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It isn’t as easy as it looks.
When I left school I thought I knew everything better. After all, I had just gotten my diploma, and according to the literature, everything could be improved. In my eyes, my father wasn’t that good of a farmer…
Now two years have passed and we’re located on a beautiful, almost idyllic spot in Rotstergaast. I was planning to show him how farming was supposed to be done, and I thought I could take on the world. But after a month of milking heifers, I was sitting at the dinner table, crying like a baby. My wife tried to comfort me, and said: “It will all be alright Bart, I know that.” She was right, but I have my limits. I can break.
For example, I thought I had a nice amount of equity that could help me bridge the first two years with ease. That wasn’t the case. In December of 2014, my capital had shrunk substantially. Now I come from a situation where a lot was possible, and if something didn’t work out my parents would hit the brakes. I thought they were old-fashioned, but nothing ever hit us hard, so it worked. Now I have to take every hit on my own, and they are hitting hard. It turns out I’m the one that needs to learn the most. I thought I was business savvy, but when push comes to shove, I follow my heart.
When we started raising chickens I thought I had literally found the Holy Grail. Keeping chickens should be simple but effective, right? I was even looking for a nice car to buy already! Well, we’re still driving our good old Fiat Punto. But hey, at least it drives pretty well!
I also thought I was good at sales. I was going to sell those eggs myself! But that turned out to be harder than expected. Nowadays farmers aren’t used to thinking about their story anymore because the factory will pick up the milk either way.
We started selling our eggs in the empty egg boxes of the Aldi. Our good friend Bert van Asperen told us straight away: that’s not how it works. We needed to build our own brand. Luckily Bert was willing to help us with this huge challenge.
Building a nice brand isn’t just about having a green egg box. It’s about the whole story: the quality of your product, the service you deliver and the trust people have in you. Not delivering on time can drive customers away. This is an important learning process that makes you discover that every single person who buys something from you, helps build your dream.
The dream is to develop a timeless farm that has a rich cycle of life and nutrients. A cycle so rich that it becomes inexhaustible! Only that ensures that the future generations can enjoy the environment as we do now.
It’s not nearly perfect yet. The garden is neglected, and that probably won’t change soon. But I still enjoy the stage we’re at right now. We have coffee together almost every morning. Sometimes when people come over for dinner we peel pears and potatoes from our own land. I can see my newborn boy at any time of the day. When you have kids everything revolves around them. You start to respect your own parents much more. Your parents also have worked their whole lives on their dreams. I can remember that my dad was scared to go bankrupt as well. But you also learn that you can’t do everything by yourself. Most farmers and entrepreneurs are notoriously stubborn. I thought I knew what a website is supposed to look like until I didn’t have time anymore to work on it. Then Bert came with a design, and it was better than anything I could have imagined myself. That’s when I decided it’s better to work with people that have the same passion for their line of work as I have for my farm.
The passion for quality of life, where happiness is at the top of the list. I am grateful to everyone that helps create that happiness. My wife who, even in hard times, tells me that she’s happy and that she loves me. My father-in-law who makes sure everything keeps running the way it should when I am short-handed. The weekend and holiday employees that work their best, because they love my farm as much as I do. The milkers that help me out when I’m tired. The neighbours that get out of bed whenever my cows escape. And of course, the contract workers and shops that don’t mind when I ask if I can pay the bills a month later.
These experiences make me realise I’m just human too. Just another person in a bigger holistic world. Someone that makes mistakes and that doesn’t have an answer to every question. I hope this makes me a better man.