Listen to Rob Baan’s Interview

Jim: Hello I’m Jim Murphy Chairman of Local Foods and MightyVine Tomatoes. I’m here with Rob Baan who’s the CEO and founder of Koppert Cress in the Netherlands, and Rob is a very forward thinking grower and nutritionist and specialist of extraordinaire who travels the world searching for the perfect plants to bring back to Holland and he can sell around the world. So, Rob, this is great to be here, and to have you here, and be my one of my early interviews. One of the things we have in Chicago here is we have Lake Shore Drive. and Lake Michigan. And there’s a plan to reshape lakeshore drive and add 70 acres of parkland coming out of the lake. Now I was looking of the Netherlands from a few 100 years ago, and I was looking at a map today, and it looked to me like the Netherlands had doubled in size from reclaiming the ocean. Could you tell us what that is all about?

Rob: Well, The water line was rising, so we had to defend our coastlines anyways. Whats better than if we have these tidal areas with a dike around it, and we gain land. The first reason was Amsterdam was out of food. As you know a Metropol or city cannot produce its own food, it needs a production area around. Around 1540 Amsterdam was the world’s biggest capital city business it was very important and expanding rapidly. And there was no rich. So we had rich people without food, so that gives headache. So it was decided they needed more land to produce so they drained the lake and shlemer. Repeat after me. And that lake provided enough food to feed the city, and the city could expand again, so there was more lakes to drain. Don’t go ahead and drain this lake [Lake Michigan], you need your fresh water. You have land enough. The other thing we did is put a dike around a tidal area or a low lake low-level sea level area and dump out the water, or landfill it. With 70 acres, that doesn’t really sound shocking, we do bigger for bigger.

Jim: Well our project is taking long time, so it’s going to cost a lot of money and take a long time but hopefully well get it done I think adding the parkland will be great. We have a lot of green space in Chicago. Chicago has more green roof space than any city in the world.

Rob: Why do we grow vegetables? We as humans, it is the essence of our industry. As humans, we are plant eaters. We eat sometimes eat something that runs, flies, or swims slower than we do naked without Nikes. And 200000 years ago, we were the same animal. Same build same construction, maybe bigger muscle because we needed it, but you not able to harvest deer with your naked hands, you are not born with an arrow, a bow and arrow, so we are hunters collectors, hunting for small animals, because the moment you get the large animals then some others are telling you to get in line. So we are hunters for birds, eggs, fish, mice, rats, and so on. We had to invent tools to kill big animals. Because we are small animal eaters, and many need plants because they don’t run away, so we are plant eater. The diet of a healthy city should be eating plants. Without greenhouses and outdoor horticulture with 200 acres, we can provide 1  million easily with fresh food. Year round. If you feed the city with beef, as they do today, you need 70000 hectares, so 200000 acres. To feed the same 1 million people. So you need 20000 more.

Jim: So you’re saying it’s more efficient to work in the greenhouse, but you’re also saying it’s healthy. Do you think you’ll be able to quantify that?

Rob: Well it’s very simple. If you can feed a cow any kind of protein, even animal protein, they will take it, but they’d rather eat grass. Now humans are made to eat plants, and a little bit of meat, that’s basic. If you look at all the diseases humans have, they only here for 100 years. Once we introduced the food industry and processed food, our genome doesn’t change, so you have to eat what you’re made for. So heart attacks, diabetes, coronary disease. There are so many diseases that are transmitted.

Jim: I saw a chart that you did once, about life expectancy and the increases that we had over time, but then you mentioned how that’s impacted by infant mortality. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Rob: The biggest effect of changing your average life expectancy is the invention of the toilet. The invention of the toilet, because hygiene and its impact on child mortality. And if you take the child mortality of the average aging, you’d be surprised. It’s because people lived much longer in the past if you took out child mortality. So you see a big increase in average aging over time, but you don’t see it with overall health because of the increase of heart disease and diabetes and all those diseases. If you go back to 1880, the Victorian time, in the UK etc, when everyone who died, they recorded the cause of death, and they have carbon papers, so we have all of that information. So you can still find out who died, where and what, and how, back in 1880. If you compare those figures to what we have today, it’s shocking to see that in those days people died healthier than we die today. And the last 10 years of your life you’re so unhealthy. We used to work on dying healthy. Sounds dramatic but its fun to think about.

Jim: I think the viewers here know that we built a 15-acre hydroponic Dutch design dutch constructions dutch growers greenhouses just outside of Chicago where we are growing about 650000 pounds of the best tomatoes in America. And where do you think this hydroponic greenhouse productions technology is going in the next 5 to 10 years. Where do you think this hydroponic greenhouse production technology is going in the next ten years?

Rob: Oh, it’s going to increase as more people get health conscious. And how many people don’t like tomatoes? When a small child gets your cherry tomatoes, they will eat them as candy and then you have a customer for lifetime. The best part about horticulture in greenhouses is that you can protect your crop against the environment. So in mid-winter when you find a nice system of heating, preferably as green as possible, my greenhouse has 1% of turnover cost for energy. I think you are somewhere around 10 or 15%. Some growers still have 25%. If you work very well, you can get it much lower. Build your greenhouse next to an energy center, a data center, I mean Microsoft has a huge data center that produced a tremendous amount of heat that they just put into the air. Take it for free! You have a nice agreement and you give them a box of tomatoes every week and they are happy. So, these greenhouses are protected against environment but also it is a closed surrounding so we work with insects eating insects so we use beneficial insects to protect us against the bad insects. If you have a closed environment, your expenses can’t escape. They stay inside, and the bad guys can’t get in. So you can control your climate so you don’t have to use any chemical pest controls. You can really control it by insects to insects.

Jim: Without pesticides?

Rob: Without pesticides.

Jim: Clean from the start.

Rob: It’s so fun that you can really play with nature in a closed surrounding and maybe sometimes close to better than nature. And the biggest thing with the glass houses is the sun. The cheapest energy source you can get in the world, so that’s why the greenhouse industry is a fantastic – that’s why I don’t believe that you grow vegetables in a parking garage or something or underground because that’s ridiculous. The sun is for free.

Jim: And I think it actually impacts the quality of product and the flavor and maybe even the health benefits of it because it’s light instead of sun. How does your business fit into that concept?

Rob: Well, I produce 65 different flavors for the time being, mainly to the gastronomy, but you see now that caterers want to make better products and especially schools and also the catering at office because healthy people is a very good investment. Just imagine that if you supply your employees healthy food, 80:20 based, and your people are more healthy when they come into your company and when they go out, it’s great because you have healthy employees, you save on healthcare costs which is tremendous it’s a big amount of money. And yeah, the pharmaceutical industry has little problem because vegetables are your medicine.

Jim: What are you doing over there in terms of education? You’re working with young people to try and teach them about..,

Rob: Every Friday we have a school from the region and they get taste lessons which is fun. I can see it from my office and very often I skip the meetings and I do the tastings myself because it’s just too much fun with the children running around. We let them taste and then they have to find the matching taste so we put a lemon, we put a battery because there is something that tastes like a battery. Sweet things, bitter things. So they have all of these products that they recognize, they taste my cresses, by sprouts, my micro greens and then they run to the tastiest and then there is a discussion about what did you taste and how did it taste. We always have those “little Johnny”, his mom comes with little Johnny because little Johnny doesn’t eat anything and mom comes and says “Johnny doesn’t have to do it because he doesn’t eat anything”. And Johnny is standing there going “I don’t have to eat anything” so in the beginning he is important but everybody is having fun and then he is the least important because everybody ignores him. So after three things, he starts eating, and four things he runs, and after twenty-five he is champion. And then his mom comes up to me and asks me “how do you do this because my child never eats vegetables?” I said “your problem is you. You are protecting your child so much against the bad world of vegetables because he doesn’t want it. He wants attention. Don’t give him attention, just give him vegetables”

Jim: That’s good advice.

Rob: Yeah but it’s your basics.

Jim: That’s good advice. How do you see people’s diets changing over the next five years?

Rob: I am board member of a few groups and a few organizations. One is Dutch cuisine. It is a way of thinking about how your plate should look around because whatever you discuss, whatever you do about healthcare, nobody realizes that the plate, the things you consume, not the plate but the thing on the plate, what you consume is the basis of your healthcare. Your food is your medicine. Hypocrites said it: “Let food be your medicines and let medicine be thy food.” We forgot that part. Yeah? Our doctors are studying medicines not studying health care or food care or plate care or… they don’t know. So, in five years time, Dutch cuisine will explain to everybody that your food should look like 80% plants, 20% animal. I’m also working on a group called Reverse Diabetes II. In Holland we have 1 million people with diabetes II out of 70. That’s 6%. In American I think you are higher,  I think 10, maybe 15%. We can repair people with diabetes II sometimes in 3 days from using insulin for 20 years to zero. In three days, by just changing food and that’s shocking! We do the doctors, we do the scientists, and we train so far now about 5 other people and they are 80% recovered. So just imagine 1 million people we can reduce to 200,000 people with diabetes II.

Jim: Do you think you can get that message out? Or is there other messages conflicted from big pharmacies?

Rob: Doctors have no clue about it so we have to change the doctors. And that’s very important. That’s what my message is going to be about in Washington. If we can train the doctors again about what real food is, and how much real food can really cure the world, it’s going to be fantastic.

Jim: That’s great, I mean, I think of something we can help the Netherlands with here from Chicago is, heal thing you recover from… how’s your soccer team do? Does it do okay? I mean have you lost a couple championships?

Rob: Next question…

Jim: I mean here in Chicago we lost a lot of championships for a long time and you know how good that feels? It feels really good. And so we want to give you a little hope over there and so we lost for 108 years so there’s hope. There’s hope. This has been great. Do you have any questions for me at all or…?

Rob: Good luck training the people of Chicago make them more healthy and, with your tomatoes, children will love this. And I hope you don’t become too elite so that only the rich people can afford it. Every child in Chicago should have the right to eat at least once in his life, a real tomato to know how it should taste.

Jim: Well, I agree with you on that. We are getting them into schools and we got extras and we get them into places. A lot of kids are getting the opportunity.

Rob: And I’d love to be here with a small part of my company.

Jim: Great speaking with you.

Rob: Great.

Jim: Thank you.

Rob: Thank you.

The Microgreen Revolution

“As humans, we are plant eaters,” Rob Baan states with authority. “Or sometimes we eat something that swims, flies, or runs slower than you without Nikes or a Kalashnikov.”

It’s a heck of a sales pitch for the CEO of Netherlands based company Koppert Cress. Baan’s business has been leading the charge in the microgreen revolution, creating greenhouses for his vegetables in the Netherlands and within the US. Year round, they quickly and constantly ship out fresh veggies for chefs across the world.

Watch, or listen to, this interview to learn more about Rob’s unique approach to business.

Video Segments

“We Are Plant Eaters”

In this segment, Koppert Cress CEO Rob Baan discusses our history with food and the societal shifts that have changed how we eat over time.


Expanding the Netherlands and LSD

Jim and Rob discuss plans to add parkland to Lake Shore Drive, and the Netherland’s history of gaining landmass by reclaiming coastlines. This land, the result of a reclaimed lake, allowed for greater food production to support the growing population of Renaissance-era Amsterdam.

Rob Baan on Youth Education

Rob discusses ways that his company, Koppert Cress, is helping teach children about healthy eating by “taste tests,” or having kids try to match flavors to certain produce. He even offers some advice for parents on how to get their kids to eat more vegetables.

This segment is part of the follwing blog post

Rob Baan: The Microgreen Revolution

“As humans, we are plant eaters,” Rob Baan states with authority. “Or sometimes we eat something that swims, flies, or runs slower than you in your naked butt without Nikes […]