Meet An Advisor: Leon Hiemstra
In 2015, ten years after his first arrival in Vietnam, Leon was back. Leon had spent a lot of time in the country designing and making medical equipment for NGOs.
This time, he embarked upon a new project: improving technology used at Fargreen. Previously to his arrival, a special cargo came to our facility: a square straw baler. It was one of the many things that Leon has brought to upgrade our production system.
The square straw baler is a familiar object to Leon and his farm back in the Netherlands but is fairly uncommon in rural Vietnam. When our CEO Trang Tran, told Leon about our problem with storing rice straw and retaining its quality, he thought the baler might be the solution. He helped Fargreen to purchase a used machine, and had it shipped to Vietnam. It was the first of its kind in Vietnam, as far as we know.
Leon got to Fargreen’s farms later, so he could show the staff how to work the machine and make any needed adjustment.
The baler was not the only machine at Fargreen bore Leon’s mark. Before the end of 2015, he had built a solar drier so Fargreen could diversify the product range. Using an open-source design, Leon built a system specifically for the needs of Fargreen: The mushrooms are dried slowly using indirect heat, so that they keep most of their flavors and nutrients. Furthermore, during the drying process, mushrooms stay in a well-ventilated box away from insects or other types of contaminants. Not only that the solar energy is a green solution, it also helps deal with the instability of electricity supply in rural Vietnam. Furthermore, Leon added a heating panel so the drying box can be of use during dark winter months.
Another contribution from Leon is a wifi sensor at each and every farm to monitor the temperature and humidity. He said it's “Internet of things”. Thanks to the sensors, Fargreen could collect real-time data that would help predict mushroom outputs in different farms. With sufficient data, we hope to optimise the yield in all farms.
When I asked Leon if it’s challenging working among farmers who hardly speak English or Dutch, he shook his head, thought long and hard and confined that he should have learned more Vietnamese but the language was just too difficult. He has been managing with the body language, hand gestures and Google Translate.
Leon is back to Vietnam and Fargreen again for a few more months. He said he would try to make the sensors more robust so that they would survive harsh weather conditions and maybe another drying system, which would be more compact - the IKEA-style I guess. At Fargreen, we are so glad to have Leon again and can’t wait to see his new works.