How Zjef will bring peace to Israel and Palestine – Chapter IV – NYC16

How Zjef will bring peace to Israel and Palestine – Chapter IV – NYC16

Click here for Chapter I & II
Click here for Chapter III

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:

Henry Gordon Smith, living in New York since 2011, runs a successful business (Blue Planet Consulting), hosts a very important Urban Farming blog (Agritecture) and is vice-chair for the Association for Vertical Farming (AVF). In other words: Henry is making it.

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).

Henry (white t-shirt on the left) & Andrew (red shirt on the right) together on a Panel in the Lowline Lab during NYC Agtech week 2016.

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.

Andrew, Zjef  and a full American breakfast!

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:

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

Appendix – written on 10th of August 2018

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)

What happened at the London Agritecture workshop (Part 2)

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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, 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


Drumms rollsss



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 And maybe, maybe we’ll meet at one of the next workshops.

Until then: Keep on Growing, people! Keep on Growing.