'Not many people realize how innovative we are in the northern part of the province of North Holland. Every day, we are committed to produce in a more sustainable manner. This will only succeed if you work together. Not only with other companies in Agriport, but also with the government, such as the province of North Holland and Europe'.
It all started approximately 10 years ago for Barendse and her husband, when they decided to move to the new Agriport A7 in the northern part of the province of North Holland. Both come from the Westland and horticultural families. 'We had been looking for opportunities to expand for some time. It just wasn't possible in the Westland. Then we heard of this area, where large-scale greenhouses were made possible. We went to take a look and were immediately convinced. The space, the possibilities. This was it'.
Now Barendse DC has three different greenhouses where orange bell peppers, red bell peppers and snack tomatoes are grown. Immediately after the vegetables have been picked, they are transported to the sorting center by self-driven carts. There they are packaged for shipping to the customers. 'We do everything we can to meet the clients demands, Barendse says while she is walking between the conveyor belts. 'This crate of orange bell peppers will soon be shipped to Sweden. Where it can be immediately sold in the shops'.
Agriport A7 was exactly what the Barendse family needed. 'The working culture, the drive to be the best, the space to do business and the ideal climate to cultivate bell peppers and tomatoes: the location is perfect. And precisely because multiple entrepreneurs have this mindset, we can make major investments together and benefit from, for example, European subsidies'.
'If you share knowledge, you can grow together. For example starting in 2013, together with the other agrarian entrepreneurs, we started drilling for geothermal energy. Due to the fact that the company uses geothermal energy, it uses 35% less gas. As the companies are once again drilling for geothermal heat this year, the companies at Agriport are becoming increasingly less dependent on fossil fuels. 'We also have three of our own large cogeneration installations, these supply heat and CO2 for the greenhouses. And we can sell the surplus of the generated electricity. We have been awarded an environmental certification label. We are very proud of it!'
From all over the world
The company continued to grow and modernize. This attracted a lot of attention nationally and internationally and Barendse was asked to give tours more and more often on behalf of Agriport. Finally, she decided to set up her own excursion company. 'Now thousands of people visit Agriport annually. Not only professionals from the agriculture and horticulture industry, but also people enjoying a day out with their company or family'. They are totally immersed in the wondrous world of bell peppers and are often positively surprised by what they see.
'An increasing number of people like to know where their food comes from. Then of course, the global food problem is of key interest. This is discussed a lot. This field of expertise is very important in this respect. Both the scale of agriculture as well as all the knowledge involved in the processes are of great importance. We could be the key to solving the global food problem. The funny thing is that we feel that, sometimes, the rest of the world is more aware of this than we are.'
The high tech solutions in the company of Barendse draw a lot of curiosity. The self-driving carts are spectacular. The robot that washes the windows outside is also striking. 'That is my personal favorite. In the case of tomatoes 1% additional light can result in a 1% increase in yield!' However, she also cautions some visitors. 'This requires major investments, these are only profitable if your products are sold on a large scale. If you only cultivate a handful of vegetables, there is no point in investing in such a robot. Then, it does not matter how innovative it may be.
Barendse wants to further expand her excursion business and continue to share Agriport's story. 'I feel as though we've only just started. Agriculture will remain a very special world'.
Source: 'Kwartaalblad Provincie Noord-Holland' (quarterly magazine of the province of North Holland), November 2017