Infused with political genes, bio-engineer Zjef Van Acker has helped kickstart several initiatives to transform our society into a healthy ecosystem. He’s an urban mushroom grower, hobbyist philosopher and vertical farming pundit, researching the AMI model. Discover what those letters stand for, and his thoughts on our modern food economy, in this episode.
A vertical farm Pundit? Awesome!
Anyway – just wanted to share this with you. Lsten to the podcast via this link, and definitely check out the other tomorrow.people episodes!
Stay Awesome and Keep on Growing!
ps: Got some feedback that I have a good radio-voice. You think so too?
Recently, student climate activists have been shaking up Europe. They are not the first ones to try and change the “mainstream world”, and I’m pretty sure they will not be the last. But this time is different. I feel that for the first time in history, the group of people that want to reverse climate change have enough support and momentum to make an actual change.
However, when I look at the Climate Activists, politicians and business leaders, I feel there’s no common ground in the grand scheme of things. There’s not really a long term plan or strategy that unites them all. And that’s exactly what we need to take this to the next level: a common strategy.
A strategy for politicians to base themselves on, for entrepreneurs to work towards and for everyone to believe in.
So yeah – seeing all of this I was screaming at my television:
COOOMOONNN, IT’S SO SIMPLE…. DON’T YOU SEEEE?
And…yeah…apparently they don’t yet. So I just started writing a piece that turned into a paper. A paper that’s a start for a common and global strategy, and maybe a book. Who knows what the future will hold. And I hope that this paper will help everyone in the debate to find each other and cooperate.
This paper contains the insights and information I have gathered for over 6 years (since a little bit before the beginning of this blog). The proposed strategy is based on 3 pillars:
The only constant is change – How can we apply change to our everyday lives and to the systems that build up our societies?
Ecosystems Ecosystems Ecosystems: The only thing that is resilient and strong enough to support change are strong ecosystems. Let’s build more social, economic and ecological ecosystems.
The cooperative economy: How do we change the “values” of a global society, faster and better than the current predominant societal systems?
And now, I don’t want to keep you waiting any longer. Here’s the Brain Child I put together this last month, out of necessity and just for fun! Without further ado:
The gender and racial equality debate has been on my mind for many years. I’ve been attracted to the discussion because this has been an issue for some of my closest relatives, friends and lovers. But maybe even most of all it is because for 98% of my life I’ve never ever felt like a person in a powerful position. Nope, I even subconsciously hated myself for being…a white man (I’m not saying I didn’t have privileges, I’m just saying I didn’t feel them).
So after carefully investigating the whole controversy and exercising some self-love, I feel I have come to a point where I can write this chapter. Some will say it makes sense, some will be offended and say it’s not my place to talk about this. Whatever your opinion is, I’d love to hear it because it is my intent to head in the direction of more equality.
I’ll start this chapter with what I understand from this whole dispute, then I’ll get to what I feel is missing to get to decent equality, and lastly we’ll get to some actual steps on how to peacefully deal with the whole (white male) privilege thing.
The issue as I understand it
It seems that due to historical reasons, male dominance and patriarchy are big contributors to lots of inequality in the world. Most positions of power are taken by (white) men and it’s what we see confirmed all around us: In movies, on the news and in our everyday lives. We all take this in subconsciously and therefore most of us automatically see white men more as political or business leaders, more than we see women or people of color to take the same positions. This is the current “normal”.
Many empowerment-movements are slowly changing this “normal” by spreading lots of awareness. The goal: To have a diverse set of global and local leaders, chosen for their competence as leaders, rather than the subconscious benefits they get because of specific traits like their gender and race.
The inquiry of the empowerment-movements is for white men to notice their benefits and at times, take a step back to let others take positions of power. Hence in time, we will get to a more equal and diverse set of people in power. So that in time, we can subconsciously see everyone as a leader, not only white men. The new “normal”.
The missing part
Now I feel there’s something missing here, the reasoning behind this is 2-fold:
(1) Taking a step back as a person in power requires A LOT of integrity and courage. Which in my opinion is a great quality as a leader…hence…the ones that actually take a step back as a leader are the ones that we need to have in positions of power. A beautiful contradiction that brings me to the second part of my issue in this debate
(2) Most of us choose what we will wear every day. Most of us choose what we eat and the products we buy, we decide which companies/organisations we buy from, and we choose the ones we work for. Most of us choose who our friends and our lovers are, and most of us choose who our local and global leaders are. The point is….we choose a lot, we choose every single moment on how the world around us will look.
What I’m getting at is that it is not only white men who are in power because they have a privilege and they take power just because they can. There are also an enormous amount of not-white-men who support these men to be in power. And even if those people choose to support those men because they have been subconsciously fed with the idea that they are the right men to be in power…only they themselves actually hold the power to break that vicious circle. They hold the power to surround themselves with other men.
SO I would state that to overcome the many inequalities, to get to a more diverse and right set of leaders,…it is not only the white men’s responsibility to change that. I would state that it is the responsibility of everyone who is able to choose the right people to surround themselves with, the right people to support, and the right people to empower.
Two important remarks about this part
(1) What I aim to do is not to get rid of my responsibility and to transfer it to others…NOPE…I’m actually sharing with you all how I seek my own empowerment in the most ethical way. This actually leads me to have more responsibilities, not less.
(2) When I talk about actively making the right choices. I’m not talking about the quick-fix-kind-of-choices. I’m talking about long term recurring choices and habits. Some can take a month to have effect, others years, and the most systemic issues might even take generations to change. But it all starts with the 1 choice you make in the many single moments that make up “your life”.
How to ethically deal with (white male) privilege
Time to get down to business and get some guidelines on how to deal with the whole issue.
First – know yourself and feel the other. I love a good fight, and even when I’m losing a fight I see a win-win because I’m learning. But there are times when I draw lines for myself & for others.
Recently I was in a discussion with a former romantic girlfriend about this whole debate. At one point in the dispute she reacted very heavily to the fact that I questioned the whole white-male-privilege concept (because I had never really liked being a white-male). At that point she bluntly told me: “You have white male privilege so shut up”, and she walked away. This of course enraged me as I was in a very vulnerable moment and I didn’t feel heard. My blood was boiling and the adrenaline was raging through my body, but instead of using it to get into a more messier fight…I just backed of and made a facebook-post about it (which taught me a lot too).
The point is: I knew her and I knew I had to back off. I knew myself and I knew what the anger and adrenaline could destroy if I pointed it specifically at her. Now we were both bloodied and hurt, but we lived, learned and were not traumatised (I hope).
Second – privilege as advantage.
When someone tells you “You have privilege”, don’t get defensive…because, you have nothing to defend. Privilege is not a bad or good thing, it’s just a specific advantage you have…. Be it money, education, your good looks, or the fact that your skin-color or gender is generally associated with leadership… That advantages you havecan be turned into power, and power is simply put: responsibility.
What you do with that responsibility, that is up to you and will define you as a human being.
Do you use the advantage to gain more power and attention, and make others serve you…wellll, in my opinion that makes you a kind of an asshole. I for one would not like to be in your care.
Do you use your power to listen to others, to restore the planet’s ecosystem and/or to empower your fellow human beings to live happy and fulfilling lives,… Then I’d trust you much more to make good decisions for me.
The almighty Lucie Evers broke this even down further into a step by step guide:
Look at power in a different way. Be aware of your influence on power dynamics and your need for control.
Let go of the need for control.
Understand the relationship between self-image, your projection of yourself in the world and the actual ‘position’ you have. Put it in sync.
Understand the privilege you have and deal with it. Don’t deny or get rid of it, just accept it and deal with it in a responsible way.Noblesse Oblige.
Don’t feel responsible for what is not yours in the first place. It’s not because people leave (their) issues on the table, that you have to take them on. Get rid of saviour complex.
The issue is that the world around us is built on a whole lot of suppression of certain groups of people. And it’s not because that this is the world now, that this is how the world should be. Let’s get “normal” out of our subconscious, and make it better.
To do this everyone needs to use the power they have at hand. Everyone who is able needs to put their money where there mouth is and let their actions be congruent with their values of equality.
If you think there’s something completely wrong or if there’s something missing – hit reply.
Lots of people to thank for the many talks & discussions on the subject. Let’s start with my mother and my sister: Magda Van Acker & Jana Van Acker, then for sure Esther Bonebakker (probably the first person to really open my eyes). Then Stephanie Hermant, Lynn Josephy, Charlotte Schelstraete, Jacklyn Bandy, Mia Fernandez Medinacelli, Lucie Evers, Marcus Chin Hien Goh, Zeljko Blace, Kelechi Johnbosco, Ayşegül Sırakaya, Mark Horler, Ryan Ginsburg, Nils Plovie, Niek D’hondt & the many others who jumped in the snake pit with me. Thank you for all the patience and open mindedness.
When I started talking about my love life in Chapter I and II of this series, everyone thought I was joking about the world peace. As a reminder, I’m not joking about the world peace. The reason is simple: If we want to think about world peace, we need to think about interhuman relationships. And the best way to investigate human relationships…is by taking the most difficult relationship between 2 human beings: The Romantic Relationship.
To help achieve world peace with my Vertical Farming quest, I have been experimenting with polyamory. For the past 3 years people have been thinking that I’m crazy, others thought I was awesome, and others thought I was just being amoral.
But that didn’t really matter. The truth is that I had no fucking clue what exactly I was doing…but I did know why I was doing it: I question life, I question love, I question as much as I can bear, all in the name of becoming and being my best self.
So to kickstart this chapter – what did I learn from my polyamorous experiences?
Polyamory seems great. Seeing 3 girls at the same time just sounds awesome, especially if you can boast about it to your buddies. The only thing you don’t boast about so easily, is when you feel shit when those girls are also seeing other guys and in that way, are bringing up your deepest insecurities.
Conversations in my head (not with my buddies) sometimes went like this:
Zjef 1: Am I not enough? Why does she need to see someone else? Zjef 2: Dude, you’re also seeing other girls, I could ask you the same question Zjef 1: I know you’re right… but still…Why does it hurt? Why do I feel like I’m being betrayed? Zjef: 2: Why are you so insecure? Just focus on what you want, don’t let it get into your head. Zjef 1: But it hurts… Zjef 2: Shut it…feelings are guidelines, not truths… Zjef 1: But… Zjef 2: SHUT IT…focus on your breath….breath in….breath out…
Obviously Zjef 2 is suppressing a feeling that needs to be listened to because it’s a fundamental insecurity: the feeling of not being good enough. This core self-doubt has caused many toxic situations in many of my relationships, be it romantic, friendly or professional.
People that have been around me during my past 31 years have witnessed this first hand.
How? Well, I’m glad you asked.
So we’re in this meeting about…let’s say…starting a commonly owned vertical farm that wants to use waste as a resource to grow mushrooms. And you know, we want to build and organise this because our current industrial capitalism just doesn’t seem to be able to deal so well with our pending ecological disasters and social injustices. Of course, you’re still in the current economic climate and everyone still needs to eat, shit and get a roof over their head. And… unfortunately you can’t just jump out of this madness and create utopia in the blink of an eye. Hence, when you’re all about changing the world, and you have a problem with feeling that you yourself are not good enough, you also project that on all other things.
Whatever is being discussed in the meeting…it’s never fucking good enough. And when, as a perfectionist, you break down every idea on the table, others also break down your ideas…and if that makes you feel betrayed because you take it very personal…the whole thing turns sideways, everybody starts disliking each other and even with all the good intentions in the world, the project just doesn’t happen.
You already see where the world peace comes in? Good! But first back to Polyamory.
So fundamentally I was insecure and that turned me into a shitty asshole on many occasions (be it romantic or professional). Yet being an asshole is a lonely endeavor, so you create this other type of personality born out of the same insecurity. That special personality that avoids conflict and makes sure as much people as possible like you. Yes indeed: The Nice guy! So, bipolar as I was, I kept on jumping between being an asshole and a nice guy. And because of that, relationships never really gave me the fulfillment that I needed….because how could they? I didn’t feel good enough for the world, so no girlfriend could be good enough either.
Even if my girlfriend would have been Ariana Grande, I still probably would have thought she was just not satisfying my needs, as I wanted to be treated like a prince (I say “probably” because she has a lot of money and could possibly make that happen. But then again, why would Ariana Grande want to be with a self-absorbed cunt like that?).
In short – Polyamory was for me the fastest way to let out the asshole and the nice guy at the same time. Luckily, as polyamory is no place for insecure little boys, it gave me such a high understanding of myself that, slowly slowly, I called the asshole AND the nice guy both on their bullshit… And in the end, after 3 years of experimenting, feeling and thinking, I finally found peace and the recipe of living a fulfilled and happy life.
So what is it? The recipe of living the fulfilled and happy life? I guess it’s still the same as what I started this chapter with: I have no fucking clue what exactly it is that I’m doing…but I’m sure that I am going to limit as much as possible, my time spent as an insecure asshole or nice guy,
To conclude this chapter: Love…still have no clue what it’s about. I think it’s founded on self-love,…whatever that means.
Polyamory – have no clue if it’s wrong or right… What I do know that it’s a lot of fun as long as you want and can handle the double edged sword.
Peace…well, I think that’s just the level of congruency in everything you do, say and feel (got this one from Gandhi).
World Peace – that would be all 7,653,219,391 people (and counting) being at peace with themselves without fucking each other over to keep it. How to organise this? Well, this might be a good subject for the next chapter?
The truth is that the more I seem to be doing, the less I have the need and the energy to write about it. Meaning that you can safely assume that a LOT is happening in the quest to build the Vertical Farm. Never in these 5 years I’ve been so busy and so successful in doing what I do in all facets of my life: In the field of vertical farming and the areas of love, friendship, health, happiness and spirituality.
Now, I’m not yet where I thought I’d be 3 months after I started my quest (more than 5 years ago), yet for the first time since then I feel fulfilled just by walking the path. A very very interesting new way of life.
So what am I up to these days? A couple of things that all reinforce or will reinforce each other in the future. Below a list in order of energy put in:
Chairman of GroeiNEST: a Ghentian non-profit that is an open platform for setting up projects to make sustainable, local and healthy food as accessible as possible (urban farming an important tool for this of course)
Co-founding the Pad en Stoel cooperative: A Belgian collaboration between different mushroom farms
12 Steps to urban farming: Not making a business out of this project as initially intended. Yet it’s still alive because of its community and because it’s becoming part of the next project
Starting up AMI’s farm lab: an international platform for the exchange of data and knowledge to build high tech Food Production ecosystems (AMI-systems)
This post is to let you know that the Vertical Farming quest has never been as alive as it is today! Lot’s of beautiful things are growing and the future is looking epic!
Muchos Love and let me know if there’s something you want to know more about!
I’m a big fan of Peace on Earth, and I believe that we can truly achieve this seemingly impossible state of utopia. Yet in the quest to help obtain it, I’ve been struggling with a question that I do not seem to find an answer to.
Our world and our history has been full of people doing “exceptional” things. For example Alexander the great and Dzjengis Khan both conquered enormous territories. Another example is Julius Caesar who transformed the Roman republic into the Roman empire. Yet if you look closer into the stories of these many so called “great people”, It seems like they all had a deep hole inside of their soul that forced them to want to be the best. And because they wanted to achieve and prove themselves, their actions often came at a great costs.
Today, there is still lot of wanting to be the best in our society. This drive is creating a lot of innovation and progress, it is driving us forward for sure and bring us lots of comforts, pleasures & luxuries. But at what costs? Today 1 in 4 Belgians suffer Psychological problems, and do I really need to talk about politics and the other obvious stuff: The wars we still wage with ourselves, with our own nature and with our own habitat?
So yes, there is this question I do not seem to find the answer to:
Can we as humanity advance ourselves without the need to be better than someone else? Can we advance ourselves with respect for ourselves, the people around us, our environment and our planet?
The reason why I find myself asking this question is because I too recently discovered the hole in my soul. And like Caesar or Alexander the great, I also had a serious need for myself to be the best
The hole in my soul was initiated by a small trauma when I was 7. For me it was a defining moment. It was a moment that my 7 year old self would remember not in memories, but in feelings for the next 22 years to come. It would be on those feelings that I built my reality.
I’m not ready to tell exactly what happened to me, yet I can tell you that it left me with a serious feeling of abandonment, the feeling of not being worth it to be loved. And out of that feeling came the idea that I needed to prove myself to be loved. The start of me…wanting to be the best all the time.
Always trying to be the best is ludicrous for a at least 3 reasons.
Trying to fill up the hole in your soul is exhausting. It’s like feeding a monster than can never be satisfied.
It’s is destructive. This can be towards others, or towards yourself. For me it was mostly the latter: Carrying around the idea that you have to be the best, only gives you the feeling that you are NEVER the best. It’s like climbing a mountain, never looking back and enjoying the view, never enjoying the steps you are taking. And even if you reach the top, you never enjoy reaching the top, you only look at the next mountain to climb. So you keep on bashing yourself to be better and better and better. You can never enjoy and accept yourself for who you are at that very moment
And thirdly, it completely messes up your idea of what “love” is. If you cannot love yourself for who you are, you cannot let others love you for who you are. And you can also not love people for who they are. This affects all relationships: family, friends, romances,…
The solution for all this is of course very simple: it is self-love. But I’m not here to talk to you about self-love. I’m here because I still have this question.
If I would not have had this trauma when I was young, would I have had the fire to push myself to go beyond my fears and limitations? Would I be on this crazy life’s journey? Would I have traveled the world and walked amongst the pioneers in urban and vertical farming? What would I be doing if not for this small trauma?
Now that I’m much more at peace with myself, and have less of a need to prove myself to others, the dye has already been cast: I am on this path and I’m planning to keep on following it
And because our history and our society today is full of people who want to be the best, we might extrapolate this question to the rest of the world. What would we be without these people? Maybe we would have world-peace, but would we still live in tribes? Or would we have found other ways of discovering what we have discovered, Achieving what we have achieved?
As I believe that our society consist of individuals, I’m really curious towards your answers. If not for wanting to be the best,…
What powers your life?
What is it that makes you want to get up in the morning and create your world?
For many years, a lot of people from all around the world have been asking the Association for Vertical Farming (AVF) the same question:
“How do I start a vertical farm?”
As I was responsible for answering the AVF inbound messages for 2 years, I’ve tried to help a ton of people with that question. Most of them were hoping for an easy answer – a one stop shop solution – but I knew from meeting a lot of different farmers and experts from all around the world, that starting an urban or vertical farm is NOT that easy. There are just too many variables involved.
Of course, that didn’t keep me from trying to find answers to the questions of the many aspiring farmers. In that quest, two important things happened:
(2) I ended up contacting the many experts and urban and vertical farmers from all around the world. The pioneers that were already doing what so many other people want to do. The adventurers that explored places and did things that no farmer had done before.
So after many emails, meetings, questions, and eventually video-interviews, the “12 steps to become an Urban or Vertical farmer” saw the light. And it became something that is much more valuable than a blueprint to copy an existing urban or vertical farm. The 12 steps are inspirational guidelines with detailed information on how to start your farm.
I’ll repeat that again:
The 12 steps are inspirational guidelines with detailed information on how to start your farm.
So if you want to start an Urban or Vertical Farm because you are passionate about it and because you truly want to have a positive impact. If you want to start an urban and vertical farm with all the good intentions in the world, then the 12 steps is perfect for you.