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

Pad en Stoel Antwerpen Zjef Van Acker Joachim Sohie Bart Van Tuykom

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 the second part you learned about three more miscalculations, and in part three I will tell you the story of the two consequent crisises that lead to a unique life lesson.

If you haven’t yet, read part 1 and Part 2

Crisis 1 — Too much is too much

Zjef Van Acker mushroom Eryngii Pad en Stoel
(Mushroom hunting at the farm)

Even though we had a lot of stress and anxiety, we still grew the business. In the spring of 2019 we had grown and sold more mushrooms than ever before.

Moreover, we had created a great and ambitious plan for expansion and professionalisation. And we had found 2 new amazing people to join the Pad en Stoel team and make the expansion possible: Els and Isabel.

Yet, before we started this plan, we took some well deserved rest. In the summer of 2019 we took some time for ourselves to replenish our reserves.

During that time, I started realising that I had been doing too much out of my comfort zone and that I wanted to do more of what I truly liked and enjoyed: Communication, vision, strategy and business development. Moreover, I started distrusting the ambitious plan that we had made. I started distrusting the plan that we had put so much time and effort into. I didn’t believe we could do it.

I wanted to change the way I was involved with Pad en Stoel, but Bart realised he was completely fed up with doing Pad en Stoel, and wanted out. So instead of expanding, Els and Isabel would be replacing me and Bart in operations.

Joachim Sohie Pad en Stoel
Joachim, the tower of strength for the farm

Joachim (the other founder) had a much tougher situation than Bart and me when it came to mistakes 3 & 4 (finances and social life), yet he also had mistake 5 to deal with.

It caused a big deal of miscommunication and broken trust.

As a result, in full preparation for a new mushroom-autumn, Joachim went way too far out of his comfort zone, into the traumatic zone.

Right at the beginning of the new mushroom-year he went into a burn-out, and fell into a depression. The engine of the Pad en Stoel bus had broken down, and it started rolling backwards down the hill.

Crisis 2 — Respect thouselves

Although I wanted a different job-content, I did what needed to be done stop the Pad en Stoel bus from running downhill. Together with Els and Isabel (the 2 new team members) we had to find a way to run Pad en Stoel without Joachim. Luckily, Els & Isabel were much more capable than we could have dreamed. They were the light in the darkness during these troubling times.

Els en Isabel Pad en Stoel
Els & Isabel with their niece at the mushroom-burger release event

In November 2019, two months after the first crisis, Pad en Stoel seemed stable. Els and Isabel had done an amazing job of learning the mushroom business fast, giving it new ideas and spirit! Also Joachim was healing and would be back again soo, ready to start pushing the bus back into professional land.

It seemed like Pad en Stoel had overcome a great challenge.

One month after that, in December 2019, we had finished a new and more realistic business and financial plan with a lot of help from Philippe Poelaert. This new plan was based on all our numbers from 2 years of experience, from work hours and expenses, to all the good and bad production figures..

Andd…

Yeah…not much….actually….

The financial plan was predicting a business that was….possible. With a lot of persistence and hard work we could get to a somewhat stable business in another 2–3 years.

Eryngii Pad en Stoel

If we would have had this plan (and all the experience) in the beginning, when we still had lots of good energy and motivation, I’m pretty sure we would have done it.

Yet, we were not in the beginning. We were 2 exhausting years further down the line. We had made many mistakes and had suffered a lot.

Bart Van Tuykom pad en Stoel

And after 2 years like that, you want a happy ending.

You want to see that all the effort and troubles had been for a reason.

Instead, what we saw was a lot more uncertainties and less-than-average chances for a decent financial return in the long term.

So by the end of december 2019, we felt that it was not worth it anymore to keep on pushing. We had given enough of ourselves and we had come to a point where we realised that self-respect is also an important part of life.

And that was it. With a lot of disappointment and heavy hearts, we made the difficult choice to pull the plug on Pad en Stoel.

Pad en Stoel failed

What does this all mean?

There’s a lot of takeaways to this story. A lot!

We could have avoided or overcome all crisisses if we had done things differently. But they didn’t go differently. They went exactly as they went and we cannot turn back time. We can only learn from the mistakes:

  1. Impulsivity has its benefits, but it can be damaging too. You need a decent amount of contemplation before leaping into an endeavor like this.
  2. Find a healthy balance between building on what you know, and learning new things.
  3. Make sure the business doesn’t drain your personal finances, unless it’s an investment in that business.
  4. Make sure you put enough focus on a healthy and stable personal life
  5. It’s advisable to get consultancy from people with a lot of experience, even if that costs money

But there’s more. There’s a very personal lesson I want to add to this article.

Zjef Van Acker Katja Retsin Pad en Stoel

In the toughest of times, when my body and soul were put under a lot of stress, I was shown many of my underlying emotional and psychological coping mechanisms. Some of them were cultural dogmas, some of them were rooted in childhood trauma.

It doesn’t matter where they came from, it’s important to know that some were holding me back from living the life I wanted to live, and running the business I wanted to run.

Because all the above mistakes were fuelled by these dogmas or traumas, I learned a lot about myself. And although this undertaking feels like a failure, it has brought me an enormous amount self-awareness and insight.

Of course, the self-knowledge didn’t come instantaneous. After the downfall of Pad en Stoel it took me at least a year to heal from all of it. Now, February 2021, I can finally say that I am extremely grateful for all the mistakes, problems and crises that I went through with Pad en Stoel.

Zjef Van Acker mushroom Pad en Stoel

I also hope that next time that I meet someone that says: “You’re doing really amazing with your business”, that I can feel confident to accept the compliment.

I want to feel and believe that I am successful on the outside, because I am successful on the inside!

And I hope the same for you!

Muchos love

Zjef

PS: A big Thank you

The biggest thank you goes to my partners in this crazy adventure: Joachim, Bart, Els & Isabel! We had enormous challenges and we faced them together.

There was a massive amount of pressure on all of us and its heartwarming to know how much loyalty and trust we had towards each other during these tough times!

But it was not us against the world. On the contrary. During our time at Pad en Stoel we saw A LOT of external solidarity. Hence there are many more thanks we have to give:

Loes en Krikke en Ignatio Pad en Stoel
The amazing cooks from Loes & Krikke

The many loyal business customers who were dedicated to pay more for a local and organic project, even though our service and logistics could be very crappy at times. Lokaal, Golden Gai, Lepelblad, Ohne, Brutal, wild project, Camion, Amor,…and many more: Thank you!

The many individual customers & subscribers who were rooting for us every step along the way, while being understanding of the many mistakes. Moreover, you were ambassadors spreading the word of Pad en Stoel, bringing people to the farm-shop, finding us restaurants to sell to, and getting others to purchase a subscription!

The collection points for the subscriptions. Really, for 1.5 years you did this out of the goodness of your heart. You did this because you supported a fellow local and organic project and because you wanted us to succeed! Thank you!

Janko, Le seitanist, with his delicious vegan mushroom burgers!

Le Seitanist. Thank you Janko for developing with us a great new vegan burger that used our leftover-products and created an extra income stream for Pad en Stoel. You believed in the coöperative and sustainability mindset and you went through a great deal of challenges with us.

VideoMe and Eskidoos, Lou, Thibault and Christophe, Our favourite video-maker, designer and web-developer! Even though you were a young startup yourself, you did so much free work for Pad en Stoel. We made great videos, great visuals and an amazing website!

Tim Ost, the incredibly talented and crazy designer. Thank you so much for making our new brand-identity in 2019. Thank you for believing in our product and bringing Pad en Stoel to the next level.

Philippe Poelaert! Philippe, all the times we sat together to investigate the numbers of Pad en Stoel, to discuss the operations and the business development. It was amazing how much we learned from you, and how much you did for us!

And of course, ALL of the people who bought our products, wanted us to succeed and sent us so much love.

Thank you!

Thank you!

Thank you!

Pad en Stoel by Tim Ost

Also

Check out 12 steps to farming for more farming education!

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

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Zjef Van Acker

Zjef Van Acker

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

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