I am writing this post from 30,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean as I travel back to Eastern KY. It is difficult to find the right words to describe the amazing things that I experienced this past week.
For those of you that don’t know, I joined a delegation from Kentucky, mostly made up of representatives from higher education, to the Netherlands to explore the high-tech and controlled agriculture ecosystem in the country.
To be completely honest, I didn’t know what to expect on the trip. I have been fascinated by the idea of high-tech agriculture in Appalachia Kentucky since I first heard the idea from Jonathan Webb, the founder and CEO of AppHarvest. However, this would be the first time that I saw these strategies in action.
As I was on on the tarmac at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam earlier today, my screen lit up on my seat. This screen provided basic data such as the temperature in Amsterdam, the flight time to Philadelphia, and the altitude. Why would the altitude matter while I was on the tarmac you may ask?
The answer was, the plane was sitting – six feet below sea level. Yep, you read that right.
One-third of the Netherlands is below sea level. Matter of fact, the tallest peak in this country is 1,000 feet (above sea level). The Netherlands is roughly 164 miles east to west and 194 miles north to south. Yet this country feeds the world.
As we often say at SOAR: To achieve outcomes that have never been realized, you must do things that have never been done.
And that’s what the Netherlands did, too.
Think about it? How could a country this small be the second largest exporter of agriculture in the world with roughly the same land mass as Appalachia Kentucky?
They did it through an approach that was referred to throughout the week as “the golden triangle” or “triple helix.” It’s a strategy that has consensus, and despite its success, something else struck me: The Dutch are not a people that accepts the status-quo.
That was perhaps the biggest takeaway for me on this trip.
The level of innovation and collaboration within this small country is unlike anything I have ever witnessed in my career. The partnerships and cooperation between industry, government, and higher education enable the golden triangle or triple helix approach.
Universities – from those doing applied science and those doing research on cutting-edge global issues – collaborate with one another. To put it simply, academia is a critical player in the community and economic development of the Netherlands.
In Kentucky, we are blessed to have a tremendous higher education ecosystem. From state universities, private universities and colleges, and the community and technical college system, we have the components to collaborate at an unprecedented level to deploy a similar model to the Netherlands’ triple helix approach.
This strategy requires equal partnership from all three sectors – industry, government, and academia. They all have an important role in the successful deployment of the model. But more importantly, they are equally invested and dedicated to the outcome. Throughout the week, I began thinking of this idea as “disruptive innovation” – and it is this idea of disruption, where the work of SOAR enters the equation.
As a Collective Impact organization, we work within three tactical areas; convening, consulting, and communicating. Our focus is on driving aligned action with our Blueprint for the Future of Appalachia, growing the team in size and capacity, and being the champion for Appalachia. We truly believe that we can disrupt poverty across Eastern Kentucky by creating a partnership between business, industry, education, and government, much like they have done in the Netherlands.
My friends who joined me on this delegation from the University of Pikeville, University of Kentucky, Morehead State University, Eastern Kentucky University, and Berea College came into this trip, much like me, with an open mind and unsure of what we would see beyond the various greenhouses lined up on our itinerary for the week.
We left assured that we have the capacity and desire to build the ecosystem that AppHarvest has championed throughout the past three years.
I think I speak on behalf of all the Kentucky delegation when I say thank you to AppHarvest for this opportunity. I believe a year from now, we’ll remember this moment where we not only knew we were on to something, but we did something.
I told Jonathan Webb this earlier in the week: The plan is in place. The partners are aligned. We will do this!
AppHarvest is not just a greenhouse. It is a movement.