The quest anno May 2018

The quest anno May 2018

Dear awesome people,

Often I think: “Damn, I have a blog to update”

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:

  1. 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)
  2. Co-founding the Pad en Stoel cooperative: A Belgian collaboration between different mushroom farms
  3. 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
  4. 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!

Yours truly,
Vertical_Zjef

Zjef in Romania5

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What are the 12 steps to become an Urban or Vertical Farmer?

Originally posted on www.academy.vertical-farming.net

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:

(1) It got me highly involved with starting up the education division of the AVF (and thus Vertical Farming Academy) &

(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.

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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.

Find more info about the 12 steps via this link. And don’t forget:

Keep on growing

Zjef

Kikvors banner

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.

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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.

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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!

Peace!

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!

The enjoyable life of a presenting animal

The enjoyable life of a presenting animal

You ever had this feeling?

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

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:

  1. New videos featuring Zjef at the 2016 AVF-summit
  2. A video of me presenting in India while staying at home in Belgium
  3. Zjef at the Aquafarm fair in Pordenone (Italia)
  4. 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.

#FuckingProudOfThis

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.

 

Why the AVF-summit 2016 was EPIC

Almost three months have passed by and it’s still resonating in my mind: the AVF-summit 2016 on the 13th of June in Amsterdam was epic.

The following links from people who are not me, will back that up:

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!

Circular posters

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.

Everyone who was there: You’re awesome!

 

What happened at the London Agritecture workshop (Part 2)

Original post on Agritecture.com

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Click this link to read part I

Day two – Saturday 25th of June 2016, 9am

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.

Oscar Rodriguez: Founder of Architecture and Food, also an AVF-supporter since its inception.

Mark Horler: Founder of Re-growth, UK Regional Manager for the AVF and leader of the Project group on the sustainability certification for Vertical Farming

Yara Nagi: Sustainability manager at Blue Planet Consulting

Elvira Asara-Hunte: Manager Director at SouthBank 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 1CitiSalads – and started their marketing campaign 2 hours before the workshop deadline.

Team 2Hidden Produce – had a very eager mushroom expert which I was good buddies with.

Team 3White 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.

Ow yes…and the winners are

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Drumms rollsss

……

CITISALADS

Find out all about them via this link!

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.

Photo report: Visiting the Metabolic site and eating…something…very nice

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Jupiler understands! Or is it just genius marketing to sell more beer in The Netherlands?

11th of July 2016, 

Short and fast summary of the day to get the context:

Woke up at 5am, 4 hours and 4 traffic jams later I arrived at Enkhuizen (North-Holland) to meet with Enza Zaden (big multinational). After the fruitful meeting I went to Amsterdam to meet with Thomas Mason from the awesome Metabolic (young sustainability company), and then I went with Seppe Salari (my AVF-collegue and student at Wageningen University) to his apartment where he cooked a buffet to try out his home grown basil and Black Soldier Flies (BSF’s). Got back at 1am in the morning after a long but fantastic day (spent mostly in The Netherlands).

No pics from my meeting with Enza Zaden, yet the trip to meet with Thomas Mason from Metabolic was just to pretty to not take pictures:

After all the talks about Urban Farming, integrated food-production and possible cooperation between AVF and Metabolic, it was time to go to Seppe’s apartment to see his experimental Indoor farming systems….and TASTE what he grows.

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The result was a happy, experimental and delicious dinner with Seppe & Délana (his girlfriend who is awesomely supportive about the crazy stuff Seppe is doing in their apartment)

 

Now the big question remains: Who wants to try some Black Soldier Flies? Seppe, who is a great cook, will be more than happy to provide you some recipes.