Student - 1 mei 2013

From Master of the cellar to Master of Science

Huub Lenders (55) made quite a splash as an organic wine grower in Portugal. Now he is studying in Wageningen so as to be able to achieve his goals in the field of sustainability. 'I felt like an old camel among the lambs.'

Most students embark on their degree programmes without much life experience. But on the Master's in Management, Economics and Consumer Studies (MME) there is a notable exception to this rule. The career of Huub Lenders (55) seems to have been back to front: he started a degree only after a working life that included successful wine growing in Portugal. So why should someone who got so far - in every sense - choose to go back to the classroom? It is all to do with his dream of a clear model of sustainability.
We meet Huub during the lunch hour. He has his brown bread sandwiches with him just like the other students. How does it feel to be among them all? Lenders smiles. 'When we were doing prerequisite courses I was in the same group as an ex-classmate of my daughter's. At that point you sure do feel a bit like an old camel in among the lambs.' But on the Master's programme the students are a bit older. 'I feel more myself now. More interested than uncomfortable.'  
It was his dream to study in Wageningen, he says. But he had to postpone that dream by 30 years. 'My father was ill when I left secondary school. So I had to work on the farm.' In 1989 he set off for Portugal. 'I was looking for a new challenge,' he explains. Lenders bought an abandoned parcel of farmland and transformed it into a flourishing vineyard with a bed & breakfast: Albergue do Bonjardim. It was such a success that it even attracted a visit from the Portuguese secretary of state, who called it a 'model business'.
Sustainable model
Portugal was not quite the right place for his children's schooling, however, so in 2004 the family decided to return to the Netherlands. Huub Lenders went back to school, got an MSc in Food & Agribusiness and a job teaching on a management course in Dronten. Meanwhile he and his wife kept the wine-growing business in Portugal going.
He reached another turning point in his life in 2012, when he resigned and embarked on the MSc in Wageningen in order to pursue an ambition he had developed in his new homeland. 'From the start there I produced organic wine but I ran into issues about how you can quantify that.' He wants to use the knowledge he gains on the Master's programme to develop a model which makes it possible to measure and therefore to compare the sustainability of a particular product. 'With my model you can compare intensive farming with organic farming. You can see it as a footprint which is expressed in monetary terms but based on social, ecological and economic factors.'
Studying in Wageningen has felt to Lenders like realizing the dream of his youth. But his ambitions now go way beyond getting a piece of paper. 'I am looking for professionals and students who can help me create my model.' Because Lenders has his work cut out for him. For when he grows up.  

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