From horticulture student to international expert: Justin Middelburg’s adventure in Kenya

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After completing his studies in Horticulture & Agribusiness, Justin Middelburg took an exciting step: he moved to Kenya. Currently, he works as an interim operations manager at AAA Growers, In this function he focuses on expanding the summer flower assortment. “In the Netherlands, I would start in a junior position, however here I am the expert and enjoy a lot of freedom.”

From classroom to Kenyan fields
This is not Justin’s first experience with living and working in Kenya. During his third study year, he interned at Dümmen Orange in Kenya. He and fellow students also traveled to the country for a project that was concerned with investigating the expansion of the local cut flower assortment. After graduating, Justin’s former internship supervisor reached out to him: “My former internship supervisor had switched to AAA Growers and told me about the opportunities. It clicked right away. I already had quite some knowledge about cut-flowers, as I am raised in a family of chrysanthemum growers. Cut flowers are a focus area of AAA Growers.”

Opportunities for summer flowers
While AAA Growers initially started as a vegetable grower, the company began cultivating and selling roses in 2011. Yet, the opportunities for the company extend far beyond, Justin explains: “Due to the favorable climate and lower labor costs, there are many opportunities in Kenya to expand the cultivation of summer flowers. I had already reached this matter. Now, at AAA Growers, I am involved in cultivation trials and the operational setup of summer flower cultivation.”

He takes the chrysanthemum as an example: a flower that needs 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of ‘night’. Whereas in the Netherlands, chrysanthemum cultivation would require blackout screens and artificial lighting in greenhouses to mimic these circumstances, in Kenya, the perfect climate exists all year round. “Since you don’t need to heat the greenhouses, cultivation in Kenya is also much more sustainable,” Justin emphasizes.

From operations to sales
At AAA Growers, Justin has the opportunity to play a key role in the expansion of the summer flower assortment. Together with a production manager, he leads a department of about 30 employees. “I am responsible for the day-to-day operations related to summer flowers,” Justin explains. “From creating and maintaining schedules to developing production processes, it’s a dynamic role that offers me a lot of freedom to implement improvements.”

Justin’s role at AAA Growers is very diverse, and in a few months, he will be working in commerce and sales at another department. In this role, he will be responsible for the commercial aspect of the export of summer flowers. “In this way, I get to learn different aspects of the company and discover where I can truly make a difference. It’s very dynamic.”

Horticulture education provides opportunities
Looking back on his education at Inholland (a Dutch university of applied sciences), Justin emphasizes the importance of practical experience and international opportunities. “My education gave me a broad foundation in the horticulture sector, and the opportunity to discover what I enjoy the most. The program is very practical, and you work a lot with companies in the area.” But the horticulture sector has more to offer, Justin emphasizes: “Internationally, there are so many opportunities, and they are eager for Dutch horticulture professionals. Thanks to the freedom offered by Inholland, I took the opportunity to gain international experience through projects and internships. This has led me to where I am today.”

Source: InHolland

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