“Women work very hard to help set up their businesses, but often dismiss it as ‘no big deal'”

Eline ter Haar and Lotte Kooiker, Trekker Reizen

One has a background in agriculture, the other doesn’t, but together they have a passion for agriculture and travel as the team behind the Dutch agricultural travel agency “Trekker Reizen”. Women in Ag spoke with the women behind this very special company for this double edition of “Outsider”.

Eline ter Haar was born and raised in Enschede, on her parents’ dairy farm. The family business was taken over by her brother and relocated to Portugal, but the passion for the sector remained for Eline, who studied food technology in Bolsward, Friesland, followed by a business formation in Breukelen. Eline started her first job at Misset, a publisher of agricultural magazines, as a marketing manager. It was during an agricultural fair for this first job, for the magazine Trekker & Werktuig, that the idea for agriculture-related trips was planted. The year was 1998.

How it started

“During that fair, the idea of organising a readers’ trip with the Fendt importer De Vor was mentioned,” recalls Eline. “I thought it was a joke at first, but a few weeks later I was on a readers trip for Trekker & Werktuig to the Fendt factory in Germany. We didn’t have Google Maps back then. So at the time, travelling meant getting in the car with a map and writing down the distance and time. The response was huge and we ended up renting four buses”, Eline remembers.

“Two buses went a day earlier than ‘my’ two buses. We would have a typical Bavarian Abend together in the monastery hotel. The band and other groups were there, but we were late. The bus could not go more than 100 km/hour and had to stop now and then, so the journey took hours longer than planned. So we learned the Fendt song! The whole bus sang it out loud. Finally, we arrived at the hotel around 10pm. We put on Tyrolean dresses, ate good food, chopped and sawed wood, partied,… Years later, someone sent a photo to our offices. A great reminder of my first agricultural trip!”

That first trip was soon followed by another to the Valhalla of tractors, America. This time, Eline and her group went to Detroit.

“It was the first time I had seen so many tractor factories in one week! We also drove on the special International 7488.”

A little later, Eline was asked to take minutes for a one-time meeting of the European Tractor Pulling Committee. In the end, she did this for thirteen years and learned a lot about tractorpulling while she did it.

“It is such a men’s world! It’s also all techniques, speed and spectacle. I remember Johanna Herlevi, who drove a Valtra. After her runs, she would always remove her helmet and conquer many men’s hearts with her long hair floating in the wind. It intrigued me that there are people who know how to turn 200 hp into 2000 hp or synchronize 5 engines.”

Trekker Reizen

In 2008, ten years after the first, unofficial, trip, Eline was looking for a new challenge. Trekker Reizen (translates as “tractor travels”, red.) was born. “The idea was to organize agricultural trips from home, so it would be more compatible with my family and volunteer work. At the end of 2008 the chief editor of LandbouwMechanisatie asked me if I wouldn’t like to organize their reader trips. A great collaboration began!”

In her new job just as before, Eline noted that there was a difference in perception between men and women. “The outside world was initially suspicious of what I was doing. A woman who travelled abroad a lot… it raised many eyebrows, even though no one thought twice about my husband who did exactly that.”

Trekker Reizen was rolling, despite initial suspicions, and for several years Eline ran her business alone. Until that one job application in 2014. One of many spontaneous applications. Eline, however, was not planning on hiring anyone. So she rejected the applicant, but it turned out the applicant in question would not give up so easily.

“She wanted to get more experience and internships even though she had graduated. So I invited her for a chat in the presence of my entire family. A home-based business has a lot of influence on the family, so it was important to me that they were there. When everyone agreed, Trekker Reizen suddenly expanded 100% with Lotte!”

Lotte’s first trip with Trekker Reizen was to Sweden and Norway. “I saw her run into the same problems I did,” Eline knows. “It was hard not to jump in, but mistakes are what help you grow.” Lotte’s experience grew, and so did the number of trips, including for publishers, associations and companies in the Netherlands and Belgium.

“I remember when I started at Trekker Reizen, seven years ago”, Lotte says. “I studied tourism in Deventer, but I had never heard of agricultural (study) trips. It seemed a lot more varied and challenging than the trips I knew, but it was quite a culture shock! I had to learn a lot about farming and everything that came with it in terms of travel. It’s a small world and everyone seems to know each other. As a newcomer, it felt awkward at times to ‘intrude’ as the only person who wasn’t from agriculture. Now I feel different about it.”

Agriculture in different cultures and the role of women

During their tripsn Eline and Lotte learn more about agriculture and life as an (emigrated) agricultural entrepreneur, but also about the women in agriculture and what their role and experiences are in different parts of the world and cultures.

“One Amish farmer, for example, told me that he had to take over the farm business and in the process buy out his 10 siblings when he would have much preferred to become a carpenter. The Amish women do not visibly interfere with the business but run the family and household. A strict division of tasks that is also clearly maintained by the Hutterites during our tour there. Women lead us around the common areas, the men on the farm and in the fields. A division of tasks that everyone has to comply with”, says Eline.

“The great thing about the sector is the down-to-earthness of the people, the helpfulness and the care for animals, nature and fellow human beings,” adds Lotte. “Also, the hospitality with which you are received all over the world is fantastic. Seeing what is grown in a country, what is consumed and how agriculture is done… and then the great differences between nations! In one, a farm with 2 acres in the mountains is normal while for another country, farms have hundreds or thousands of hectares!”

“There’s also the differences in supply: in Cuba, for example, the supermarket shelves were virtually empty while in Belgium and the Netherlands there is an abundance of produce but some of it doesn’t even make it to the shelves because it doesn’t meet the requirements.”

“I find it especially interesting to talk to the women”, Eline comments. “The challenges they face with their family, the family business and – if they have emigrated – leaving family and friends behind and rebuilding something in an unfamiliar country… it’s fascinating to hear. These women, who have worked very hard to set up a new company, often dismiss it as ‘nothing special’, because they just do it on top of running the family, which in many countries is still for women”, Eline, who seems to like the odd challenge in reputed men’s worlds, continues. “So I’ve been remodeling lately. And I see the carpenter looking at me, amused, as the jackhammer takes me out for a walk… Apparantly, it’s not a woman’s job? But I don’t mind. I have yet another little challenge in what’s supposed to be a man’s world. I haven’t spoken to a woman, either on the phone or on the field.”

“In agriculture, I see women as the connecting link. I think that they are important for communication, as they are often our first point of contact, and are responsible for the day-to-day running of the company”, Lotte adds. “I also notice that women are well-represented among young farmers. The proportion and number of women in the sector can surely rise even further!”

The roles reversed

Trekker Reizen organises study trips, and so these are accompanied by company visits. They’re almost all planned. “We don’t like to surprise people. Our visits have to suit them, too.” There are however spontaneous stops when Eline and Lotte see something special or they pass by interesting field operations. “We’re not shy to ask if we can look, and before you know it, our clients are sitting in the cab and communicating with the local farmers. Those are the moments where stories are shared. To me, those are the best moments: everyone speaks the same language, no matter where they’re from or the size of their operation.”

Trekker Reizen is run by women, but one man discreetly helps along: Eline’s former colleague Arend-Jan Blomsma helps with the technical details of the trips. “He is a real encyclopedia on mechanisation, loves to travel and regularly accompanies us on our trips as an extra.” For Arend-Jan, the roles are reversed as he needs to function in a “women’s world”. “We are seeing more and more women in organizational positions within the agricultural travel industry,” Eline adds.

“One can easily run an agricultural (related) business with only women, it turns out”, Lotte laughs. “Arend-Jan is tremendously important to our trips, though, and we are happy to have him!”


About Trekker Reizen

Trekker Reizen is a Dutch agricultural travel agency, run by Eline and Lotte. The (study) trips are organised in-house, but also commissioned by manufacturers, magazines or associations. Trekker Reizen travels around the world with their clients, looking for interesting farms, factories and fairs.

 

This article was published in Women in Ag Magazine 2021-4. Click here for an overview of the magazines. 

 

 

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