A voucher from the 'Groenpact Versnellingsprogramma Internationalisering' (Internationalisation Acceleration Programme) enabled a delegation from HAS Green Academy, InHolland, and Yuverta to travel to Kentucky. Indeed, the cooperation plans between the Netherlands and Kentucky could use some acceleration. According to Groenpact, there is still little cooperation, especially in the field of education.
Towards healthy food
Kentucky is a state with high unemployment and major health problems. To turn this tide, Kentucky decided to abandon tobacco production in favor of horticulture. Locally produced, healthy food: a fine aspiration. Farmers were given tunnel greenhouses by the government to produce vegetables. However, entrepreneurs appeared to lack the necessary knowledge and skills. An ecosystem of cooperation between education, business, and government is also lacking. Two topics in which the Netherlands excels. So in 2020, an ambitious cooperation agreement was signed between 17 parties from Kentucky and the Netherlands: Let's grow together.
"If we want to set something in motion, we have to go there."
Urgent need for knowledge
Marjo Baeten is the program manager of HAS International Projects and one of the pioneers who traveled to Kentucky. "Beforehand, there were online conversations to gauge needs," Marjo says. "But I knew: if we want to set something in motion, we have to go there." The universities of Kentucky are desperate for knowledge and want to set up an entire horticultural cluster. Dutch education has a lot to offer. "We were therefore welcomed with open arms, met teachers, and visited a number of universities and companies. We could participate in developing a curriculum. That would require funding. That is still a stumbling block."
Accelerating international opportunities with a voucher
The challenges of our time are great. That is why international cooperation and knowledge sharing in education, research, and innovation are essential. Groenpact's Versnellingsprogramma Internationalisering gives educational institutions the chance to get international cooperation off the ground faster. Per school year, 20 vouchers worth €15,000 can be obtained. To qualify, applicants submit a project proposal. With the awarded amount, educational institutions can explore abroad and make the necessary contacts.
(More information on a new voucher round can be found here in Dutch)
Dutch greenhouse producers can look forward to the necessary orders because horticulture is an important part of the future of growing in Kentucky. "With a minimum of water, nutrients, and pesticides, you can achieve hefty yields as a grower in a greenhouse," Marjo explains. "That makes this way of growing sustainable. Per kilogram of vegetables, the input is minimal. But, managing this controlled cultivation system requires knowledge and skills, and the entrepreneur has to be trained for this. Furthermore, for the average farmer, such a greenhouse does represent a huge investment, so it is not for everyone yet. It, therefore, seems much more logical to focus on open cultivation and growing in tunnel greenhouses. Here, too, you can achieve excellent yields with minimal investment."
"Growing in a greenhouse is more sustainable. But you have to have the right knowledge."
Hurdles to clear
Marjo notices everything: the will to move forward is absolutely there among all parties involved. "We started looking for low-hanging fruit, such as student exchange and internships. But you need visas for those. Besides, the Dutch system is very different. In America, as a student, you come to a campus, and everything is arranged for you. We don't have that at our MBO's or HBO's. You also have different types of universities in America with different sources of funding. Then, you have to deal with the level differences between the different types of education. Finally, for us, knowledge sharing and cooperation between education, business, and government is commonplace. But it is really very different there. These are the hurdles we will have to clear."
"For us, knowledge sharing and collaboration between education, business, and government is so common. But in America, it's really quite different."
The visit to Kentucky was intended to better identify what exactly is needed, both in business and education. It also needed to clarify what steps are needed to bring cooperation to life. Marjo: "This all worked out. The next step is to get a student exchange going. We don't have the funds for that yet, but we still want to start the first exchanges in January 2024. Internships with a research project would be fantastic. But teacher exchanges are also needed."
Photos by Marjo Baeten.