Growing Ideas – Tomato growers want to make a difference

Duijvestijn strives for sustainable solutions

In the Duijvestijn brothers' greenhouses, rainwater and geothermal heating is used, and ‘ugly’ tomatoes aren't thrown away. They have even made packaging from tomato leaves, and they are always on the lookout for new ideas.

Sometimes there are no customers for a batch of tomatoes because there is an oversupply or because they are not in perfect condition. Usually they are thrown away. The brothers behind Duijvestijn Tomaten (yes, that’s tomatoes in Dutch) sought an alternative.

The grandfather of Ted, Peter, Ronald and Remco Duijvestijn started growing tomatoes, and their father took over from him. Now the brothers run the family company Duijvestijn Tomaten a business where the priority is sustainability.

What does Duijvestijn Tomaten do?

Ted Duijvestijn, co-owner: “We grow different kinds of tomatoes that we supply to supermarket chains, wholesalers, catering companies and providers of recipe boxes. We grow our tomatoes in a sustainable way, which means we protect our tomatoes against pests and diseases using their natural predators. For example, we deploy the Macrolophus insect against caterpillars, spider mite and whitefly.

“We protect our tomatoes using natural predators”

- Ted Duijvestijn, co-owner of Duijvestijn Tomaten

“We our tomato plants using rain water that has been collected and stored. We also capture the water that is not absorbed by the plants and reuse it. And we heat our greenhouses using geothermal energy.”

The Duyvestein team. Top, from left to right: Peter, Ronald and Remco Duijvestijn. Bottom, from left to right: Ted Duijvestijn and Ad van Adrichem.

What issues do you address?

“During the EHEC bacteria crisis and during the embargo by Russia, a great deal of tomatoes were discarded. But even in normal years there are times when tomatoes are thrown away, for example because they are misshapen or because there is an oversupply. That is simply unacceptable if you think of how much energy, costs and raw materials are involved in growing those tomatoes.

“We want to reduce waste by using new earnings models. We have a drier that also uses geothermal heat, and we make all kinds of products with it, such as dried tomatoes and tapenades, out of the tomatoes that we cannot sell. Because we dry the tomatoes slowly, the vitamins and minerals are retained.

“We also supply our unusually shaped tomatoes to Kromkommer, which makes soups from the misshapen vegetables. Criteria for vegetable selection are too strict these days. Even the shape has to be perfect. That's nonsense.”

“We’ve managed to make packaging out of the leaves of tomatoes”

- Ted Duijvestijn, co-owner of Duijvestijn Tomaten

What other challenges have you taken on?

“Together with Wageningen University (WUR) and others, we looked into whether the waste from our greenhouses could be put to another use. We use so much cardboard and paper packaging, we thought it would be great if we could make our own packaging with fibers from the leaves of our tomato plants. And we managed it.

“The challenge now is to scale up. So far we have made 50,000 packages, but we need 500 million packages to have an impact. Whether or not we go ahead depends on what all the parties concerned decide to do.”

What kinds of innovation do you have on the agenda?

“We want to make t-shirts from the fibers of the leaves of our tomato plants. In the Netherlands there are around 10,000 hectares of tomato plants which produce tons of fibers. They can be used to make clothing, just as with hemp or nettles.

“We're also looking into whether we can make bioplastic from the juices of these fibers. The seeds have all been planted, and now we are waiting for them to germinate. Our actions are having an impact. We can make a difference by allowing nature to be the winner.”

What tips would you give other entrepreneurs?

“We need to change our way of thinking and trust our intuition. We're moving towards a circular economy in which sustainability and social innovation play an important role. In this new era it is no longer about bigger and more luxurious, but about happiness and freedom.”

This interview is part of the Growing Ideas series, in which we take a look at the future of food and agriculture and offer a platform to innovative companies in these sectors.

This is a translation of an article that was previously published on RTL Z, the website of a Dutch business and financial news channel.