Two flights, multiple delays and roughly 12 hours is all it took to bring a quarter of the AFA Global Fellows to Amsterdam for the international capstone experience of our 40 Chances Fellows program. Three years ago we were told about the program, knowing it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It has been absolutely surreal being in Holland! The accents, the food, the agriculture, the transportation: they have all been an experience to say the least. We each arrived December 28 at various times in the morning. My flight got in around 8 a.m. and come to find out the days are much shorter here than they are back home. The sun does not fully rise until about 8:30 and then disappears by about 4:30 p.m.
We spent much of yesterday attempting to keep ourselves awake, hoping this would help our jet lag. It was rough but worth it. Today, the fellows woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, some more than others. Our first real agricultural experience of the trip was to hear from Susan Philips who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the Foreign Agricultural Services. She has worked in a multitude of countries and now works in Europe. Susan taught us a lot about America’s role in developing foreign markets, trade policy and capacity building.
Susan also talked about agriculture in the Netherlands in general. As it turns out, Holland is the second largest exporter of agriculture with the U.S. being number one. This has a lot to do with the geography of the country: flat with fertile soil and an incredible capacity for water management based on most of the country actually being below sea level. A whopping a ten percent of Dutch GDP is actually agriculture.
Our second stop of the day was in Monster, Holland, roughly an hour from Amsterdam. We found ourselves at Koppert Cress, the largest and most sophisticated greenhouse in the world. We had the privilege of putting our taste buds to the test with the car battery plant. The best way to describe the taste: it’s an experience. Our native Nebraskan talked about how it felt like licking a charged light bulb, nice. The owner and his son of Koppert Cress spent most of the afternoon giving us pieces of various plants to eat and talking about their perspective on sustainable agriculture.
With many of the fellows being from the Midwest, talking about vegetables being a sustainable food source rather than protein was a new take on an old issue: the nine billion one that is. This new idea about agriculture gave each us something new to think about to say the least. We made our way back to Amsterdam where we split up to find supper and explore the city. It was great start to our adventure here in Holland and I know we are all excited for the upcoming private zoo tour tomorrow!
– Lindsay King, Oklahoma State University