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  • Writer's pictureAlessia Balducci

The Baker and The Circus Trailer

Pieterburen is a small village on the North coast of Groningen, and in a parking lot is Daan Voermans’ 'Stoet' - an old circus trailer transformed into an organic bakery.

As soon as I walk through the door, I forget I'm in a trailer. Even if I can't stretch my arms without knocking over a pan of bread, the space, filled with wooden shelves and countertops, is cozy and cleverly organized with every ingredient neatly stored away, essential when space is at a premium. There's a delightful warmth coming from the huge igloo-like brick wood burning oven (it's cold and wet outside) and the smell of lemons and oranges, which Daan uses to flavor some of his buns, overwhelm the senses.

"Let me turn the volume down," says Daan, referring to reggae music in the background, "so I can hear you better." He smiles at me and starts seasoning his focaccia, an Italian bread.

"I read that you had no baking experience when you started, so how'd you learn?" I ask.

"You just have to keep trying," he replies as he continues needing some dough. "When I was working in Rotterdam, where I lived for ten years before moving here, I was a house painter, so I really had to start from scratch here. I started baking at home and selling some bread to people I knew, then we [referring to his wife Eva, who set up the business with him] finally decided to buy this trailer and start the Stoet project."

Daan and Eva found the trailer online four years ago. It was an old circus wagon and the director of the circus, who used to live in it, was selling it for a good price. It took them a year to renovate and refurbish with the help of friends and volunteers and financial support from the National Coordinator Groningen, a local association which had made funds available to improve the quality of life in Groningen villages. "As there was no bakery in Pieterburen, we thought it'd be good for locals to have one, and so here we are."

Daan Voermans and his self-made oven in Stoet © Alessia Balducci

When the doors first opened to customers in September 2020, it was an instant success. It was in the height of the pandemic and markets and bakeries were some of the only stores allowed to stay open, so people went there for the rare opportunity to talk face to face. Then, in December 2021, he was on 'Koken met Van Boven', a Dutch organic-cooking tv program hosted by Yvette Van Boven, a well-known cook and writer.

"She contacted me to be part of an episode. It was nice, it was fun. When she came, we baked the krentenbollen, a popular Dutch bun, and then it was crazy," he says laughing, "everybody was coming here asking for them."

Daan Voermans and Yvette Van Boven at Stoet © Koken met Van Boven via

While we're talking Kendall walks in, an Australian living in a nearby village who bakes all the cakes. In her bag today are cinnamon and cookie rolls to add to the carrot cake and millionaire's shortbread already in the vitrine. She helps Daan with the "sweet stuff," as he calls them, because they're not his strong suit and he doesn’t have enough time to take care of everything by himself.

“I rely on volunteers a lot,” he explains. “I have about twenty to thirty people, each of whom come here to help usually once a month." Even though Stoet started as a bread bakery, Daan has slowly added more options to his menu. "I have to be here around 3 in the morning to warm up the oven for the bread, so when I'm done with it I still have a lot of time. That's why I decided to add more things, like focaccia, cheese and onion bread and so on and so forth."

If there are leftovers, which he says doesn't usually happen, the food goes to his parents, his friends, people finding it difficult to make ends meet, or just in the freezer. Nothing is wasted.

One of the strengths of Stoet is the quality of the ingredients, which are free of preservatives and toxins. He uses seasonal fruit and vegetables, and cereals and flour from local producers. "We try to create a little circle with organic companies and people [in the business]," he says. And every now and then, as we're talking, he churns out something new.

"Look, this is the focaccia from earlier!"

"It looks and smells so good," I say, and he thanks me with a big smile and in an almost surprised and grateful tone.

Other than being organic, all the products coming out of the oven are vegetarian. Even if he occasionally eats meat and fish, overall he's not a fan. "I don't think we really need it, we have a lot of other options, and the system in Holland and Europe in general is just crazy, the way animals are treated... I really don't like it at all."

Daan Voermans at Stoet © Alessia Balducci

Stoet is only open on Thursdays and Fridays, and Daan says he doesn't really earn much money from it - there's another trailer in their garden which they rent out as a guest house, and which brings in far more money. His wife also has a full-time job.

While I help wash the dishes and he's baking more buns, he tells me that he's actually an artist. "I studied Art at university, but then I didn't pursue that career because that world wasn't for me... But I can play the piano, the guitar and I'm in a reggae band. I'm also a DJ from time to time, but all of this is more like a hobby, even if occasionally I get a little money from it."

His dad was a carpenter and an artist, while his mom was a ceramist. "I guess when you grow up seeing your parents creating stuff, this way of thinking and doing is just passed on to you. They were not business people and neither am I... that's just not what I care about."

He doesn't even really want to expand the bakery. He knows that moving his business to Groningen would be more lucrative, but that's not the point, he says. "Things are changing in the world and I believe everything should become smaller, not bigger." What really drives Daan to continue this business, despite early morning rises and the stress of running it, is purely the chance to connect with people, both volunteers and customers.

"And also," he tells me at the end, "I like using the oven we created, I don't know if I'd still be doing this job with an electric one. And in general, I obviously like cooking at home as well, but," he says laughing, "no more bread for me when I get home!"

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