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Fruitful entrepreneurship

"With fruit growing we compete with the rest of the world, but this place is unique"

Susanne Görtz, The Fruit Farm

LIOF is helping this entrepreneur with:

a subsidy from the Innovation Project. This is part of the LimburgTourism program. Through our LimburgTourism program, we can help you take your innovative idea or process a step further and thus help your company grow. At LIOF we always do this with a view to a smarter, more sustainable and healthier Limburg. With this program we focus on entrepreneurs in the tourism & recreation sector.

About The Fruit Farm

The Fruit Farm has been in the Görtz family for 150 years. In Baarlo, they grow cherries, pears, apples, plums and grapes. In those 150 years the development of the company did not stand still; the Fruit Farm likes to develop further. It started with Theo and Truus Görtz. They were the first fruit growers in the Netherlands to use machines to harvest fruit. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree: their daughter Susanne likes to continue that development with her husband Lion and her sister Andrea. They now no longer stick to just growing fruit, but seek development in completely different areas. By now there is a full-fledged agro-tourism business.

Pictured: left Giovanni Dings and right Theo Görtz

LIOF and The Fruit Farm

 

A true family business

12 years ago Susanne started in the fruit farm of her parents: Theo and Truus. She did so on the one hand to relieve her parents, but it was mostly her own desire to be an entrepreneur. "Together with my father, we explored how we could do it better. In the beginning, we mainly focused on making fruit farming more efficient." Susanne is not doing this alone. The Fruit Farm can proudly call itself a true family business. She works together with her sister Andrea and her partner Lion. Among other things, he takes care of the financial piece. At the same time, he also explains that the positions within the company are not entirely fixed: "Everyone works with their own qualities. For example, we are all flying keeper. Do you have time to spare? Then we pick up something from someone else. That's how it works with us." 

Harvest is like the Olympics

The family has six months to harvest all the fruit on the farm. This harvest period falls around summer and that's when they can do almost nothing else. "We really fly off the starting blocks then. How do we make sure the fruit gets to the right person at the right time? What do you harvest when? How many staff do we need that week? It's a continuous switch gears and manager Max Hilberts plays an important role in this. The harvests are our Olympics. Every summer." 

To think ahead is to rule

For 50 years at the Fruit Farm, they have been picking a lot by machine. This saves costs and is many times faster than harvesting by hand. The focus here is on industrial fruit. This is good quality, of course, but less sensitive to dents and scratches. That's different with auction fruit, which goes to the supermarket. Contrary to what you might think, machine picking is not that easy. Pears, for example, cannot yet be picked by robots. Theo is still at the forefront of developments. He gives input from the field to the company developing the robots. Twelve years ago he planted his pear trees in such a way that robots can reach them easily. That's entrepreneurship.

Trees comfortable in their skin

That forward thinking is actually always important in fruit farming. In addition to experience and years of accumulated knowledge, the Fruit Farm also works with data derived from drones and analysis. They do this together with neighbors and partners such as tree nursery Fleuren. "The trees should feel good and not experience stress," says Fleuren. They therefore keep a close eye on the soil quality and its development. "We only fertilize with organic substances. As a result, the soil never gets too wet or too dry." Sometimes they do not use a plot themselves for a number of years, but hand it over so that the soil can recover. Good soil testing and planning is very important after that. Because once the trees are planted, you can't change anything about them. And only 6 years after planting can you harvest for the first time. After that, the trees also have to last 15 to 20 years. 

Fruit of the future

Fruit farming does not always run as smoothly as you hope. "What goes on in the world is reflected in our business. The Conference pears went largely to Russia. The market has been closed there for several years. But the pear tree lasts 40 years. So what do you do with the fruit? If we can't be flexible, we can't move forward." Fortunately, at the Fruit Farm, they are happy to find a nice solution.

Adopt a fruit tree

The pear and apple trees have been available for adoption since the summer of 2022. "You get to experience the whole cycle of fruit: from blossom to fresh fruit or juice. You can always come and see your tree. With this we bind people to our farm even more. Every year the adopters can come and pick the pears and apples from the tree themselves. You then see the surprise of children: this was just a little flower and is now a whole pear?" A normal thing for fruit growers, but actually very special.

Morels with healing power

Morels are sour cherries grown widely and at a low price in Eastern Europe. That was a problem for the Fruit Farm. With Project Limburg Morel, Susanne fought for a fair price for the real Limburg Morels. "The bakers can now show customers that they are baking Limburg flan with Limburg fruit. So we are all more aware of where and how our food is made. It also makes it unique: a regional product with a story." At that time, they also started pressing morel. There are many healthy properties to morel juice: it contributes to muscle recovery and reduces osteoarthritis symptoms. UM Maastricht researched these qualities together with the Fruit Farm. 

The juice dispenser of Truus

They quickly noticed that the Fruit Farm's juices were in demand. In between all the business, they also sold them from the farm. Truus came up with the idea of the juice vending machine and also makes sure there are gift packs. The vending machine is open 24 hours a day, so anyone can always go for a tasty and healthy juice. "People from the area, as well as tourists, like that. They can easily come to us, even if you're still looking for something for a birthday. People like to get it."

In search of synergy

"With fruit growing we compete with the rest of the world, but this place is unique." They wanted to show that to the rest of the world. Inspired by the family's own vacations, they sought opportunities in agritourism. This created 3 beautiful vacation homes. This also brought a stable branch to the business: an income independent of the harvest. For this, Lynn Jeuken was hired. Susanne did not want to tackle this as a hobby, but really wanted to do it well. Together with Andrea and Lion, she succeeded. "People are also raving about the picking days. Here really 2 worlds come together: fruit growing and tourism."

A farm for the next generation

When the harvest season is over, they will get busy developing and innovating again at the Fruit Farm. There are plenty of expansion plans for agritourism. But Susanne announces that a new branch is also being developed, namely an agricultural childcare center. Susanne: "Our youngest son was going to a regular daycare. But he much preferred being with Grandma and Grandpa on the farm; he wants to become Grandpa Theo later. Of course, we recognized this from our own childhood. Scrambling, playing in the sand and in the bushes. That way of growing up on a farm we can share with others." They saw how child care centers under the Association of Agricultural Child Care approached this and thought it was a nice way to go. The Fruit Farm has since joined that association. This project Susanne is not developing on her own: "We are not pedagogical staff, so for the subject knowledge we work together with professionals ." But the permit is in place and the first drawings are ready. 

The icing on the cake

We asked Theo and Susanne for tips for other entrepreneurs. "Keep looking around you," says Theo. "You can't sit at home and wait for the auction or dealer to do things differently." Susanne stresses the importance of doing something you believe in yourself. "Don't let yourself be bounded and keep dreaming. But also make sure you have a good team around you. You are not the best at everything. Know your own limitations and make sure you have good people to complement you." 

 

Photography: Ron Wiersma (www.ronwiersma.nl)
 

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A magazine full of inspiring stories

The LimburgTourism program has given a strong impulse to the growth and innovative power of this sector in Limburg over the past three years. In this magazine, the Morgen, you can read some of the many stories of entrepreneurs we have had the pleasure of supporting from this program.

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