First, an introduction: Oltman Aukema, 60 years old and Paradigm enthusiast. He is also our foreman at the Suikerunie terrain and has a key role in all of the developments and projects there. We’ve mentioned him before in our previous blogs, so it was time to put him in the spotlight!
Could you tell us something about yourself, Oltman? How did the years shape you into who you are now?
Well, my name is Oltman Aukema and I’ve been born and raised in the beautiful town of Wolvega in Friesland. I currently own a gardening business, employing a number of people and I’m also foreman on the Suikerunie terrain!
Being an entrepreneur has always been second nature to me. My parents had their own business when I was little. This, however, wasn’t always apparent in my school career. I’ve finished the MAVO (lower general secondary education), but I quit throughout my HAVO (higher general secondary education) curriculum. I have always been into and doing different things and was (and still am) always outdoors. I also didn’t have a lot of affinity with my other classmates and certainly had other interests than your “standard high schooler.” I would’ve found a better fit at trade school at the time, according to my teachers. I did, however, have a reasonable idea about what I wanted to pursue, which was and has always been outdoors and nature related. This evolved in a more firm direction later in life. I left home when I was 16 and started to work when I was 17.
I’ve met my wife when I was 23 and working in a bar. From that point on, I knew what I wanted to do. As I mentioned before, my affinity with nature and being outdoors was always there. This was founded by an interest in the way plants work. I started working as a gardener and was being hired by private consumers and the local congregation. The congregation asked me later on if I was interested to pass along my knowledge to boys and girls from the horticultural college. To do that, I had to pass a 6 year course to become a teacher, doing this part time along with my work. When I finished this course, I was a teacher by the age of 33. But, after a while, I noticed that teaching in the traditional sense wasn’t where my heart is. My inspiration for teaching finds its foundation in the Finnish school system, where students learn what they want through intrinsic motivation. They want them to figure out “why they learn”. After 2 years, I decided that it wasn’t for me and quit, because I was working too many hours and was asking too much from my peers.
When that happened, I was 35 years old. Then I thought: ‘this is the time for me to found my own company’. For the first 4 years, it was just me who did all the work. Slowly but surely, I employed more and more people (basically 1 each year). There are currently working 16 people for Oltmans Groen and I’ve also started teaching again. I mostly do this with people that have a hard time finding their place and way in society.
What an amazing history! That road has definitely led you to unexpected places. And now we’re very curious about how you ended up at Paradigm and how you got involved with the project at the Suikerunie. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Well, that was definitely a coincidence. My daughter got into a relationship with one of the founders of Paradigm. Even before that, electronic music was already a part of my life and my daughters grew up with that. This way, I was involved with Paradigm from an early stage and fell in love with it soon after. After a couple of years, during Paradigm Festival 2015, I had a few ideas on how we could perform better regarding efficiency of materials and how to create an overall safe working environment. You could say that the teacher in me came bubbling to the surface. I wasn’t teaching at the time and was purely focused on my business, so I had some time to spare. The interest for the music was already there, just like the connection with the company. The focus on a green environment, societal importance of the project and overall durability certainly align with my ideals. Plus the fact that this project was just “different” than other projects I’ve worked with. That’s something that always piques my interest.
Sounds like you’re intrinsically motivated yourself as well. Awesome that you feel that way! Can you tell us a bit about your day-to-day inner workings? Any specific work you’re doing in and around the terrain?
My role is to motivate and to organize. I’m a practical man and I almost always see opportunities instead of problems. This applies to projects as well as people. When thinking about people, I always ask myself: ‘What are someone’s strengths and how can we use that?’ I always help our people a little on their way to discover their strengths and weaknesses on their own. My experience in running my own company helps me greatly with this. One specific skill always rises to the surface. Back in the day, my father taught me how to play chess. That’s where my ability to think 1, 2 or 3 steps ahead and plan accordingly is certainly devised from this. I get a tonne of energy if I see that the people I work with are progressing and when projects I work with are wrapped up well and in time. I don’t even see it as work anymore. Everyone is just being themselves, not pretending in the slightest. I think we have to nurture that, especially within our growing community. Keyword here is acceptance. No one judges one another and everyone is being respected. We’ll end up nowhere if we don’t work together after all.
And what are the highlights of your job?
Like I said before, the foundation for everything in my life is my love and interest for plants. The positivity with which people respond to this is one of my highlights. Another highlight is the forest stage from Paradigm Festival. The collective work we did gives me a real sense of pride. Then there’s the progression you see in the people you work with. The work I do is actually becoming less high-profile overtime, since the people that are working at the Suikerunie terrain are assuming more and more responsibilities. Lastly, the unconditional acceptance between everyone here. Showing each other a little extra love won’t hurt anyone in this world.
It seems that you’re not finished with us for a while! Perhaps you could share your future plans with us a little? What are you planning to do for the terrain and for your own sake?
After years of commitment towards others, it’s now time to spend some time on myself and my own development. Even though I’m already doing this through my company, I would like to pass along my knowledge through teaching full time. I’m also seeing our community grow, a place where you can live and experience freedom without destroying the environment. That’s the end game. To create a place where people can feel comfortable and at home. I used to have a mind set of “I have to do this and that”, regarding others. These days, I’m only trying to focus on matters where I have some influence myself. Matters regarding teaching people about nature and how to work with the environment instead of against it. We’ll see whatever happens in the future, but there’s definitely never a dull moment!