Tuinen van West is a combination of old and new landscapes, romance and fringes, art/culture, (urban) agriculture and healthy products, catering, nature, and sports/recreation. A unique area, where visitors can cycle, walk, eat/drink, pick and enjoy, watch and admire. Entrepreneurs' association Tuinen van West regularly organizes activities and events in collaboration with all kinds of organizations inside and outside the area. We talked to co-founder Lisan Beijer about starting the farm and her mindset towards sustainability.
Why did you start your company & what do you want to accomplish?
First off, we have to go a bit back in history to tell the story of how we founded our company. We owned a company in Dronten, in biodynamic fruits, and we wanted to grow a closer connection to our customers and a company with more diversity. In Dronten, we had a small selection of fruits, like apples and berries, and now we have more than 30 different kinds of fruits, a store, workshops, education classes, and farm animals. Even though we've grown a lot, we are still very close to the consumer, and our customers buy everything we harvest. This construction attracts a diverse set of people of all ages, classes, and cultural backgrounds - it makes you wish that this would be an example for many other places.
Our mission with de Tuinen van West is to close the gap between city life and farming - to make people aware of the beauty of nature and how she takes care of us. We also support other farmers and sell their products to help sell the products that other suppliers might not want to buy because of the shape or size that might be different from the regular ones.
What does sustainability mean to you? → How does it come across in your business?
I'm not too fond of the word sustainability; nowadays, it means nothing anymore. People use it whenever they want, even if it has nothing to do with sustainability.
We farm biodynamic, which means that we have to abide by more farming rules than regular organic farming. Everything we sell has an organic certificate. Of course, not everyone can eat organic for whatever reason, but I'm not too thrilled when companies pretend they have everything organic when in reality, they don't. There is a responsibility for the consumer to check what kind of products they buy, but it is the same for the retailers to be transparent about the products they sell.
So for us, that is something that we consider sustainable to offer certified organic products and be transparent about all the products we sell.
Our building is made from concrete and next to that we bought everything secondhand. We are still reliant on regular electricity for our energy, but we do have our own water source. Next on our agenda is to add solar panels to our building. We make sure to reuse everything that we can; that is one of the traits of biodynamic farming; to live in (as much as possible) in harmony with nature.
What is your mindset when it comes to growing your business? What drives you?
I think you have to become aware of your morals and have a healthy financial plan. Otherwise, it's hard to build your dreams. From my perception, a healthy economic base is not a subsidized one, but rather where you can take care of your company without government support.
This one might sound cheesy but so accurate; stay true to yourself. When we first came here, we said to each other, we are farmers, and we will stay biodynamic farmers. What you see is what you get; we don't want to turn into some fancy city farm. Here children can play in the dirt and experience authentic farm life.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs who want to build a sustainable business?
Be sure to have knowledge of that what you want to do. I have seen different projects where people were trying to start a farming initiative, but they lacked farming knowledge. First, go work with a farmer for two years and make sure you know what you are doing. On the other hand, we had no experience in retail, and we managed fine. There is a fine line between just doing and having the right amount of knowledge for your area of expertise to make a confident start. And as I said before, make sure you can fund your own company, don't be reliant on subsidies.
Tell us about your green vision for your industry? → What is your green vision for the world (macro-level)?
My vision would be that other people could build similar companies in the Netherlands because there is an absolute need. We get so many emails from people asking us how we did it and where they should start.
I do see it separately from my company because people should be their unique selves and build their company in their vision.
Secondly, I want to make more improvements in becoming more self-reliant.
I find the problems on a worldly level quite tricky because there is just so much that we need to fix. Even though we might not directly affect world events, it is still essential to do what is in your reach. People should be able to make their own decisions, and we shouldn't be too preachy about improvement because that only creates resistance.
This interview was made in collaboration with Amsterdam Capital House.
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