Jacqueline van Eerd is the type of entrepreneur who has his feet in the clay. Or rather in the coffee grounds. Because in 2016 she said goodbye to her career at the time to start growing oyster mushrooms on this 'black gold'. She started ZuiderZwam on the grounds of organic urban farm and sheltered workshop Ut Rooie Bietje. Without a business plan, but with unbridled energy and a lot of enthusiasm, she has been perfecting the cultivation of the steak under the mushrooms here for almost three years now. "As a programme manager, I worked less and earned more. Now I work more - an average of 50 hours a week - and I earn less. But I'm much happier. Every day I apply the principles of the circular economy, am part of a group of leaders in that field and work in one of the most beautiful places in Tilburg. How cool is that?"
FROM WASTE REDUCTION TO FOOD PRODUCTION
Van Eerd collects coffee grounds three times a week from various restaurants in Tilburg and the municipality with her electric tuk-tuk. In her production chain she mixes this with lime and traces of the oyster mushroom and puts the mixture in perforated plastic bags which she then hangs in two specially prepared containers. "A lot of patience and love later I can harvest the healthy, protein-rich fungi. Then I deliver them to - among other places - the places where I collect my coffee grounds. This way the circle is nicely completed and I go from waste reduction to food production. I do have some helping hands, by the way. Two girlfriends help out and on Friday I get help from a client of social worker Traverse, who works in the field here." At the moment she harvests a maximum of 20 kilos of oyster mushrooms per week. A diverse product that she sells fresh and dried. "I also have my mushrooms made into vegetarian and vegan bitterballs and croquettes," says Van Eerd. "There is an increasing demand for this, so it is becoming a fine earning model. This year they were almost at Lowlands, really cool."
CIRCULAR ENTREPRENEURSHIP IS SOMETHING YOU DO TOGETHER
"The social entrepreneurial climate in Tilburg is extremely good. My company and ideas fit in with that. I choose to do everything locally as much as possible. Fortunately, Tilburg has enough sales and collection market for ZuiderZwam. In this way I limit my transport kilometres and my product is consumed close to the source." Through its focus on sustainable, local and circular - and thanks to its love for product development - there are more and more special collaborations with makers and entrepreneurs from Tilburg. "Together with master chocolatier Hein Geers van Huize Geers at Piushaven, I developed an oyster mushroom. And with baker Jan van Riel van Bikken&Bakken I am investigating whether we can make a real Brabant oyster mushroom sandwich. If I see an opportunity, jump on it immediately."
WATCHING COFFEE GROUNDS
Van Eerd's entrepreneurship is intuitive, social and energetic. "I am a connecting entrepreneur. Not so much consciously, but that is what I do best. Bringing people together and inspiring them gives me satisfaction. That's why I like to give guided tours, workshops and lectures. Let me tell you my story! The only thing I sometimes lack is time. I'm under a lot of pressure. Maybe now I'm at a crossroads again. I have to take the next step. But I'm not very fond of the ten-year plans. They limit me. Today I don't want to increase my production capacity. But who knows, I might say in six months' time: I'll add six breeding containers and hire someone to run production while I go on the farm with my message. I move along with what's happening and only deal with things that feel good. Purely on gut feeling. Does something not work? Then it's just as easy to let it go."
MADE POSSIBLE BY DOUWE EGBERTS
One of the things she enjoyed doing was working with the municipality of Tilburg. "I was approached out of nowhere by Douwe Egberts. They had a tender underway with the municipality to arrange the coffee and tea facilities at all the city offices for a period of seven years. And they wanted to include me in the tender as a buyer of coffee grounds. That left me with a nice deal with Douwe Egberts and a great collaboration with the municipality."
ON THE WAY TO A SELF-SUFFICIENT NURSERY
ZuiderZwam is the only oyster mushroom on coffee grounds in Tilburg. "But fortunately you never operate in this world on your own. There is close contact between all Dutch growers, from Rotterdam to Giethoorn. Once a year we have a mushroom weekend to exchange knowledge and we are busy with the establishment of a trade association. We don't really know about competition." After some further questions, it turns out that there are some long-term plans on the table: "I will soon have a trainee who will investigate how I can make the nursery autarkic - or self-sufficient. I also want to use the lime that Brabant Water extracts from the drinking water in my product. It makes everything even more local. It's not easy to do it 100% 'right'. But I'm going to try it."
THE GOLDEN TIP OF JACQUELINE
"As an entrepreneur, do you have a good story? Then go and tell it in as many places as possible and with as much enthusiasm as possible. I believe in the power of completing the circle. That's my story. And I tell it to anyone who wants to hear it."