15 October marked the official kick-off of the second edition of the Urban Greenhouse Challenge. The event took place at the Wageningen University Campus, and was part of VertiFarm, a conference on vertical farming organized by ISHS. The event attracted a full house of interested and participating students, partners of the challenge, and other interested parties. The students abroad were able to join the event via a livestream.
Developing an urban greenhouse in China
This year’s Urban Greenhouse Challenge invites students worldwide to design an iconic and circular urban greenhouse for the city of Dongguan, part of the Greater Bay Area in Southern China. The Greater Bay Area is one of the largest urban areas in the world and is the China’s innovation hub. The greenhouse will be situated within the Marina Center Agricultural Park. This large agro-park is currently being developed by Country Garden Agriculture, one of the main partners of the Challenge.
The student teams need to design an urban greenhouse that produces safe and healthy food for the local neighborhood and commercial markets, as well as to stimulates a healthy lifestyle and interactions with city dwellers. All in all, both the student teams and their urban greenhouse concepts should be interdisciplinary.
Official kick-off: the Challenge has begun
The kick-off of the Urban Greenhouse Challenge was opened with a word of welcome from Arthur Mol, Rector Magnificus of Wageningen University, who shared his enthusiasm about the Challenge. He emphasized that the Challenge is particularly exciting because students will learn about urban farming while actually working on a real-life case with a real impact.
Cindy van Rijswick, Senior Industry Analyst Fresh Produce at Rabobank and Jury Member of the Urban Greenhouse Challenge, gave a keynote speech on consumer, supply chain and production trends that are driving the horticulture sector into new directions. Thereafter, Tiffany Tsui, Director Strategy Asia at Dutch Greenhouse Delta (DGD) and also Jury Member of the Urban Greenhouse Challenge, talked about her study 'Green Cities' in the context of the Greater Bay Area. She showed how the exponential growth of Chinese urban consumers increases the demand for pork, beef, chicken, seafood, dairy products, and vegetables. In order to cope with this increasing demand in combination with changing consumer preferences, it is especially important to understand what drives the people living in the region.
After these insightful presentations, Cindy van Rijswick and Tiffany Tsui joined the panel discussion, which was moderated by Francesco Orsini from ISHS and the University of Bologna. The second edition of the Urban Greenhouse Challenge was officially opened with a booming bang on a Chinese gong.
Partners of the Urban Greenhouse Challenge
Currently more than 20 different partners from the private sector, academia and the NGO sector are involved in the Challenge. After the kick-off, some of the partners were available to share their perspectives on the Challenge.
Cindy van Rijswick expressed that the Challenge gives Rabobank an opportunity to follow the latest trends in urban farming, especially in China, where they work with several companies. “We hope to get inspired by the participating student teams, and we also like to show students that Rabobank could be a potential future company to work at for them”. Cindy’s advice for participating student teams is to let their imaginations run free. “However, do also look at your plans from a realistic perspective, as the greenhouse should also be economically viable.”
Another partner, Petra Verbeek from Lentse & Slingerland Potgrond, mentioned that the company increasingly wants to concern itself with the cultivation of vegetables and is currently expanding their activities to China. The Urban Greenhouse Challenge fits well with these ambitions. For the participating student teams, Lentse & Slingerland Potgrond can be a valuable advisor since the company has a vast bulk of knowledge about plant growth and soil structures. Petra’s advice the participating students to make sure that their team is interdisciplinary, as it is crucial to integrate the different aspects within the urban greenhouse.
Student teams from all over the world
Two weeks before the end of the registration period of the Challenge, already more than 230 students from more than 60 different universities worldwide have registered. Student teams have a variety of reasons for joining this year’s Challenge. One team that attended the Kick-off shared: “Our goal is not necessarily to win the challenge. We are just very interested in the topic of urban farming and hope to learn more about it.” In addition, they added that it would be valuable to meet new people from other disciplines. Another student team is participating in the challenge as part of their honors program. They noted that they think the challenge is a nice different way of learning compared to the usual learning-tasks they perform at university. “It is quite different and more exciting compared to taking an exam”. Besides, they see the interdisciplinary character of the challenge as an opportunity to broaden their knowledge and learn from other disciplines.
The Challenge is organized by WUR with support of a wide network of partners, amongst which Rabobank and Country Garden Agriculture, a Chinese developer of agricultural parks.