Suits at the Greenhouses

By Beck, Natural Resources: Ecology/ Green Building & Community Development; Senior

After our second night in Rotterdam, I woke up from the bustling street located below the Stayokay hostel. It was a dreary morning, warm, wet and sticky, not the best conditions for biking, but fortunately there were no storms so we could safely ride along the fietspad (bike path). This morning was unusual in that we actually had some time to spare before riding our bikes. So after breakfast some of the students took part in a local scavenger hunt looking for items that pertained to water management and sustainability, while others took the time to buy more food, exchange currency, etc. 

The rain was still falling when we started to bike, luckily it quickly subsided once we really got rolling. Our next location was about 16km outside of Rotterdam, a placed in Bleiswijk called Wageningen University and Research (WUR). Our plan was to tour the green houses there and learn about their sustainable horticulture research. Upon our arrival, we were met with rows upon rows of greenhouses. I have never seen anything like it in my life, it was truly fascinating. We were greeted by a nice young man named Jim, a Industrial Ecologist who had been working with the Wageningen University & Research Greenhouse Horticulture. Once we settled in, Jim told us about the Netherlands involvement in the advancement in sustainable greenhouses and how their research is leading to more efficient horticulture practices. The Netherlands is the number 1 country in in greenhouse horticulture, having about 11,000 hectares under glass. To put that into perspective, that’s about 1/93 of the country under green house glass, truly incredible!  

Before entering the greenhouses, Jim instructed us to wear these white suits that resembled hazmat suits, in order to prevent the spread of germs and disease within the greenhouses. Although the suits looked a little goofy and were hot underneath, we certainly looked official. Once we were under the glass we learned that these greenhouses served as the sources for food production as well as an area to research compartments. The research revolved around sustainability and energy efficiency. This included using low sodium rain and filtrated well water to increase the production of plant products, the use of diffused glass to spread light so every plant receives an equal amount, and much more. The company placed an emphasis on sustainability, using renewable energy to heat the greenhouses. They even set goals to increase their sustainability their aim is to have none of the greenhouses producing fossil fuels before 2020. One of the most interesting strategies they were researching was the process of taking away the cultivation from underground soil substrates. When crops are grown in open fields 30% of water is lost to the ground. The greenhouses used boxes filled with sand, covered in topsoil and watered through drip irrigation methods. Therefore the water was trapped and almost completely re-used by the plant saving the amount of water used to grow the plants. They were also practicing hydroponic techniques using Styrofoam boards to allow the plants to float over these makeshift ponds. This allowed the roots of the plants to grow into the ponds. These sustainable techniques can be utilized as weather patterns change and global temperatures continue to rise bringing pluvial and droughts to different parts of the globe. 

The crew at the Wageningen University and Research Horticulture Greenhouses. Photo by Jim vR.

Once we finished up and took our goofy suits off, thanked Jim and hit the fietspad for another 22 kilometers towards Den Haag (the Hague). The temperature had cooled down, but it was still very humid out. As we got closer to Den Haag, the roadways and paths became busier, but we were able to keep our composure and catch our train towards Hengelo. Once we were in Hengelo a group of us went to a wonderful Mexican restaurant where we feasted on fajitas and burritos while we reflected on the day’s adventures. I can’t wait for what tomorrow holds!

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