Joachim Schneider

Fun at the Greenhouse

Recently I tasted a delicious tomato soup! Thick, scrumptious, with a spot of Crème Fresh in the center. I topped it with some fresh leaves of basil, which were conveniently offered from a plant placed right on my table.

As it is, not an extraordinary event, but wait, read on, let me share this fantastic experience. Around me other customers were also enjoying different tomato based meals. Rather unconventional; there were rows of tomato plants next to our tables, with bright red and juicy looking tomatoes waiting to be picked. I was enjoying my meal right in the middle of a tomato greenhouse.

Mind-blowing this greenhouse/restaurant is one of the tourist “dernier crie” in Iceland. A creative and innovative tomato grower has come up with this unusual eatery for visitors to enjoy the show and indulge in the experience. The journey from plant-to-plate cannot be shorter or the image more powerful. All the vegetables consumed in the restaurant are grown in the nine hectare greenhouse; all the food preparation is done right there by the family, including the self-baked bread.

For a country like Iceland this greenhouse/restaurant has an additional charm: because the weather is often quite unfriendly, and the darkness is prolonged, to sit in a brightly lit and warm place is a delightful proposition. In addition to enjoying homemade food, the owner’s family and some helpers give tours and explain how the operation functions.

Joachim Schneider
Joachim Schneider
Joachim Schneider
Head of Vegetable Seeds at Bayer

Knowing me, you can image I obviously tried to speak to the farm-owner; only to learn from his daughter – while she hosted the new and queuing guests to the tables – that her parents were on a long deserved vacation. I introduced myself and our seed brand: Nunhem, but (very surprisingly) the name did not ring a bell with her. She said they were buying seeds for the snack tomato from a French seed company under exclusive license, and the seed for the larger tomatoes from a Finish distributor. At least I got a free tour and was able to get a table and enjoy the scrumptious tomato soup I was telling you at the beginning of the blog.

When I arrived back home, I talked to Harm Ammerlaan, an account manager responsible for Tomato and told him about my experience. He inquired around a bit and found out that one of the two large tomato varieties (Foundation) grown at this greenhouse/restaurant is ours. It made me proud, on hindsight. I have to travel all the way to Iceland to taste our own tomatoes since we are not allowed to have them at our site in Nunhem, NL, because of hygiene considerations.

Yet not all my product encounters and experiences with short supply chain happen far from home. Recently, I visited Van Dijck Groenteproducties, they are growing our tricolor lettuce. Not only has the variety proven to be a great success in Lidl outlets in both Belgium, Germany but at home in The Netherland, as well as in my own household. The tricolor lettuce comes with living roots: when you put it in water on the windowsill it stays as fresh as if it was just handpicked and it is also grown on a very advanced hydroponic float system that is highly automated/robotized. The seed is drilled semi automatically; the shelves are moved via conveyers into position to one side of the five hectare greenhouse. The growing lettuce, with its roots emerged in the water is slowly moved to the other end of the greenhouse where the trays are pick up again and placed in new conveyors that transport the ready lettuce to be cut and packed. The orders come in during the morning; the produce is packed the same day and in most cases is shipped overnight to the destination, where it will be picked up by consumers who want fresh and healthy products.

The whole operation is fascinating! Beyond the challenges of growing lettuce, think about the complexity of planning output every day and how to market the produce (which consumers? at what price?). The owner has to take into account weather, season of the year, upcoming school holidays (single days or school break), speed of growth of the plant based on species, variety, sunlight, LED light recipe, temperature, nutrition, expected competitor offers, transport and distance, shelf-life, specific customer demands and probably a few more variables the owner mentioned which I missed. When I consider all these, I can only imagine a very complex algorithm running in the owner’s brain. I was not surprised to hear that he finds it very difficult to discover talent he could delegate this operation to!

Greenhouses are fun and ingenuity is making them even more remarkable. As for me, discovering how our products are grown, distributed and consumed is most fascinating. While cities might seem to separate consumers from where food is grown; greenhouses are helping bring freshness to many tables and bridging the journey from farm-to-fork.

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Mado Vandewoestyne
December 20, 2017 - 05:23 PM

Very nice story, Joachim! Having travelled around Iceland multiple times, I mainly remembered the lack of fresh vegetables in the stores and the high prices. Happy to see that things are changing thanks to innovative vegetable growers!

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