Ultimate urban greenhouse

Grand Finale Greenhouse Challenge

In January this year, 23 international, interdisciplinary and very motivated teams started their ‘mission (almost) impossible’: design the ultimate urban greenhouse for the redevelopment of the Amsterdam Bajes Kwartier (former prison Bijlmer Bajes). They are nearing the end of their journey and on 28th August in Wageningen they will pitch their concepts to the jury of the Challenge.

For the book “Urban Greenhouses and the Future of Food”, with impressions of the designs and interviews with experts involved, click here. You can download the PDF below:

Student Challenge Grand Finale Programme

For the full programme, please click here.
Deadline for registration: 19 August.


We have asked the teams participating in the Challenge seriously to consider the sustainability of their designs. So we also need to be serious about the sustainability of the Grand Finale! This is what it means to us:

-       Zero plastic waste

We do not use any disposables at this event. All food and beverages are served on/ in reusable plates and cups. Also cutlery is reusable.

-       Reducing food waste

We do not order food for people who do not come. This is why the Grand Finale is a ticketed event - we want to know exactly how many people to expect. We also offer you a doggy bag - you can enjoy the leftovers on your way home.

-       Plants are better for the planet

This is why we do not serve meat or fish at the Grand Finale. Along vegetarian options we offer a number of 100% plant based products. Tell us if you like them!

-       Tree hugging

We prefer beautiful forests over piles of paper. Therefore this event is paper-less. Our NetworkApp is your ultimate guide, a place where you can find the programme and bios of the speakers. And if you look around you, the programme is also on the posters and banners.

-       Choosing wisely

As far as possible, we let sustainability guide our choices. This is why the T-shirts of our team are made of organic cotton, bouquets come from a nearby organic ‘pluktuin’ (pluck garden) and most of the items used for the decoration will be reused. We are also working with  caterer OSP, who has high sustainability standards!

-       Flying responsibly

Some of our invaluable speakers live abroad and we had to fly them in. This unfortunately is never sustainable. But we did avoid low-cost airlines, paying fair fee for the flight.

-       Special gift

Instead of a goodie bag we have just one, very special gift for you. Our book ‘Urban Greenhouses and the Future of Food’ has been printed on high quality FSC-certified paper and is specially crafted for you by our team and a number of collaborators. It contains interviews with leading experts in the field of urban agriculture as well as an overview of all concepts submitted for the Challenge. We hope that it will not only be food for thought but also a feast for your eyes!

-       Sustainable location

Wageningen University is one of the most sustainable universities in the Netherlands. It is 100% energy neutral due to own windmill park, geothermal energy storage system and impressive roof area covered with solar panels. In most of the buildings at the campus waste is meticulously recycled and all new buildings meet high sustainability standards.

-       Compensating for the environmental footprint

Organizing an event comes with an environmental cost. We tried to minimalize it but we cannot deny that this event has its environmental footprint. To compensate for it we will donate the profits from the ticket sales to Anne van den Ban Fund that allows promising students from developing countries to follow a MSc education at Wageningen University.

-       Your contribution

Help us to make this event sustainable! If possible, choose public transport over your car to come to Wageningen. If you do not need the Finale Book, leave it with us. If you do not feel hungry, leave the food for someone else or take it home in a doggy bag.

If you have ideas on how we could improve on sustainability and reduce our environmental footprint for the next edition of the Challenge, please fill out the evaluation form that you will receive after this event or send an email to: studentchallenges@wur.nl.


Read their bios here.


Aart Oxenaar (chair)


Beatrix Alsanius


Nona Yehia


Jago van Bergen


Michiel Klompenhouwer


tracy metz.jpeg

Tracy Metz

Tracy Metz is a journalist, author and presenter. Originally from California, she came to Europe after her studies, where she ended up in journalism in the Netherlands. She is a popular moderator, gives regular lectures at home and abroad, can be heard and seen regularly on radio and TV.

She writes critically, independently, with authority and sense of humor about architecture, urban design, nature and landscape - in short, about our relationship to the built and natural environment around us. In 2012 she founded Stadsleven (Citylife), a fascinating live talk show and digital magazine about life in cities. Since 2013 she is director of the John Adams Institute, the center for American culture in the Netherlands.

Keynote speakers


Nevin Cohen
Associate Professor of Health/Food Policy at City University of New York School of Public Health

In January 2015 he joined the faculty of the CUNY School of Public Health as Associate Professor of Health/Food Policy.

His teaching and research focuses on the roles that cities can play in making food systems healthier, more just, and ecologically sustainable. He has been involved in food policy development in New York City, and co-authored a study (Five Borough Farm: seeding the future of urban agriculture in New York City) to support and strengthen New York City’s urban agriculture system. He has a PhD in Urban Planning and Policy Development from Rutgers University, a Masters in City and Regional Planning from Berkeley, and a BA from Cornell.
Rijswick_Cindy van.jpg

Cindy van Rijswick
Senior Industry Analyst Fresh Produce, Rabobank, The Netherlands

Cindy is a senior research analyst within the 80-strong global Rabobank Research Food & Agribusiness team in the Netherlands, where she focuses on the international fresh fruit and vegetable sectors. She has published numerous reports on various topics covering the complete supply chain from grower to consumer.

Topics include: the berry business, the European greenhouse sector, vertical farming, the fresh-cut fruit and vegetable industry, fresh produce sourcing, the global floriculture trade and the impact of online grocery retail within the produce sector. Cindy has been a keynote speaker at several international fresh produce events such as the Fruit Logistica and the Global Berry Congress. Her research and analyses are key deliverables for Rabobank customers and prospects, both in the corporate and rural domains. Before joining Rabobank in 2001, Cindy worked for Wageningen Economic Research and the European Parliament as a research analyst in the food and agribusiness sector. She earned a Master’s degree in Economics from Tilburg University in 1997.

Break-out sessions

Nevin Cohen

Health/Food Policy at City University of New York School of Public Health


In January 2015 he joined the faculty of the CUNY School of Public Health as Associate Professor of Health/Food Policy. His teaching and research focuses on the roles that cities can play in making food systems healthier, more just, and ecologically sustainable. He has been involved in food policy development in New York City, and co-authored a study (Five Borough Farm: seeding the future of urban agriculture in New York City) to support and strengthen New York City’s urban agriculture system. He has a PhD in Urban Planning and Policy Development from Rutgers University, a Masters in City and Regional Planning from Berkeley, and a BA from Cornell.

Can urban greenhouses support social justice (or is it only benefitting the rich)?

Urban food has many social ambitions: involving/ activating vulnerable social groups, providing fresh food to people who otherwise cannot afford it, giving school children hands-on experience with growing food. On the other hand, in current circumstances producing food in the cities is costly and often involves high-tech solution that are not easily accessible. This results in the situation where urban food is sold as premium product for upper-end customers. Is it possible to combine social ambitions with economic feasibility? Can urban farming contribute to creating healthier foodscapes in the cities, also for vulnerable groups or is it just an utopian ideal? Perhaps the impact of the urban farms on the cities is just a contrary to its social ambitions. Do they contribute to the process of gentrification of the cities? Do they reinforce social exclusion instead of inclusive ideals?

Nona Yehia

Co-Founder/CEO @ Vertical Harvest, Principal @ GYDE Architects


Nona is uniquely positioned in the Vertical Farming sphere as she is at once a practicing Architect, the Co-Founder, Owner, and CEO of a cutting edge greenhouse, Vertical Harvest of Jackson Hole. This combination has cultivated expertise in both the design, implementation and operation of innovative systems and programs that position Vertical Harvest to be an impact model for communities around the globe.

Nona studied architecture at University of Michigan and Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.

Architecture beyond the artist impression: Between functional building and co-creation

With rising global urban populations, existing food infrastructure systems are rapidly becoming unsustainable. Some of those looking for alternative solutions note food’s potential to act as an organiser of urban systems and catalyst for change. Tapping into this potential, architects and designers have been using urban farming as a vehicle to speculate about “green” futures. However, sustainability is often side lined in photorealistic images where designs are ‘decorated’ with organic matter, designs that are unlikely to be viable. Architecture should and can go beyond that image, as it provides the built accommodation for both plants and people, and hence plays a crucial role in creating the important social, economic and ecological infrastructure for sustainable and healthy cities. During this session the opportunities and challenges in optimizing this role - in cooperation with other stakeholders and disciplines - is discussed and explored. What is the role of design in realizing sustainable food production and promote health in metropoles? Do architects need to play a leading role in developing sustainable urban farms that bring benefits for all?

Jan Willem van der Schans

Senior Researcher at Wageningen Economic Research


Jan Willem van der Schans is a specialist in short and ultra-short fresh food supply chains (urban and periurban agriculture), business model innovation, and focusses on the role of city region food systems in bringing about a more sustainable food system. Jan Willem is active in the board of several urban agriculture start-ups such as GROWx vertical farm in Amsterdam. He is co-founder of Edible Rotterdam, a citizen initiative promoting urban agriculture in and around Rotterdam, and co-founder of the Rotterdam Food Council, a network organisation to promote urban food policies for the Rotterdam city region. Jan Willem holds a PhD in Business Administration from Erasmus University Rotterdam and is member of the European Rural Networks Assembly, its steering group and its subgroup on innovation.

Is urban farming economically feasible or is it a recipe for a financial failure?

Can urban farm be economically sustainable by only producing food (see GrowX model)? If yes, what does it take to succeed? Is it about increasing scale of production? Full automatisation? Further cutting energy costs? Can all those savings compensate for high prices of the real estate in the cities? And if yes, does it make sense to integrate large scale food factories into city neighbourhoods? Or do they rather belong to the outskirts and industrial areas. If yes, what about the social ambitions of bringing food production back to the cities?

Perhaps subsidies and incomes from other services (e.g. workshops, giving tours, company events) are after all an essential elements of business model of a successful urban greenhouse? If yes, what payable services can an urban farm generate? Can it really have a meaningful social/ ecological impact? Does it positively impact prices of real estate in its proximity? Is it possible to calculate and charge for those services? If yes, how and who should pay?

Gert Spaargaren

Professor at the Environmental Policy Group - WUR


Gert Spaargaren (prof. dr. ir, 1954) is member of the Environmental Policy Group (ENP) at WUR. His main interests and publications are in the field of environmental sociology, sustainable consumption and behavior, practice theories and the globalization of environmental reform. He served as chair of the working group developing the WUR Green Challenge for Student Teams. In 2017, he was content coordinator of the MOOC ‘co-creating sustainable cities’. He published over a hundred articles and edited books. Recent book are Food in a Sustainable World; Transitions in the consumption, retail and production of food (edited with Peter Oosterveer and Anne Loeber, Routledge, 2012) and Practice Theory and Research (edited with Don Weenink and Machiel Lamers, Routledge, 2016).

Energy and Urban Food: Super-industrialization or the New Sustainable?

Urban greenhouses and vertical farming in particular use lots of energy for maintaining the proper indoor climate for ‘high-tech’ urban food production: temperature and light are among its’ most important energy needs. Without leapfrogging innovation, it will be difficult to realize a zero-carbon Urban Greenhouse that produces climate friendly food. Innovations in the energy-profile of the urban greenhouse are already underway: the highly controlled environment seems to allow for all kinds of smart heating and lighting systems. So far however, super-industrialization in urban food production seems to contradict the demand for zero carbon food.

The overall picture of the energy demand of urban food becomes more promising when we take into account its’ localness (less energy for logistics/transport; tropical food without flying, etc.) and its interaction with urban energy infrastructures. Embedded in smart grids for example, urban greenhouses can function as an important factor for making the energy system more sustainable. Locally generated green electricity can be used and/or stored in the urban greenhouse when there is a surplus of renewables, making it available for the neighbourhood when needed. By connecting to low carbon Urban Greenhouses, local citizens participate take part in developing ‘the new sustainable’ in energy and food.