Peace and Happiness at the UAS13

Originally posted on February 27 2013 at www.averticalfarmstory.blogspot.be

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Alone and Unaware, the Landscape was Transformed in Front of Our Eyes
Buildings Began to Stretch Wide Across the Sky, And the Air Filled with a Reddish Glow
The Soundless Dawn Came Alive as Cities Began to Mark the Horizon
Mechanical Sounds Cascaded Through the City Walls and Everyone Reveled in Their Ignorance
A Brief Moment of Clarity Broke Through the Deafening Hum, But It Was Too Late
Our Happiest Days Slowly Began to Turn into Dust
The Sixth Extinction Crept Up Slowly, Like Sunlight Through the Shutters, as We Looked Back in Regret 

The Red Sparowes – At the soundless dawn

Zjef Van Acker, who is this guy? I feel that not everyone knows me, so here’s a small, habitual introduction to myself: Hello, my name is Zjef and I’m a horticultural engineer from Belgium. Welcome to my Urban-Agricultural-Summit story:

When I graduated in June 2012 I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. During my studies I had developed the idea that I would find a job, make a career and live the happy family-life. But as graduation came closer and closer,…something felt seriously wrong about that pretty picture. At first I thought it was the fear of being accountable for myself. But when my father passed away, being responsible was the only thing I could do (I am still grateful for the support of family and friends I received in that period.). But even with all this new weight on my shoulders, the ill feeling about my plans for the future remained.

It all seemed so unreal and I didn’t know why.

After months of worrying, sobbing and taking brain breaking decisions, I eventually found out what to devote my life to. The name of my blog probably already gave that away: “Zjef and the quest to build a Vertical farm” just isn’t that subtle. And so it happened that by the end of January 2013, I found myself at the center of Vertical Farming at the Urban Agricultural Summit in Linkoping, Sweden.

It was a eye opening experience, because never in my life did I encounter so many like-minded people. Everyone present agreed: If we want planet Earth to be a livable place for the next seven generations to come, we need change. Period! I was glad there was no bullshit and no skepticism, only the will to change and a plain old cooperative spirit. The prevailing thought among participants on the UAS13 was:

We need to change our Values!

A very pretty sentence indeed. But what are those values? What is driving us to do what we do? this is a very interesting question that, once in a while, everybody should reply to. And please, don’t address your answers to me, answer them to yourself. That’s what I did when I graduated.

For a couple of months, I stopped being interested in plants, and focused more on my philosophical side. What do I want? What do I need?

I found out that I’ve always been in love with nature and with friends. But somewhere along the way I had forgotten that… My mind had pushed them into the background and the deceptive values that fuel our magnificent economy had gained the upper hand. Money and success had put on their sexy dresses, they had booty-called me…and…I had fallen for them.

Fortunately it is never too late for a wake-up call. I believe that it is possible to live your life in peace and happiness, if everything you do is inspired by the values you treasure. But of course, that’s only a small part of the happiness-puzzle.

At the Urban Agricultural Summit 2013

It looks like I’m deviating from the subject, the Urban Agricultural Summit. For me, the coolest thing about it were the round table discussions. It were moments when you could discuss solutions for a variety of issues with many people, who all had very diverse backgrounds. During those interesting conversations it became obvious to me that the road towards a sustainable society, is one of many different paths. Yet, they are all unified in the same direction, away from money-greed and competition.

Another highlight at the UAS13 was the ceremony of the Plantagon Awards. As a kid I had always dreamed of attending the Oscar academy awards, but this was even better! The award day had already been a long one, so before the ceremony kicked off, Patrick Rota, Mikael Norlén and me decided we needed to reload…at a local bar! I don’t know if it was because we didn’t eat before drinking, or because the two hours were just brilliant,…but I remember re-entering the summit with a feeling of confidence and bliss.

This feeling only enhanced when I got to sit at the table in between two “big bosses”.

To the left of me sat Oren R. Lyons (Chief of the corporate board of Plantagon and Faithkeeper of the turtle clan in the Onondaga Nation), he taught me many things about life, Native Americans and democracy. You can say that he changed my life in 10minutes, and that a pretty amazing feeling.

On my right sat Stefan Jakobsson (Director of Business Development with Tekniska Verken), we had many good, fun and interesting conversations. But I think the best part was the moment when it was announced that he was nominated for the Plantagon Awards for his individual commitment in the field of Urban Agriculture. Stefan is an extremely cheerful and modest person, and although he did not win this year, my hopes go out to the future!

Off course, the ceremony wasn’t only an amazing experience because of the people I got to sit with, overall it was a magnificent event. It felt like I was a part of an important part of history, and that’s just a very epic thing to experience.

Simon Hassle singing at the Plantagon Award Ceremony.

As I write this blog-post, one month has passed since the Urban Agricultural Summit 2013 and I still remember two presentations very lively.

On the first day there was the overpowering speech of Oren R. Lyons, he is just a master in the art of touching your soul.

And on the last day there was Dickson Despommier, the father of Vertical Farming. He was the first one who actually dared to say what I had always been thinking: Vertical and Urban Farming should not only aim to solve the world’s food problems. We have to do more, we owe it to nature and the next seven generations to aim higher, much higher. We need to restore that what we have destroyed and are still destroying: The Planet’s ecosystems!!!

I feel that the world and the current policy fixates on the fight against the emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. But there is more at stake than that! My heart breaks when I see the estimation: In 2050, 80% of the global population will live in mega-cities. Do you understand what this means? It means that 80% of the world’s people won’t be in touch with nature, they won’t be in touch with what they really are! We are all a part of nature, and we will always will be a part of nature…Don’t you ever forget that!

I am 25 years old and I had the privilege to growing up in a place where there still was a lot of nature. As a kid I could climb in the trees, follow the small rivers in the woods and fall into a half frozen lakes. But I’ve seen so many of it disappear, I’ve seen so many of it turn into boring lawns or concrete wastelands. I love nature because I grew up in it, because I tasted its divinity. But how will we teach the next generations that nature is important if they only know it from books and stories?

So I start dreaming

I start dreaming when I hear the four words: “Value change for survival”.

I dream of a world where nature and community are rated higher than a new shopping mall. I dream of a world where every person can find a connection with nature, only five minutes away. And as I dream, I hope that one day, I will be called a crazy motherfucker when I will buy a piece of land in a huge city, knock down the ugly buildings upon it and plant a beautiful forest! That would be a hell of a value-change, wouldn’t it?!!

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