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 – Let’s embed “change” as a fundamental value in our everyday thinking, the way we live our lives and in the systems that build up our societies!
Ecosystems Ecosystems Ecosystems – The only thing that is resilient and strong enough to support change are ecosystems. Let’s build stronger social, economic and ecological ecosystems.
The cooperative economy – An amazing way to 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 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!
He has a great smile, is a funny & elegant speaker, has SWAG and also made some decisions that shook the US in its foundations. Barack Obama is for sure the coolest president the US ever had.
So, why the f*ck do I feel disappointed upon seeing such a phenomenon live at Seeds&Chips 2017 in Milan?
It is not every day that you attend the same event as one of the most influential world leaders of the past 20 years. And I for sure was not the only one acknowledging the special occasion. Everyone had been talking about it for weeks and the excitement reached the summit right before Obama’s appearance.
The crowd in the conference room was just swarming all over the place. Everyone was walking around nervously, talking to everyone while looking around, taking selfies and not really wanting to sit down as if they had to be ready because the guy could be walking by them any second.
An interesting experience I completely immersed myself in.
Anyway, 30min behind on schedule, Obama entered the stage, thanked everyone and launched a furious and passionate speech about the importance of food and Climate change.
1h25min “If we can act boldly and swiftly than it is not to late, and we can leave a world behind that is worthy for our children”
So far so good. Zjef was very happy.
For the second part of the event, there was a Q&A with Sam Kass, chef and personal friend of Obama. In the beginning of that conversation I learned more awesome things about Obama. Like the fact that he is setting up an institution to empower the young leaders of tomorrow. And I also felt a shiver down my spine when he said the following:
“The mark of a good leader, is somebody who is able to empower other people”
So far – still very good. Still muchos Obama Love.
Yet, around 2h00min things started to change – Slowly but drastically.
It all began when Sam Kass brought up the biggest driver of Climate change: Beef production. They both agreed that it was an important issue to tackle. HOWEVER, when it came to talking about solutions, Obama was very very veeeeery vague. He basically avoided to talk about the bold and swift actions that are required to address this issue.
The bold and swift action for which he was advocating just 35min earlier.
I mean – common – It’s so fu*king simple.
To heal this planet you first start tackling the stuff that is the biggest contributor to its destruction. Just like when you are injured, the doctor will first fix that open leg fracture before the little cut on your arm.
Please stop me if I’m saying weird stuff here!
And that’s where my disappointment about Obama rose to the surface. After that moment, I started noticing that his responses were always very diplomatic, yet those responses never reflected the wisdom and boldness that our society needs so badly.
We all look up to the Obama because he is one of the best politicians we have seen in the past years. But the dude is still one of those politicians that are more a part of the problem, than a part of the solution. Their actions do not reflect their words.
Sh*t, I’m complaining about politicians….how did I end up here?
People who know me, know that I never give that much attention or energy to politicians. So why did I start now? Well, maybe it is because Obama is not the real source of my disappointment.
The big disappointment is about us and the fact that we give so much attention to leaders whom we should not be adoring that much. OBAMA is no Gandhi, Jane Goodall, Aristotle or Lao Tze that bring themselves and this society back into balance with itself and this planet.
The big disappointment during Obama’s appearance is a resurfacing disappointment of a realisation I made long ago: I cannot rest until I know our society is in balanced human hands.
So yes, you are understanding this right.
The big disappointment is because I just want to chill out on a f*cking beach, enjoy this amazing planet and make love to beautiful ladies without having to worry about anything else.
ps1: Don’t worry, I also find a lot of joy in life helping our society to transition and get into sync with our planet.
ps2: Learn about a way to produce meat that is good for this planet – check out the Soil Carbon Cowboys
You’re sitting down in a group of people where everybody’s doing their own thing. But you, you’re super self aware. You’re self aware because you know what’s going to happen 30 seconds from now.
You’re sitting down and you feel your heart rate going up, you feel your blood flowing faster and you sense a kind of adrenaline rush filling every corner of your body, from your toes till the top of your head.
The moment has come, you stand up, walk to the front of the room and look into the eyes of the big dark monster that is the crowd. And that big monster is looking back at you with its hundreds of eyes, full of expectation.
You stand there with only yourself and your thoughts.
Then and there, in that moment of truth, there are only 3 choices: (1) you numb out and make it the most boring experience ever, (2) you think that that adrenaline running through you veins is stress and you let it traumatise you for the rest of your life, or (3) you embrace the rush of epinephrine as excitement and start enjoying the rest of the ride, whatever the outcome.
Of course option 3 is the best choice, but it is by far the most difficult one to make. I still struggle between option 2 and 3, but more and more I’m able to keep it at three.
And that’s why I love presenting so much!
In this post you’ll find an overview of me enjoying the ride in the form of some cool video’s where I’m presenting. You’ll find:
A video of me presenting in India while staying at home in Belgium
Zjef at the Aquafarm fair in Pordenone (Italia)
A marketing video, yes a marketing video
New videos featuring Zjef at the 2016 AVF-summit
It’s already 10 months ago, but recently 2 extra video’s got uploaded where you can see yours truly on stage at AVF-summit 2016 in Amsterdam.
In the first video you can find me giving the introduction to Kasper Moreaux (Mycelia) who talked about the role of Mushroom production in Vertical Farming (one of my favorite subjects).
The Second video (and even more awesome video) is of a panel about my all time favorite subject: The Circular Economy Vertical Farming concept by AVFami.
This AVFami concept looks at the biological processes in nature and tries to combine 4 different food producing industries to design a completely sustainable Vertical Farm. AMI = Aquaponics Mushrooms & Insects (and for those who wonder how I get to 4 different industries: Aquaponics is Aquaculture and Hydroponics combined).
Ow yeah: I was the moderator of this panel of superstars – so cool!
Presenting in India while staying at home in Belgium
I love going to India, but I cannot always do it. Moreover, I do feel guilty to travel by plane, it is still unsustainably using lots of fossil fuels.
So on the 14th of January 2017 I did not go to the “India national seminar on smart farming technologies” in the Ramnarain Ruis college (Mumbai). Instead I made a presentation at home in my couch and send the video to Vijay Yelmalle from CRAFT. He, as the main organiser, made sure the people visiting the seminar learned all about Vertical Farming and international collaboration.
The funny thing is that instead of going far away abroad, I went back to the town where I grew up and gave a presentation there.
Zjef at the Aquafarm fair in Pordenone (Italia)
There’s many reasons to love Italy yet there’s one for me that sticks out above all.
Because of my extremely low self-esteem while growing up, I’m very bad at….seducing. It’s hard for me to overcome my fears in most settings (especially my fear of rejection). YET, in Italy seduction seems a part of the daily life, and because of that, the timidity disappears and the seduction beast in me just gets unleashed.
And I love that seduction beast.
When I was in Pordenone for the Aquafarm fair in January of 2017, that’s exactly what happened. I was there to moderate the morning session for the Vertical Farming conference, and I had a presentation on my own. As a moderator I could introduce awesome people like Dickson Despommier, Bill Barber and Diane Esvan! As the presenter I talked about Circular Vertical Farming and international collaboration.
Watch the presentation below, especially the cool thing I did in the beginning.
Second video is about yours truly giving a small interview talking about the Association for Vertical Farming and the fact that the Aquafarm fair is awesome.
(I was wondering: would it be coincidence that there are so many beautiful women in this short video? 😉 )
Introduction to the 12 steps to become an Urban or vertical farmer
So since the summer of 2016 the KIKVORS team has been doing interviews for an educational video-series called “the 12 steps to become an Urban or Vertical Farmer”.
We’ve released the first product at the end of March 2017, but we quickly had to pivot when things went wrong. Now we’re working hard on a different format to release the series (so watch out for more on this later).
In any way, we still made this awesome marketing video to show off.
So yes, I’ve been busy, I’ve been very busy presenting, getting a lot better at story telling and enjoying the rushes of adrenaline flowing through my body. And hopefully soon, I’ll be able to show you some more video’s with even better stories and presenting skills.
When I know where I’m going but I don’t really know where I’ll end up, that’s when I’m truly enjoying my walk.
One year ago, Norm, a cool guy from the other side of the world (Alberta, Canada) contacted the AVF. He wanted to do an interview for his new youtube channel about a broad range of topics and one of those topics was: Vertical Farming
As I’m answering 99% of AVF’s inbound messages and because I make some youtube videos myself, I answered Norm with enthusiasm. I proposed to do something more fun than just a video-interview. I proposed to video-message each other, and every time respond to the others message.
During the process I got more and more into it and my video-responses became more and more fun with more interaction and guest speakers.
However, Norm disappeared in the summer of 2016, I thought the videos were never going to see the Youtube-light. BUT, yesterday (11th of January 2017), Norm came back to me after a holiday in South America. He had put the first three video Q&A’s online.
Enjoy the video – it’s fun and interesting!
Special thanks to BIGH (for the office and the projector), Vijay Yelmalle & Seppe Salari!
I want to bring harmony to Israel and Palestine, I want to end the war in the middle East and I want to end the corruption in Africa. As a matter of fact, I truly believe that I can do it and this series of blog-posts will tell you the story on how I discover the super-powers that can and will initiate world-peace.
Chapter 4 – New York City 2016
A couple of months ago I visited New York City for the NYC Agtech week 2016. It was AMAZING, just check out the video below.
Yet this is not what this chapter is about – it’s about NYC, the people living there and my reaction towards them all.
On the 16th of September 2016, after sleeping of my long flight all the way from Belgium, my first full day in the big apple ended like a lot of Friday nights: By going out!
Adam De Martino, friend and Smallhold business partner of Andrew Carter (who was my host), took me on a tour through Brooklyn, the hipster-capital of the world. We went to many places to do some drinking, some dining, some more drinking and to meet a lot of cool and very interesting people. Eventually, the night ended at North Brooklyn Farms, just next to the Williamsburg bridge. There was a full moon party going on.
And it was truly a full moon, just check the amazing picture (yes yes, taken via a telescope).
The night was like the photo: very cool!
However, the night did not end like an amazing night should end: While getting into my bed I felt exhausted and a very unsatisfied about myself. I had been in New York after a supercool night, yet why did these stupid feelings have to ruin the whole thing?
What even made it worse is that the self preservation mechanism in my mind went nuts. My mind reacted to the “low-self-esteem” vibe by generating a kind of arrogant loathing towards NY and most of its inhabitants. I would call it the”I-am-better-than-these-stressed-New-Yorkers” vibe.
In my consequent days in NYC, these 2 feelings came to the surface quite a lot. One moment I would be: “WOOWW New York is amazing.”And other moments I would be: “FUCK New York, what a shitty place.”
This seriously undermined my joy of being there. However, Zjef would not be Zjef, if he did not investigate these feelings.
So I started investigating!
While being in New York I had to find out what made the New Yorkers into New Yorkers (the investigation of myself could wait for when I got home). During my investigation of the Homo sapiens New Yorkii, I had many many conversations with old New Yorkers, not so old New Yorkers, new New Yorkers and tourist.
There were many different opinions and examples, and the following two encounters really stuck with me:
On the third day, after a quick lunch in a very trendy place, during a (fast) stroll through Manhattan, I talked to Henry about my feelings towards New York and New Yorkers.
Henry understood my feelings as he is a world-citizen that has already lived in many different countries. He acknowledged that the New York life is competitive, hard and that it can be very stressful. Yet on the other hand, he said that it’s also an extremely innovative environment and that if you’re able to handle the stress and competition, you get a lot of cool things done. And that gives you a lot of satisfaction.
It made sense.
The conversation with Henry took me back to the first night.
During the group-conversations on the first night, the atmosphere was indeed more competitive than I’m used to. I got carried away in that competition and because I was very far from my usual scene, in a very different culture, I quickly exhausted myself. Or in competition words: I lost.
My mistake was that I was not not a very good loser. Instead of seeing the competition as a fun learning opportunity, I saw losing as a failure of my personality and character. Hence my self-loathing and the “low-self-esteem” vibe.
The opposite one, the “I-am-better-than-these-stressed-New-Yorkers” vibe came into existence because of what bad losers tend to do: They start to hate the competition.
Two destructive vibes alternating, that’s not how world peace is achieved, right?
Luckily for me, there was Andrew Carter. Originally from California, living in NYC since 7 years. As a horticultural expert, he is a superstar within Blue Planet consulting, he has been AVF North America Regional manager, and is now starting up his own and very very interesting urban Mushroom business in NYC (Smallhold).
Andrew shared his couch and apartment (kitties included) with me for 10 days, so I saw him in action a lot.
And Andrew is very different than most New Yorkers I encountered. He is relaxed, open, smart, fun and confident: A very powerful combination. He showed me that you be calm, while at the same time be very present in a group, and that you can be chill in stressful situations while getting a lot of shit done.
A bossman, that is what Andrew is.
I’ve already read a lot of books on how to use human psychology to find happiness & balance. Yet NYC definitely put me to the test and forced me to apply that theoretical knowledge.
It took me a while to process the whole experience and to come to terms with myself and those two destructive feelings. However, I’m pretty sure I learned a lot from it and next time when I’m in NYC, I’ll be much more myself and I’ll be able to enjoy the experience much more.
Or at least that’s what I hope 😉
Does anyone else have some similar experiences with other cultures and mentalities in general?
ps: here are some extra pics from NYC – fun times:
And with the lessons learned I did enjoy the experience much more the year after, during NYC Agtech week 2017 and AVF Summit in Washington DC. I remember that for the first time I really enjoyed my experiences in the USA. I Made a lot of friends, created lots of videos and had a lot of fun. Aaaand I met an amazing young lady (Yeah, just had to put it here because she changed my reality, an important turing point in my life about which I probably will write or talk later – we’ll see)
Yet, for this blog post I want to show you three video’s and 1 picture that will tell you why the AVF-summit was so EPIC to me.
First, check out the AVF-summit aftermovie – nicely made by the awesome Marcel of Ideal Entertainment. You’ll find me walking in the video here and there.
Second, See me on the big stage introducing the 2nd session of the day. In the first minute I’m introducing Mark Durno from Urban Farmers. You’ll also see that I’m quite nervous. I present in Zjef-style, but it’s Zjef-style with a lot of hesitation, so it’s not perfect, but still very proud about it.
Third Video: A fantastic youtube video by Marion of Les Sourciers. It’s just impossible not to love Marion, Nicolas and Yuval and in this video you’ll find out why (find Zjef at 2min23sec and thereafter).
And for the Bonus-Picture, The AVF-summit was also the place and time for the first milestone of the AVFami project group (ami = aquaponics mushrooms & insects). We made the circular vertical farming banners to present at the summit and they looked great. AVFami lies very close to my heart as I helped start it up. Proud!
Basically, the AVF-summit was an amazing experience. The AVF team did a hell of a job and the feedback afterwards was overwhelmingly positive. I had an extremely high energy and I was on top of my game from waking up at 6am, until going to sleep a little drunk.
After a good first day, The organizers team and the participants were ready for the second day of “Legendary Learning, Notorious Networking & Happiness” a.k.a. : Designing some full blown Vertical Farms at an Agritecture workshop!
As you read in Part I, the workshop participants were extremely diligent and motivated and this did not change on day two. On the contrary, the energy of the teams elevated even higher. Each team found their own workroom and didn’t come out for 8 hours, unless they had to go to the toilet, eat something or find a workshop advisor to get some guidance.
Yes indeed, next to the the infinite amount of information on the internet and their own knowledge & experience, the workshop participants were also supported by a great team of professionals:
Henry Gordon-Smith: Vertical Farming “superstar” based in New York who runs Agritecture.com, is an AVF-board member and also Director at Blue planet Consulting.
And me, Zjef Van Acker: AVF’s Chief engagement officer and circular vertical farming expert
The day was long and a lot of interesting things happened. What I especially remember from the second day is this:
All teams had fucking awesome concepts (cheesy but true)
All teams had understood the concept of circular vertical farming and incorporated it into their designs. Mushrooms everywhere = heaven
Two of the teams had definite leaders, the third team was more of a team of co-creators
The team of co-creators (Team 1) seemed to have the a lot of clashes in the beginning, yet when they overcame, they really worked harder and more creative than ever.
Team 1 – CitiSalads – and started their marketing campaign 2 hours before the workshop deadline.
Team 2 – Hidden Produce – had a very eager mushroom expert which I was good buddies with.
Team 3 – White Chapel Community Farm – had an amazing and ambitious project that was definitely the winner of the circular vertical farming.
After a very fruitful session, the teams had to present their projects to the judges which had to judge them on no less than 3 levels: Project Feasibility, Sustainability (Economic, Environmental, Social) and Creativity.
And the winners were…
This is going to sound cheesy, but every participant at the workshop was a winner. The amount of learning and team-building that was being done is unmatched by any other I have ever seen. In Less than 16 hours spread over 2 days, every workshop participator assimilated so much knowledge and experiences that they became vertical farming experts.
“Learning by doing” we all know the concept. But the Agritecture workshops just take it to another level.
I left the London workshop with a lot of wonderful experiences and many new awesome people in my network. Honestly, I’m already eagerly awaiting the next workshop. Luckily for all of us, more Agritecture workshops are coming your way, so stay up to date via the Association for Vertical Farming and Agritecture.com/workshop. And maybe, maybe we’ll meet at one of the next workshops.
Until then: Keep on Growing, people! Keep on Growing.