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.
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)