By: Adriaan van der Giessen 25 Jan, 2018

The food sector is going digital, becoming sustainable and innovating at high speed. This international and constantly innovating environment offers students – the entrepreneurs and employees of the future – plenty of opportunities. Together with the business community and knowledge and educational institutions, Rotterdam Food Cluster is stimulating the sector’s innovative capacity and preparing the new generation for the future. What does this new generation think about the food sector? Two trainees and an employee talk about their preconceptions and the diversity of the greenhouse horticulture sector.

student foodsector Ruben

Student Ruben Voogt: ‘The greenhouse horticulture sector is very professional and diverse.’

Ruben Voogt is following the MBO (vocational college) Junior Account Manager course at Zadkine. He has been doing an internship at De Proefschuur since November 2017. ‘My ideas about the greenhouse horticulture sector were influenced by the news. I thought farmers were underpaid and lots of Polish workers were employed in the greenhouses for very low wages. Now I see it’s a very professional and diverse sector, in which a lot of money is invested. I’ve also started to eat more healthily. Now when I walk around the supermarket I’m far more aware and choose more fruit and vegetables.’

Ruben’s fellow students are doing internships in an office and have no idea what Ruben gets up to. ‘Nobody lives close to the countryside, so most of them have internships in an office. My internship is very varied. I follow the entire process, from sowing vegetables to delivering them to customers. My fellow students also think it involves very hard work for low wages. Of course, I told them that is definitely not the case.’

Ruben is surprised by the techniques used. ‘Recently we accompanied customers on a visit to a potato grower. I was surprised at the advanced techniques that were used, such as an automated, underground cooling system. I hadn’t expected there to be so much involved in harvesting and storing potatoes.’ Ruben’s interest in food was triggered because he is doing his internship at De Proefschuur. ‘I think it would be great to work for a food wholesaler after I finish my education.’

De Proefschuur Gertjan

Gertjan Pols: ‘The image of greenhouse horticulture can and must improve.’
Gertjan Pols, Ruben’s supervisor, works as an Account Manager at De Proefschuur. Before this, Pols had his own clothing business. ‘I didn’t know anything about the food sector. Now I have a completely different opinion about it. I wasn’t interested in greenhouse horticulture at all before. I once worked in a greenhouse, but I never felt the urge to carry on working there. But now my tasks are very varied, from harvesting to handling orders. This variety is important to me. I always thought: you get to the greenhouse in the morning, spend all day picking tomatoes and leave the greenhouse in the evening. But so much is happening around you, which is exactly what makes it so enjoyable and varied.’

Gertjan wants students to know: ‘As an account manager you don’t have to spend the whole day in an office. Students should spend a day here and experience for themselves what it’s like to work in this sector. The image of greenhouse horticulture can and must improve. The complexity behind the simple things amazed me. I think that lots of people don’t have any idea what is involved. It’s really about playing with nature. De Proefschuur continues to offer internships because we enjoy training students in this way and increasing their enthusiasm for the food sector.’

Elisa student foodsector

Elisa Tsai Meu Chong: ‘I want us to have enough food in the future.’
Elisa Tsai Meu Chong is following the Biology and Medical Laboratory Research study programme at Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences. ‘I was looking for a company offering an internship that did not directly involve people. That might sound strange, because everyone wants to help mankind, but I want us to have enough food in the future, which ultimately benefits people. That’s how I ended up at Wageningen University & Research in Bleiswijk. I’m involved with research into growing vanilla in the greenhouse. There is a global shortage of vanilla, because demand outstrips supply. There are many natural disasters in places where it is currently grown, and working conditions are often not optimal. On the one hand, my internship assignment is to quantify the crop yield from different growing methods, and on the other hand to study the quality of the vanilla by analysing the compounds.’

‘I didn’t realise before that so much research went into plant cultivation. I didn’t know bananas could be grown in greenhouses either. The size of the Dutch greenhouse horticulture sector really took me by surprise, the fact that we can produce so much in a small country.’
If Elisa decides to work in greenhouse horticulture in the future, she would like to carry out research into diseased olive trees, cocoa and coffee plants. ‘Instead of trees having to be cut down, I want to look at how you can prevent plant diseases. I think it is important that these raw materials continue to exist in the future. If we could also produce them in our region, under good working conditions, that would be fantastic.’

Elisa believes that her study programme does not focus enough on plants and food. ‘Lots of my fellow students give me funny looks when I tell them I’m involved in growing vanilla. The food sector should be promoted more by organising trips to companies and by focusing more on plants and food in the lessons.’

Food for the Future

Erasmus University Rotterdam, Inholland University of Applied Sciences, Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, Wellantcollege, Lentiz education group, Albeda, Wageningen University & Research Centre and Zadkine, together with the Municipality of Rotterdam and the business community, have entered into a collaboration for the future of education in the food sector of the Rotterdam Region. Through this partnership, the Rotterdam Region seeks to provide educational opportunities to meet the rapidly changing labour needs of the food sector. Read more about this project here.