Day 1 in the Netherlands is in the books. If today is any indication of the week ahead, it’s going to be an experience of a lifetime.
But this trip isn’t about me or any person on the delegation from Kentucky.
Tonight validated a point I had not really thought much about. A handful of years after sharing his idea of building AppHarvest and creating its #FarmingNow movement across Appalachia Kentucky, Founder and CEO Jonathan Webb brought leaders from across education and economic development to the Netherlands as guests of the Dutch government to collaborate and learn from one another.
Think about that just for a minute. The Netherlands, the world’s second largest exporter of agriculture, is collaborating with us. Why, you may ask?
That’s a fair question.
And I think I found the answer tonight.
The Netherlands’ agricultural footprint started after World War II. Food, especially quality food, was scarce, and the Netherlands set out to not only provide access to quality food to its citizens but also the citizens of Europe.
It was a critical point in their history, and while feeding its citizens was reason enough to embark on this path, their approach to do it with an emphasis on technology and innovation was a risk. That risk has been rewarded with the Netherlands being a global leader in high-tech agriculture.
So, how did something like this happen? How did it sustain momentum? How did it evolve as technological advances emerged?
I think I found the answer, and, to some, it’s probably not your first answer.
It is International Works, an organization that connects innovative entrepreneurs, governments and knowledge institutions with international ambitions. Together with them, they initiate, co-create and realize sustainable international multi-year programs that ensure economic and social impact.
I met Maurtis van Os, PhD, managing director of International Works, tonight at a welcome reception and spoke about the nexus of the ecosystem that has built the Netherlands’ thriving high-tech ag sector. That approach, which they refer to as a triple helix, is built around the backbone that International Works provides to keep the nexus of startups and existing business and industry working with research and development initiatives through the country’s expansive university network and supported by government resources. In short, International Works is a champion of collaboration and a critical part to the high-tech ag ecosystem in the Netherlands.
That sounds a lot like our work at SOAR, and this hit home as I looked around the room and my friends and colleagues joining me on the trip. We have representatives from the University of Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky University, Morehead State University, Berea College, USDA Rural Development, and the Morehead/Rowan County Economic Development Council all here committed to working together. We know that we cannot accept the risk of doing nothing, and we know that this approach will require and collaborative and innovative model that can only be deployed if we work together.
While our reasoning may not compare to a country’s desire to feed its citizens following a world war, we are very much on a quest to step out, take a risk, and reimagine our economy. To achieve outcomes that have never been realized, you must do things that have never been done.
Just as the idea of AppHarvest was planted (no pun intended) a few years ago, I think we will look at this week as a defining moment of this movement to transform Appalachia Kentucky to the high-tech ag capitol of the United States.