Urban Health Farms is thrilled to introduce our new Managing Director, Leen Zevenbergen. Leen is a seasoned international leader with over 25 years of experience founding and building more than 20 companies with a focus on sustainability and technology. As a recent TEDx speaker and the author of five bestselling books on the topic, including a new release, Once Upon a Future, Leen is a recognized expert in sustainable development, corporate social responsibility, and the founder of B Lab Europe, where he facilitated the certification of over 800 European companies as B Corp. See more about Leen’s impressive background here.
How did you first become convinced that indoor vertical farming was an integral part of the future of sustainable food?
I believe people everywhere have a desire to be healthy. Yet obesity and undernourishment are both global health problems, and there is still inequality in food production and access. At the same time we emit tons of greenhouse gasses every year transporting seasonal produce from tropical countries, just so we can have our fresh fruit in the winter. We’re used to being able to eat everything regardless of the season. Indoor vertical farming allows us to continue those trends that are so important to consumers, while also helping to solve a number of sustainable problems in the world today.
You’ve held a lot of different titles and responsibilities in your distinguished career – bestselling author, Founder and Chairman, CEO, and farmer to name a few. Do you identify yourself with one of those over the others?
My work has always reflected my outlook on life, which is a full, holistic viewpoint. Others might have a specialty in the details, whereas mine is the big picture. In that way, all the hats I have worn as a professional work together to fuel my biggest passions. Some have called me a serial sustainable entrepreneur, but I have more to me than that. I like to build things out of nothing, and every title I have held can go back to that idea. Often, there’s nothing more than a dream or a spark of an idea. But when I put in the work, build the foundation by building my team and specialities, that’s when it is time to expand and build. My identity lies in what others can barely see or only dream about. It is at that stage that I can see the end product, and then I build those dreams into reality.
We feel strongly you are the right person to join Urban Health Farms at this particular moment. What drew you to feel the same?
All the companies I have founded or been involved with during my career have had sustainability and technology at their core. Indoor vertical farming is a perfect example of how those separate cores become one. While the sustainable food industry might be new, the building blocks of the business are the same. For example, the production of the produce from vertical farms is incredibly technical. But in the end, the produce is something consumers are familiar with. I enjoy the challenge of highlighting the sustainability of the technology. While a consumer might not marvel over the ‘sustainability’ of the food they are eating, they will undoubtedly be impressed by the lack of pesticides and chemicals, and that it is fresh, local and affordable. It is that side of Urban Health Farms that excites me, and I see the huge growth potential in that story.
How do you see yourself fitting into the growing Urban Health Farms community and team?
Bernard Sleijster, the Founder of Urban Health Farms, and I have known each other for years, and while our passions overlap, our strengths complement each other. I see Urban Health Farms at the perfect point for our strengths to work together and take the company to the next level. One of the things I see as the most important and potentially underrated part of a successful company is to have a team of people around you that you can trust, that are professionally competent and that have fun in their work. With that working environment, you have a winning formula, and that is what we are doing right now at Urban Health Farms. I feel very passionate about the idea of building a company that is more than just about serving the shareholders and investors – although it is about that as well. But with Urban Health Farms, I get to help mold it into something even more, a company that also serves its local community, the environment, the employees and that comes out with a product that is a key part of delivering health and wellness to a growing global population, without sacrificing anything along the way.