Wageningen University: ‘I love to see how young creative minds approach urban farming’

Education Industry News

Article originally published by Wageningen University

The third Urban Greenhouse Challenge is all about social impact. Aiding the student teams in writing the best proposal for an urban farm that contributes to quality of life are a host of industry experts from the Urban Greenhouse Challenge partner network. They are very enthusiastic about this year’s competitors, though they’ve had to provide them with a reality check or two.

The teams of the Urban Greenhouse Challenge #3 are working towards handing in their final proposals. Based on these, the ten most convincing concepts will be announced on 8 June, competing for a place in the Grand Finals on 29 June. On their way to this finished proposal, the students have received advice from industry experts from the partner network, as well as local residents around the site of the urban farm. These advisory sessions with expert coaches are integral to the process of the Challenge, taking the proposals to the next level while teaching the student teams about every aspect that is important to such a complex project: from horticulture to architecture to economics.

Sabrina Carvalho, Rosalie van Schie and Peter van den Dool gave their fair share of advice this year. Unanimously, they emphasised how fun and interesting it is to see students tackle these real world challenges. What did the experts think about this year’s Challenge and how did they work with the teams to create fully fleshed-out concepts?

No-holds-barred creativity

Peter van den Dool, Company Development Officer at Van der Knaap, left his meeting early to explain why he wanted to coach teams in this year’s Challenge. ‘I love to stay in contact with people who are still learning. They come up with all these new ideas because they are still discovering how it all works. It’s a phase of no-holds-barred creativity. These teams are not yet stuck in returning thought patterns.’

It’s not just interesting for Peter personally, companies like Van der Knaap are looking to cooperate with anyone who can bring fresh ideas to the table. ‘Signify has been working in urban and city farming for many years’, tells plant specialist Sabrina Carvalho. ‘We even have our own Research Centre for that purpose. So joining this Challenge is part of our nature, you could say. Plus I just love to see how young creative minds approach urban farming.’

‘While studying animal and livestock farming, I had looked into the case of bringing the agricultural world and society closer together,’ tells Rosalie van Schie, representing Cauberg Huygen when talking about the specifics of the Urban Greenhouse Challenge #3. ‘Now I wanted to connect students working on that problem to all the knowledge inside our company.’

From big ideas to realizable plans

‘It’s such a diverse group of students, from all over the world, and the ideas are as diverse,’ tells Rosalie. A group that compartmentalized different parts of their urban farm caught Sabrina’s attention. ‘Greenhouses, outdoor vegetable patches, fishponds, chickens. And they wanted to use the waste streams from one compartment for the other. It’s impressive. These teams have already done a lot of research.’

‘I saw a concept with an on-site day-care, for the employees to bring their kids,’ tells Peter. ‘And a concept with a focus on teaching locals how to grow vegetables themselves and how to eat more healthy.’ Simple ideas that make an impact.

‘Big ideas, that’s how most of the teams I coached started out,’ says Rosalie. ‘The word “futuristic” comes to mind.’ Coaching is often about helping a team focus on the essentials of their ideas. Peter, who mostly gave advice on the students’ business cases, had that same impression. ‘You have to start out that way, with endless possibilities. But then it becomes essential to build a sustainable plan, that is financially stable in the long term. The question becomes: what can you realize?’ Simplify, was Sabrina’s motto. ‘These concepts need to be implemented in the next two years!’

A realistic challenge

‘You’re just continually asking questions,’ explains Peter. ‘How do you make this affordable? How do you create jobs? What do the people need?’

‘Of course, every project has its stressors,’ says Rosalie. ‘You really get confronted with all it takes: the stakeholders, the rules, the logistics, the costs.’ But everyone has fun as well, including the coaches. Sabrina, who works with greenhouses mostly, had to dig for her knowledge about open field agriculture for a concept with no indoor production at all. ‘Oh, I haven’t talked about this for a while!’

‘The students participating in this Challenge are really getting to know what it takes to work on these kinds of problems,’ tells Sabrina. ‘The conversations they had with me, are the conversations we at Signify have with our own clients. I thought: if only I could have done this when I was a student!’

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