How Zjef will bring peace to Israel and Palestine – Chapter V – The burden of being the best

How Zjef will bring peace to Israel and Palestine – Chapter V – The burden of being the best

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.

Alexander the Great VS Darius III at the battle of Gaugamela. It is known as a great and impossible victory for Alexander. Yet many seem to be overlooking the fact that both of them were big assholes that got a lot of people killed for their pride

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.


Feed the monster

Always trying to be the best is ludicrous for a at least 3 reasons.

  1. Trying to fill up the hole in your soul is exhausting. It’s like feeding a monster than can never be satisfied.
  2. 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
  3. 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 would we still live in tribes? Or would we have found other ways of discovering what we have discovered, Achieved what we have achieved?

Interesting question.

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?

Competition got us to the Moon, but what will get us to Mars?

How Zjef will bring peace to Israel and Palestine: Click here for Chapter I & IIClick here for Chapter III & click here for Chapter IV


Why I’m disappointed about Barack Obama

Why I’m disappointed about Barack Obama

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.

Me and Seppe Salari, taking selfies like bosses right before the special occasion.

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.

Here are some cool things he said:

1h21min into the youtube video
“We have to create a food culture that encourages the demand of healthier and more sustainable food”

“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

The Big Why

The Big Why

On Saturday the 29th of April 2017, I was invited to the yearly conference of the International Association of Students in Agriculture and related Sciences (or in short: IAAS).

There’s a lot of beautiful things I can tell about this event, BUT there’s one thing specifically that stuck with me and it had something to do with The Big Why.


For the afternoon group discussions of the IAAS-conference, all the participants split up into groups of their interest and one of them, of course, was about urban farming, to which I was assigned expert.

After an hour into the discussion, there was one person who asked the following interesting question that is the cause of this blog post:

You know, we’ve been talking about urban and vertical farming and I get that it’s nice and that it has many benefits. But, I’m still missing The Big Why. Why should we be doing urban and vertical farming?

I love a question like this and I was eager to answer it.

But, as I wanted everyone to think for themselves – rather than giving an answer before they could do so – I held back and deflected the question to the crowd. And it had the desired effect. Many students in the group answered and many interesting points were stated:

  • Urban Farming Brings people together.
  • It brings people into contact with their food
  • There are less foodmiles and a lower Carbon Footprint
  • It has higher yields per surface area
  • Urban farming projects can re-use waste
  • and so on…

I loved it.

Yet, even after a dozen people gave many reasons on why urban and vertical farming is needed, the two people still remained unconvinced about “The Big Why“. The dozen students had indeed brought up many valid points on “why” we should be doing urban and vertical farming, yet to be honest, I wasn’t satisfied either.


So, when the 2 unconvinced students turned back to me with a gaze of hope mixed with desperation, I cleared my throat, took one last deep breath and let the true Zjef reveal The Big WHY via a loud and confident voice:

I can not tell you why you should do something. I can only tell you why I do what I do.

I do what I do because I see a very destructive human society. We are destroying nature. We are destroying people. We are destroying life. And thus….we are destroying ourselves.

This cannot go on and I want to be part of the needed change, rather than remain part of the structural problem.

Does this mean I think vertical Farming is the answer to all our prayers? Hell NO! Vertical farming is just what it is: a technology. It’s not inherently good or bad. It is defined by how we, humans, use it.

What I do believe is that vertical farming is a powerful tool for change because it touches the foundations of our human society.

Vertical farming touches our basic human needs: food, water, energy & Shelter. Hence, if we can do vertical farming in a creative, constructive and ecosystem-manner, we can transform the foundations of our society and spiral our species into a new era of beauty and magnificence.

Is this the big why? Did I go into vertical farming because of this rational reason? Well, partly, it helped me to form a strategy.

The real reason why I chose vertical Farming as my battlefield for societal transformation is very, very, very simple and much more down to earth. It is because, when I first learned about vertical farming and Dickson Despommier’s vision in an article in Scientific American (somewhere during 2010), my thoughts and feelings just screamed:

This is fucking awesome!

And that, my friends, is the essence of the big why!

Knowing and feeling why to do something, comes from no other place than within!


Ps: So, If my first Blog post ever didn’t make that much sense to you, it should now.

Ps2: And just check all the images below, so AWESOME!

Is this one of those thoughts that keep you from being a happily productive person?

So, I guess this post is about something that haunts many of us. Time to write those thoughts & feelings down instead of keeping them battling in my head.

This morning, as many other mornings, I had the problem again: waking up and not feeling like waking up, not seeing or feeling the joy of the day to come.

What is this shit about? Why the fuck am I like a diesel that needs to warm up and am extremely reluctant to even start?

Is this in my DNA? Am I just like this? Or is this something that became a habit, hence I can get rid of it through some serious mind-training.


I am a very ambitious man, the dreams I have are big and I know I can reach them. Yet I also know that I will have to work hard, learn a lot and be smart about it.

On the other hand, it’s also very important that I can live this short and fleeting life in happy way.

I’m definitely not the only one struggling and writing about this, check out this article for example. Quote: “How to strive and grow and be ambitious without getting caught up in a rat race against your peers—in other words, without becoming obsessed with your relative status, as that is an obsession that I believe can seriously dent your happiness.”

Part of the ambition is that I like acknowledgement, attention & I would definitely like to be famous (in other words: “status”). Yet I also know that becoming famous and known is not a real good driver for my life’s purpose.

Who will care about what I do, a 1000, or a million years from now? Or who cares about this on the other side of the universe?


So yes, ambition & hard work opposed to just enjoying my life as much as possible. Can those things be combined? Is it possible to be happy with this life while also trying to make this society a happier place? And is it a matter of training my mind and learn to enjoy the things in life in a different way?

Or should I just be happy with life, not be too ambitious and not care too much about the future of our society?

Or should I not complain, work my ass off and achieve stuff?

All these questions, all these questions. They are running through my head and are constantly making me question the way I do stuff. Which is also not very good for finalising that stuff.

Any advice from anyone?


I’m scared as fucking shit

I’m scared as fucking shit

I’m a big fan of succes stories, motivational video’s and the idea that feeling strong and confident about reaching your goal actually helps you to reach your goal. But still I’m just a normal boy with a lot of insecurities and at this moment I’m as human as I can possibly be. Yes, I’m scared as fucking shit.

You know that feeling of butterflies in your stomach when you’re in love? Well, at the moment it feels like they have died of cancer and are being dissolved very very slowly by and exuberant amount of stomach acid.

It hurts.

People tell me a lot that I look chill and relaxed all the time. Yeah, true, I’m pretty relaxed and cool most of the time. Yet I’m also extremely good at hiding my stress, anger, and fear. And when these feelings become too strong, I numb myself out by running away from the things that cause the pain. Hence, I am all relaxed and chill again.

Not caring about the things that cause the pain is an easy way to deal with it, yet is the right way?

Of course not. Let’s hit it head on, the earth-bending way.

Yes Indeed, Avatar!

At the moment my fear wants to keep me from writing this blog post, yet I push myself to do it anyway in 2 steps. First I just simply ask myself: “What can possibly go wrong?”. My imagination is quite good, yet it cannot come up with a decently good story where I’ll die or lose an arm because I’m writing this blog post. Second: I focus on the task of writing this blog post, finding enjoyment while doing so.

So, reason and focus help me to deal with my fear head on. However, is it enough?

I’m focussing on writing this post with the knowledge that it’s not going to kill me, yet my body doesn’t seem to want to follow. The fire in my stomach is still raging and my body still wants to run away because focussing on writing this blog post requires me to focus on my feelings, which is fear!


So, maybe getting to the bottom of this thing will help me. Where does all this fear come from?

At the moment, I’m at a point in my life where I’ve been a couple of times before. I’m at the edge of redeeming success or brutal failure. And because I’m afraid of failure, that redeeming success seems impossible to reach…weird, right?

I’ve been going hard on the vertical farming dream, I’ve been working my ass off, following my guts and taking risk, all of this while still aiming at the basics of the basics: I just finally want to get a fucking income out of this. Since 4 years, noppes, nada, niente, no income from all the vf-work I’ve been doing.

The idea has always been that the return on investment will come…later, however, it bugs me and it scares me that I might never reach it.

So, on the edge of redeeming success or brutal failure, Zjef is scared as shit.

Yet in the end, is it all that important? Because I know that even if I fail this time, I’ll still be alive and I will have learned an enormous amount of things again.

Is that the answer to my fear? To convince myself that it’s not real and to keep on doing things until the fear is over? I dunno, I can pull out a lot of old and proven wisdom from Gandhi to Eckhart Tolle, from Jezus to Paulo Coelho,  and give an answer to that question.

But Goddamn…

At this moment I just want someone to hold my hand and take me to Disneyland.


How Zjef will bring peace to Israel & Palestine – Chapter III

Read Chapter I & II first

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 3 – Knowing yourself


So, today I was talking to Kyara, a 20 year old lady from Kansas, USA. She wants to get into Vertical Farming and I, as head of the Education Division of the Association for Vertical Farming, am trying to help her with that. In our many conversations questions about her strengths and who she really is popped up a couple of times. Today she made me give an epic reply that gave birth to this blog post.

This is how it came to be:

Zjef: Do you feel it’s hard to talk about who you are and what your strengths are?

 Yes it’s hard. Like im barely 20, im still trying to figure out what im good at.

Zjef: Well, 20 is quite late to think about it :p But better late than never

Kyara: Really? Cause I’ve been told multiple time thats it’s normal… or maybe thats just America.

Zjef: It’s the same in Europe. However, it’s not because it’s normal that it’s how it supposed to be.

I’ve lived my life without any aim or purpose for 25 years, and in that way, I feel that I’ve wasted a big part of my life. Especially when I was in University. Our education system is based on getting you ready for Industrial capitalism, which kills creativity and the ability to really getting to know who you are.

Kyara: Damn, i think you just explained it better than any other person I’ve talked to. But isn’t it normal to not know until your mid or late 20s?

Zjef: Why would that be normal?

Kyara: I don’t know, because isn’t that when our brains are fully developed.

Zjef: That’s sounds like a good explanation, yet wouldn’t it be better if our brain developed to support who we really are?

I for one can definitely say that I developed a lot of bad habits because I was an annoying little brad who didn’t know who he was and what to do, except hating people and society because they were fucking the planet up. If my parents and my school had taught me that it was possible for me to constructively have a positive impact on it all…well, I most probably would have been much stronger and confident by now, and I would have achieved much more by now.

My parents told me that I should study well because I was one of the most intelligent in my little class in my little school that was way below average. And at that school I was put in a science-class because of that same reason. There I was taught that I would become a successful scientist. I was taught that I should always try to get to achieve the highest level possible. Never even trying to determine what I was actually good at, or what made me happy.

(I’m not even bashing the absurdity of thinking in “levels” of intelligence here)

Result: I never ever did my best in school because it didn’t really excite me all that much.

And during my time at university, my mom always was angry because I spent too much time organising events and managing and playing in my band. Thinking I was wasting my future.

In hindsight, it is actually these experiences that give me most strength and confidence today.

So, brain development should be in service of who you are, not in service of what “society” says you should be. Because now we live in a society where a lot of people don’t know who and what they are, because in a way, they got brainwashed.

A very disturbing thought

Kyara: Yeah, you make a good point. And did anyone ever tell you that you would make a great blogger? Cause you would.


Who are you? Today this is for most people a difficult and vague question. First of all, it requires a lot of balls to get out of your comfort zone and go and look for the answer, and secondly it requires a lot of persistence to actually make it to the end of that quest.

Am I there yet? I don’t know so probably not. Yet I do know that I am where I need to be, and that is right here!

ps: Thanks Kyara for making me write this.

Kyara looks innocent and cute, but don’t let those puppy eyes fool you, she’s a badass:


Peace out & enjoy this inspirational music:

When plant, Mushroom and insect producers come together

Read the original article on Agritecture by clicking here


On the 10th of February an open forum on Vertical Farming was organized in Ghent, Belgium. The Association for Vertical Farming (AVF) collaborated with Urban Farming Ghent on what we thought would be a small info-night for around 50 people. Yet the internet decided otherwise, the event went viral on facebook and soon a bigger venue had to be found.  Even after booking an auditorium with 400 seats at the Faculty of Bioscience of the University of Ghent, people were still sitting on the stairs. So, before it had started, the event could be marked as a success. Yet, the story that unraveled during the event was so inspiring that I just had to write a blog post about this.



As an opening speaker there was me, Zjef Van Acker, Chief engagement officer of the AVF. I opened the evening by explaining everyone why we should do vertical farming. No, I didn’t start with “By the year 2050 we’ll be with 9 billion people and 80% will live in urban areas and so on….” Yeah, they are valid reasons, however, they’re really NOT the most important ones. For me, the issues lie much deeper, they lie at the level of our mindset and our world-view. At the moment the majority of people and businesses in our society are still driven by short term financial paybacks and linear ways on how to get there: Resource => Product => Waste.


Even Global warming can be explained by this: Fossil fuels (resource) => gasoline (product) => exhaust (waste). And that, my friends, is inherently not sustainable. Neither from ecological, social or economical perspective.

So, while I was talking to 450 attentive listeners, I explained that vertical farming has the great potential to change the above, linear mindset. This is for the simple reason that vertical farming affects the 3 fundamental pillars of a society: food, water and shelter. If we can change the economy at its foundation, we can change it in its whole. And that’s why vertical farms, in all their beauty and magnificence can become important icons of change.


But, there’s a big but, vertical farming is still a technology and thus inherently not a solution. To prove this I just had to pop-out my smartphone and tell everyone that the computer (smartphone) I was holding in my hand had more computing power than all of NASA in 1969, when they put two people on the moon. A mindblowing comparison I got from the very interesting book “Abundance” by Peter Diamandus and Steven Kotler. The comparison proves that the solution for all the world’s problems lies not in the technology itself, but in how that technology is used by us, humans.

I believe that we, and our society can use our extremely advanced technology in a constructive way, and that we can get back in  sync with ourselves, with our fellow humans and with this planet’s ecosystems. We’re with 7 billion people, 7 billion fantastic brains and 7 billion caring hearts. I believe that we can find ways to use technology in a responsible manner, for a true change.

As I’ve been in the Vertical Farming movement for quite some time now, I’ve heard all the arguments against VF’ing. Some of them, like energy and resource use, are really important to address, so for the Open Forum on Vertical Farming in Ghent, I invited some friends that might present a solution for that.


First there was Jasper den Besten, professor in New cultivation system at HAS University (The Netherlands). He started the evening by teaching everyone the basics of indoor Plant Production. And maybe it’s because he’s a professor and not a salesman (or just a good person), he explained indoor farming in a very open and honest way. He pictured it as a very good and efficient system with many, many benefits. Yet he also explained that electricity use is high and that it’s of paramount importance to switch from fossil fuels towards renewable resources. And this just might have been the most important reason why this evening was so inspiring and such a success. Every speaker and every expert in the panel was very honest and realistic about the fact that the systems are not yet perfect. And this got the whole vibe beyond “being pro or con”, it made us and all the 450 people that were present, open to all its possibilities.

You also might think: “Well, the source of electricity-issue is important, but that’s not a job  for the vertical farmers, that’s a job for the electricity companies.” Yet, is that really so? As I said, vertical farming touches the foundations of our society, so we should definitely take our responsibility on these matters.


Nikolaas Viaene from Little Food presented a possible solution. Little Food is a Brussels based company that is growing and selling Crickets for human consumption. He explained that insects are perfect for Vertical Farms because they don’t need light. Yet, there is more. In contrast to many other insect-growers, the little food team are true changemakers. They are thinking ahead, as they are applying cradle-to-cradle and circular economy principles. After all, insects are nature’s waste recyclers, why wouldn’t they be used as waste upgraders for our economy? From waste to food, now, isn’t that already starting to sound more energy-efficient?

And for the 10th of February, this was just the start, because we saved the best for last.


Bruno Van Haudenhuyse came to the stage and in his short presentation he connected the dots between plant, insect and mushroom production. Bruno is founder of Gandazwam, consultant to many other mushrooms companies and is one of the biggest experts on turning cities’ waste-streams into new resources for food production. Like insects, mushrooms are also nature’s waste recyclers. Plus, mushrooms are also not in the business of doing photosynthesis and for that reason, they have been grown vertically for ages.

Bruno didn’t stop there. Plants, insects and mushrooms interact for mutual benefit in nature, each generating value from another’s waste-stream. Therefore if each is grown in high tech controlled environment systems, where the input and outputs are perfectly managed. Each of these small controlled ecosystems can be connected, forming a bigger ecosystem. To quickly give you one of the many possible synergies: Mushrooms use oxygen and produce C02, plants need a lot of CO2 and produce oxygen. Can you already see the possible exchanges of inputs and outputs there?

Yes, it’s true: Plants, insects and mushrooms can together produce much more than each separately. And this my friends, is what happens when you bring plant, insect and mushroom-growers together. It’s a first step on the way to close the loops in our city and how we can change our current unsustainable economic mindset, by starting with the basics: Food, water and shelter.

Luckily for you all, this event was just the beginning of this game-changing way of thinking in vertical farming. The subject of this year’s AVF-summit is Vertical Farming and the Circular Economy. Building further upon the mindset that “in order for vertical farming to be a real change, we need to actually change”. The AVF and I hope to welcome you on the 13th of June, at RAI in Amsterdam.


You wanna find out more about the above subject? Check out:

Circular economy
Blue economy
Little Food
HAS University (Follow an online course with Prof. Jasper den Besten on growing without daylight)
The Plant (an npo experimenting with circular economy and  food production in Chicago)
Pctures of the short Info-market that happened after the presentations.