Day 3 in the Netherlands is in the books. We ventured to the east from Nootdorp and traveled more than two hours to the German border to the town of Venlo.
Venlo is a town of about 100,000 people and is a hub for exporting goods out of the Netherlands. The towns proximity to Germany, specifically population centers such as Frankfurt and Munich, and Belgium, has made it an epicenter for the Dutch’s high-tech agriculture sector.
Before I provide a recap of the day, let’s play a little did you know.
Did you know one-third of the Netherlands is below sea level? That makes the fact that the country is the second largest exporter of fruits and vegetables in the world more remarkable.
Did you know that half of the property in the Netherlands is farmed?
Did you know that if you took all the greenhouses in the Netherlands together, it would be the size of Manhattan?
And did you know that the Netherlands faced a similar situation as Appalachia Kentucky with a collapse of its coal industry?
At the end of the 1950s, more than 55,000 people were employed in the mining industry in Limburg, the southernmost part of the Netherlands representing 12 provinces.
At its peak in the 1960s, 70% of all jobs in the region were tied to the coal industry.
Legislation by the Dutch government and other factors led to the gradual collapse of the coal industry. By 1976, 45,000 people had lost their jobs, and unemployment rose to a record high.
Instead of giving up, the Limburg province went to work.
In 1977, Dr. Johan Kremers was named the Queen’s Commissioner of the Dutch Province of Limburg. He immediately began to tackle the issue of unemployment and diversity within the province’s economy.
One of his approached was to stimulate new industries.
That led to a repositioning of the province. He leveraged infrastructure such as canals and rail to create a logistics hub to move goods around the Netherlands and to export around the world. This move, coupled with the country’s advancements in agriculture, led to a reimagining of the region.
Decades later, Dr. Kremers bold step is still paying off.
We visited the Brightlands Campus in Venlo, a sprawling campus of innovation, learning and research. This facility is home to health-related research being conducted by students from Maastricht University, as well as a center for startups and small businesses working to innovate in the areas of research, health, and high-tech agriculture.
We also visited Maastricht’s downtown Venlo campus where 3,800 students are participating in various scientific and researched based degree programs. This has provided a pipeline of ideas, innovators, and new startup to the region.
Venlo is also home to HAS University of Applied Sciences. This is much like the American Community and Technical College structure but is a four-year program that incorporates stringent career planning, internships, and problem-based learning. Staff spoke about the mutual accountability of their approach. Students carry much more than the load of classes, as they also work to find and land internships to finish their desired degree pathway.
Venlo is also home to Fontys International Campus. This is an Applied Science University with 44,000 students across the Netherlands and 3,600 in Venlo.
What I experienced today was a glimpse of what can happen if we remain engaged and committed to work together. It is also a testament to the courage it takes to do something that has never been done.
If the Netherlands can feed the world, Appalachia Kentucky can feed the US and beyond. High-tech agriculture can create jobs, spawn a new generation of innovators, and transform our region.
Think about it like this: The heart of coal country fueled the growth of America and many superpowers across the globe. Now, it is ground zero as one of the largest producers of fruits and vegetables in the world. Roads and rail once used to haul coal is now a thriving part of a comprehensive distribution network that is feeding America and the world.
I believe this can happen. No, I know it will happen.
QUICK BITE | Vlaai. What in the world is this? It is part pie and part tart. Well, it is 100% Dutch and a delicacy you’ll never forget.
Vlaai is pie… times 1,000.
We also heard about the Hines Fresh Park in Venlo brings in more than 4 billion, yes billion, euro a year in agriculture.
So many other great things happened today. My eyes are heavy, and I plan to do a more in-depth summary when I get back to Kentucky.
I hope you are enjoying these recaps, and I hope you feel like you are on this journey with me.