How NOT to run an Urban Mushroom Farm (part 2 of 3)

The glorious mistakes that caused the downfall of Pad en Stoel

Zjef Van Acker
5 min readFeb 18, 2021

This is a piece originally written for the 12 steps to farming, an educational platform around urban and vertical farming.

In the first episode of this three part series, I shared the first two glorious mistakes that set the stage for the downfall of Pad en Stoel: Impulsivity while not having enough experience. In part two you will learn three more miscalculations, and in part three you will understand the two consequent crisises that lead to a unique life lesson.

If you haven’t yet, read part 1.

Mistake 3 — Pay yourself last

Pad en Stoel Joachim Katja Retsin mushrooms
A lot of press and media came to visit our farm because of our amazing story

To become a truly ecological farm, we had developed a fantastic strategy and plan: Pad en Stoel would become a network of cooperative farms and the customers would co-own the farms. This would cause a higher form of “loyalty”, which in turn would lead to a higher level of economic stability. And In that way the farm would have a higher level of ecological sustainability.

We were sure that this would be a success and that we would expand quickly, becoming a network of community owned ecosystem farms that would help lower the cost of all the farms, and hence all have a more positive ecological impact.

Yes, we were determined to create a national food system change.

Pad en Stoel mushrooms Antwerp

Because we thought we’d establish the groundwork for this within a couple of months, we had decided that not getting paid was okay until Pad en Stoel was a stable enough business.

Of course…because of the first two mistakes, the period of no-pay-for-a-lot-of-work was taking much longer than anticipated. We started feeling it in our personal finances. Our savings were dropping steadily.

The stress of having way too much work on our plate was already hard enough, yet the financial pressure was building up too. Tensions started rising more and faster.

Mistake 4 — The business is my life

Pad en Stoel Joachim Zjef Bart

I’ve read Stephen Covey and his 7 habits of highly effective people probably 4 times already. In that book he describes how successful people have an amazing professional life, because they have healthy relationships. Moreover, they put effort in maintaining those relationships because they know it causes stability and gives you a lot of positive energy.

Yet, when you’re on a high of social awe, when you are “mister popular”, you tend to forget what real friendship and healthy relationships are. I for one made this mistake during Pad en Stoel. And I’m pretty sure my two fellow-founders made them too in different ways.

We lacked a stable social foundation in our personal lives. The exponentially rising anxiety and stress caused us to stop enjoying life and our work. Our motivation to make Pad en Stoel successful started dropping and by the summer of 2019, the first big crisis loomed over the horizon.

Mistake 5 — We don’t need expensive consultants

Pad en Stoel Zjef Van Acker

During the first 1.5 years of Pad en Stoel, we had run the business via Joachim’s personal legal entity for self employment. Which meant that he was personally liable for all the good and the bad happening to Pad en Stoel. Basically, next to the stress and anxiety of all the work and no-one having an income, Joachim had also legal accountability to deal with.

We tried very hard to support him in this and be extremely loyal, but if we had taken time to thoroughly investigate this, or at least asked experienced business consultants, we’d have seen that there were some easy options to spread the responsibility over all founders.

We hadn’t done this because we wanted to avoid spending too much money on consultants. In hindsight, if we would have done this, we’d have saved a lot more money and would have become professional much faster.

But because we had been a little bit too headstrong in doing things ourselves, Pad en Stoel was always in a transition period. The company was always 2 months away from being a real cooperative association.

As this was my responsibility, this was my biggest mistake and my most important lesson: learn to ask for help, learn to spend money in order to avoid losing more.

Pad en Stoel Reishi mushroom
The Pad en Stoel mascot: a very special Reishi mushroom.

End of part 2 of 3

In this second episode of this three part series, I shared three more glorious mistakes that set the stage for the downfall of Pad en Stoel: (1) Not paying ourselves, (2) not taking care of our personal lives and (3) not paying/asking for help.

In the next part you will learn how the total of these five specific mistakes caused some serious crisises for the mushroom business. And at the very end, you will find a unique life lesson.

Read part 3


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Zjef Van Acker

Writer, podcast-host & applied philosopher. Manifesting ideas and strategies for a global ecosystem society!