You come across them everywhere: Dutch entrepreneurs abroad. Why did they ever leave with the northern sun, and is the grass really that much greener across the street? This week: Bernadette Kuijpers, who milks goats, makes cheese with her husband and daughter and welcomes campers to the countryside of Slovakia.
Milking, that is just like cycling or skating. You won't let that down, says Bernadette Kuijpers. So when she and her husband got hold of a goat again in Slovakia, they got the hang of it again.
"I studied agricultural economics, and part of that training is the so-called dirty-hands internship. So I could do milking, and so did my husband. He also studied agriculture, and then paid off his study debt by milking cows for a while in the Alps. "
Get out of Mali
Kuijpers also studies tropical livestock farming and ecological agriculture and after those studies leaves with her husband to Africa to do development work there. They live in different African countries, and end up in Mali ten years ago, where they both work in development cooperation.
"That was exciting, transferring almost all of our savings to someone we had not yet met." Bernadette Kuijpers
"When it became more dangerous and Dutch troops were sent, the situation became unsafe for us too. We both felt the need to do something for ourselves without a boss."
The couple wants to start a farm, but without land in the family that they can take over, it appears to be financially impossible in the Netherlands. A piece of Dutch land to set up a farm runs into the millions, and they don't have that.
So they start googling in Mali, looking for peace, space, unspoiltness and affordable land. They find an empty farm in Slovakia. There it is green, wide and quiet, and otherwise the couple has no connection whatsoever with the land. "We bought the farm from Mali, via the internet. That was not as simple as it sounds. We had to set up a Slovakian company, make a large down payment and arrange all the paperwork within six weeks. Otherwise we would have lost that money."
They are unable to complete the paperwork, and a Slovakian broker offers to buy it themselves and resell it to the couple. "That was exciting, transferring almost all of our savings to someone we hadn't met yet."
Deer in the garden
After being in the car for a month, from Mali to Slovakia, they see their house for the first time. "We wanted to arrive late, at the start of the day, to be able to collect any disappointments." That is not necessary, says Kuijpers: they arrive on a sunny September morning, the house in the valley was overgrown and the deer ran through the garden. "A lot had to be done about it, but we were very happy with it."
Soon the first goats arrive, and after four months in Slovakia it appears that a baby is on the way. Very desirable, according to Kuijpers, because the medical prediction was that it was not possible for them and she found that very unfortunate.
"We bought the farm from Mali, via the internet." Bernadette Kuijpers
"When we started this whole company, we didn't have a child yet, and then you do this kind of weird thing: buy a farm online while you're in Africa."
Kuijper and her husband sell their milk and cheese in the neighborhood and to campers who pitch their tent on the land a few months a year. "We earn a modest Slovak income with that, and that's great. We live in Slovakia, so we don't need a Dutch salary."
No milk without young
Farm & Camping Lazy is going well, says Kuijpers. The 22 camping spots are almost full for the coming season. The goats have a good life there, according to the farmer's wife, and that is what the camping guests like. They can help with milking and the lambs stay with their mother for a long time, including the goats.
"That is a difference with the Netherlands. Goat goats have no economic value. In the Netherlands we like to eat goat cheese, but without young there is no milk, and those lambs are turned into dog food. Just like young roosters."
They do not use artificial fertilizer, and cause parts of the country to become wild. "We don't have a bio-label yet, the procedure here is too bureaucratic. But we treat our goats with respect. If we can't get rid of the goats, we'll eat them ourselves."
"When we started, we didn't have a child yet, and then you do these kinds of weird things." Bernadette Kuijpers
Whether or not the Netherlands occasionally beckons? Certainly for an annual visit, says Kuijpers. "The Netherlands has given me an incredibly precious possession: a Dutch passport. Thanks to my Dutch nationality, I have been given all these opportunities. I am happy to go anywhere, and the Netherlands is ready with a social safety net. I have never had to use it and that will probably never happen, but it makes the Netherlands a fantastic country. "