Plants around here are just starting their slow, groggy awakening. Tiny green tips of daffodil leaves are poking through the duff. Crocus, winter aconite and snowdrops are blooming. Buds on red maples are swelling and new signs of the next season can be found each day. This has me thinking again of the trip to Holland and Belgium we took last Spring. Small colorful flowers coupled with the recent passing of Valentine’s Day has me remembering a small tulip farm having an incredible influence on the community.
Annemiekes Pluktuin is a small tulip farm located in Hillegom, Netherlands (a town that once hosted the Beatles as they recorded a television show and features a Henry Ford Museum). Hillegom is in the western Netherlands and is part of the “Dune and Bulb Region (Duin- en Bollenstreek)” of the country. This area boasts coastal dunes and is where many of the flower bulbs the Netherlands are so famous for are cultivated. So it makes sense that Annemieke has her bulb farm here.
She and her husband guided us through her facility and tulip fields. They began the garden in 2009 after noting a lack of picking gardens in the area once so famous for its tulip cultivation (many of the tulip fields have given way to development in the region). Pluktuins are “Picking Gardens”, places where a visitor can go and pick their own bouquets of flowers. There are many around the country, catering to the tourism industry as well as residents looking for cut flowers for their homes. While the idea of a picking garden in Holland is not unique, certainly you can find them dotting the country, Annemieke’s is special.
Annemieke in a former life was a youth psychologist. She was struggling with her position, as she watched children age out of her program and find themselves struggling with the realities of adulthood. She noticed there was no transitional help for young adults finding their way after their youth counseling had ended. These are children who had eating disorders, behavioral problems, abuse issues and the like and after her time counseling was done she would watch them leave, yet wholly unprepared for life in the world. This distressed Annemieke and so she decided to do something about it.
Annemieke’s farm is not just a picking garden, they raise bulbs for the wholesale trade and send bouquets to the famous flower auction in Aalsmeer. They are MPS-A Certified, meaning they are dedicated to raising their flowers in an environmentally sustainable way and grow their plants organically. Annemieke’s husband Pieter is working on hybridizing colorful, large and long lasting Scabiosa (Pin Cushion Flowers) in some of the greenhouses (he is pretty mum about the process and we did not get to see any of them). They do all of this as well as hosting numerous tourist groups throughout the seasons.
In order to do all of this Annemieke has to have employees. She hires those young adults she noticed falling through the cracks of the system. Throughout the operation smiling young faces greet you, assist you with your order and ask about your day. In the background they are sorting, grading, cutting and packaging bulbs and cut flowers for sale. Annemieke has seen a problem and is working to solve it through her business and her continued dedication to the children she spent years helping out.
Annemieke’s Pluktuin is an inspiration to me. She is operating her business with future generations in mind. She is thinking of the planet they will inherit by growing her crops sustainably and she is thinking of the generations ahead that will care for that planet and the people in it by giving them a chance to be productive, purposeful citizens they may not have had the opportunity to become otherwise. She has put faith in these young adults, teaching them life skills like communication, customer service, responsibility and reliability. She is also teaching them what it is like to have someone have faith in them, go out of their way to support them and to work to support a community.
It is unfortunate you will not read about Annemieke’s good works. She says she worries those in her neighborhood would stop supporting her business if they knew who she employees. I was inspired to witness Annemieke’s efforts and passion and hope all of the tourists that visit and all of the young adults that pass through employment there are inspired to carry on Annemieke’s caring and generosity for the planet and to those youth often found at the fringes . Here’s hoping her neighborhood comes to see Annemieke as the important person she is to the community so she no longer has to keep her good deeds under wraps.