“On good days, she flies. Then she can take on the whole world. That’s incredibly beautiful to see,” says Thomas Van Lierde (41), who has been Sabien’s (31) boyfriend for almost six years. Thomas was closely involved with Roof Food from the start, although he consciously took a step aside last year. “I interfered too much. These days, I mainly help Sabien by cooking, listening and putting everything into perspective.”
“…on the most beautiful boat in the Handelsdok,” Sabien laughs as she explains where she lives. Together with Thomas, she started a fantastic houseboat adventure five years ago. “We met each other at a cafe on New Year’s Eve, 2014, and it was instant love. During our first summer together, Thomas proposed that we sail to Wallonia on ‘Beppie’, a small old boat, similar to a floating caravan. I thought it would be boring, sailing for three weeks at eight kilometres per hour, but it turned out to be one big adventure. Throughout that trip, we fantasised about living on a houseboat. Two months later, this beauty was ours.”
“Living on a houseboat has made our relationship grow strong.”
“When I met Sabien,” says Thomas, “I mainly worked in Paris. While I was there, I sold vintage furniture for catering establishments. I had a very busy life with a lot of commuting and adrenaline-rushing. I had never lived with a woman, nor had I ever left Antwerp, the place where my heart belonged.
However, starting this water adventure together with Sabien felt good. Once I’m on the water, I can leave everything behind me. Whether you’re in Paris, Amsterdam or Ghent, the water is an oasis of tranquillity amidst the city bustle. That’s done our relationship a power of good.”
Sabien agrees: “Our joint mission was to make a success of this houseboat project. In the first year, we roamed around like nomads. Every two months, we moved on to another place. That was quite intense. We had no domicile, nor connections to either water or electricity. We often had to turn to other houseboat dwellers for help and advice.
All that made our relationship very strong. When we managed to get a permanent berth here at the Handelsdok, we created a new world for ourselves, gaining many friends. Living here makes perfect sense for us. This boat is our home and where we can completely unwind. If we ever exchange the boat, it will be for a farm or a large piece of land with a small cabin in a forest. We sometimes fantasise about that.”
Almost at the same time as the houseboat adventure, Sabien also started her personal adventure with the founding of Roof Food. Thomas has been closely involved with the roof vegetable garden from the beginning. “The start of Roof Food really was rock ‘n’ roll. Everything was new: building a roof garden for the first time, moving from one roof to another, installing a kitchen and participating in trade fairs. I was mainly concerned with the logistics and the technical side.”
“Sabien and I are both entrepreneurs, but sometimes we each have a different vision. That’s why I consciously distance myself from Roof Food.”
In the last year, Thomas has indeed distanced himself from Roof Food. “I became too invested in the project. As an entrepreneur I have my own vision, but that doesn’t always correspond with Sabien’s vision. Sometimes I gave advice while Sabien didn’t need it as she just wanted me to listen without saying anything. That’s not easy when you’re emotionally close to something and that caused some friction in our relationship. That’s why it’s better that I’m less involved with Roof Food. We do reflect together all the time, but in the field, my share is smaller now. We don’t want to become a couple that doesn’t have anything else to talk about other than work.”
Two years ago, Thomas decided to put an end to his successful career as a dealer in vintage furniture. He sold his shop in Paris and has been a househusband ever since. “For a moment, I had a hard time with it. I thought, ‘Is this it? Am I just a househusband now? As it happens, I’m at peace. In Paris, I was a rock star; here I am a noble stranger…or ’The boyfriend of’.
Now, I’m enjoying standing in the shadows. I like to see Sabien on the stage, to see how she goes for her dreams, just like I did back then. On good days, she flies, and then she can take on the whole world. That’s incredibly beautiful to see. On lesser days, well, I have a hard time myself. I want to help her too much, even though I can’t always help her. I don’t give suggestions anymore, but I do listen and cook for her.”
“Thomas is a mirror to me and helps me to put everything into perspective.”
“In the period when things didn’t go so well with Roof Food and with me, Thomas helped me incredibly. I relied on Thomas a lot then. He always listened to me, comforted me and helped me. Thomas is a mirror to me: when I see how much time he has to enjoy life I remember that that’s what I want too. He helps me to put everything into perspective. Roof Food is just one dimension in my life.”
“I could never have done it if I had been in Sabien’s shoes, not at all. The resilience Sabien has is unbelievable. Every time she keeps getting slapped, she still keeps on going. I would have already made the wrong decisions or made irreparable fractures. Pioneering isn’t easy, yet Sabien knows how to do it.”
Thomas adds, “Sabien and I are very complementary. Sabien thinks in a completely different way to what I do; she’s more academic and more future-oriented. She wants to inspire people, and to improve the world. With my background as a small self-employed person, all I think about is making quick money (laughs). I’m more cunning than smart and Sabien is more smart than cunning (laughs). That’s the biggest difference between us.”
“The difference in our approaches is well-reflected in the way we play board games,” says Sabien. “When we play a new game, I will always win the first few rounds because I’m always thinking of new strategies. Thomas, on the other hand, just optimises his approach step-by-step until I can’t beat him anymore.”
Does that mean that Thomas is also more successful in real life? Thomas says “Financially, perhaps I am, yes. Making money requires a certain repetition and that interests me more than it does Sabien. Every year, Sabien comes up with a new idea for Roof Food, while every year I start from the same idea, improve it a bit just to get ahead of the competition. Sabien, on the other hand, just inspires the competition.”
“I’ve thought a few times: That’s it; I’m quitting”
Sabien says, “If we could do something together, we could achieve something fantastic. Thomas really has a nose for business. That’s his talent. In the period when things didn’t go so well with Roof Food, I thought a few times: ‘That’s it, I’m quitting! Let’s start something new together, yet in the end I still want to do my own thing. Moreover, as a couple, you also want to be in a love affair as well as doing business together, and that’s pretty tough. Saying that, what we have achieved together with our boat, for example: completely refurbished it ourselves, got a good berth and built a floating garden. I’m very proud of that, and so, as a team, we are really pleased with ourselves.”
The idea of doing business together is never far away. At the moment, Thomas is in the running for being the concession holder of a new marina a little further down the road. “I haven’t quite decided yet. I am very happy with how my life is at the moment. Do I want to change that? Anyway, I only want to take that on if I can put my own mark on the marina. One condition I have, for example, is that I must be allowed to create a large floating garden there. We have just built a prototype next to our boat, which makes it unique in Belgium. I secretly hope that Sabien will participate in my plans after all, even if it’s just a clearly defined task or maybe as a minority shareholder.”
Sabien agrees, “It’s an option, right? Anyway, I’ll be involved somehow. We often have brainstorming sessions about it together. However, at the moment, there are so many opportunities for Roof Food to grow further and I want to concentrate on that. Just as Thomas supports me with Roof Food – from a distance and from his vision – so I want to support him with his marina project. If we can both shine in this way, that’s perfect for me.”
This story was created with the support of Circular Flanders, the Flemish policy-making organisation for a circular economy.string(3) "yes" NULL
Sabien Windels, a rooftop farmer, feels reborn five years after the start of Roof Food. “My mission is clear, which is to inspire and convince people about sustainable food, buying locally and the value of being close to nature.” The Corona pandemic helped Sabien to regain her focus and her new project became a roof vegetable garden shop.
Sabien Windels (of Roof Food) finds a second wind.
“After five years, I’m back on track with a new concept”
Sabien Windels (31) has been pioneering the first roof vegetable garden in Belgium for five years, with the creation of Roof Food. Using various creative concepts, she promotes urban agriculture, value-driven entrepreneurship and vegetable gardening from the roof of the De Punt business centre in Ghent. Urban agriculture, value-driven entrepreneurship and vegetable gardening were not an obvious course for a career change and, after many setbacks, successes and a corona crisis later, she is now back on track with a brand new vegetable garden shop.
“I feel like I’ve been reborn today,” says Sabien. “I feel the same as I did five years ago at the start of Roof Food. I’m energetic, enthusiastic, full of self-confidence again, and am convinced that our new concept, the vegetable garden store, will be successful. It is clear that Sabien, the founder and manager of Roof Food, is looking forward to it. However, the past few years have not all been sunshine and roses. On the contrary, she describes it as “a fantastic adventure and an agonising experience at the same time.”
“The past few years have been both a fantastic adventure and agony at the same time.”
“I could hide it well, but for the past five years, I’ve often felt bad. The struggle to combine my passion for urban agriculture with a profitable organisation has caused a lot of stress. I could feel it both mentally and physically. That really wasn’t okay because that’s exactly what I didn’t want to achieve with Roof Food. I want to connect people back to nature and so back to themselves.”
Although she was studying commercial engineering at UGent, Sabien was already interested in ecology and sustainability. After that, she could only partly express this interest in a research project at KaHo Sint-Lieven on sustainable cities. “I discovered myself during those two years. It felt good to be surrounded by people with the same values, who asked themselves the same questions that I had asked myself. We thought about the city of the future, about renewable energy, carbon dioxide reduction and climate plans for cities.”
Sabien became fascinated by ecological, sustainable food, the short chain principle and the local economy, and is becoming increasingly more absorbed by it all. “The idea of roof vegetable gardens first came to me during a meeting of the Ghent Think Tank on urban agriculture about the difficulties facing farmers in finding available land. I felt that a trend was on the way as I saw how people had become alienated from food and nature and that there was a need to return. People needed to be closer to nature again.”
In the meantime, Sabien has become a fanatic at vegetable gardening in her spare time. She devours vegetable gardening bibles, takes workshops and concentrates on composting. Together with her father, who is also an engineer, she is building a greenhouse and plans to do aquaponics. This is an approach within urban agriculture that works without soil and only uses very light substrates or nets. “I can still see us driving on the Brussels Ring road, with our trailer loaded with five-metre-long tubes for our pilot installation.” Sabien laughs, “We were two geeks together.
That was great, although the longer I was working on it, the more I realised that that wasn’t what I believed in. That wasn’t the message I wanted to convey. I wanted to bring people back in touch with nature and the seasons. I wanted to show them how good nature is and how inspiring it can be if we leave it untouched. For me, such a controlled system of aqua- and hydroponics was at odds with that.”
After that realisation, the step to roof vegetable gardening was quickly made. Sabien delves into all aspects of green roofs and is inspired by urban designers who advocate sustainable cities and has realised that she wants to become a roof farmer. “At one point, it was so clear to me that I could no longer ignore that feeling.” Sabien wants to get it right. She wants to distance herself from similar existing hippie initiatives and sees it as more of a commercial enterprise. She is not interested in the believers; it is the sceptics she wants to convince that roof gardening is a new form of a sustainable economy.
In January 2014, when Sabien was only 24 years old, she started her business plan. To set herself a deadline, she participated in Bizidee, a competition for starting entrepreneurs. Her dream quickly turned into a concrete idea.
“Trends such as the greening of cities, the revival of old crafts and the short chain principle, I joined them together into something concrete.”
“The concept of a roof vegetable garden is not earth-shattering; the time was just ripe for it. I saw the greening of cities, the revival of old crafts and the short chain principle. I merged all those trends and turned them into something concrete. I see it as a big puzzle whose pieces I’ve put together.”
She spoke with architects and stability engineers from the city of Ghent, and started looking for a suitable roof in Ghent. This brought her to the De Punt business centre in Gentbrugge, which had plans to start up a new building project. “From the first contact with Dany Neudt, the director at the time, I knew that I had found the right location. It clicked right away between us and there was an immediate mutual trust. I still can’t think of a better place for a roof vegetable garden than here.”
Ten months after the launch of her idea in October 2014, the CVBA Roof Food was officially established. The roof of De Punt was delivered two years later. “Of course I didn’t want to wait that long. The idea was born, and I had come up with the name “Roof Food”, launched the website, and I had already made a lot of buzz with my participation in Bizidee. I wanted to get to work.”
“Even before Deliveroo and co, we delivered vegetarian lunches from our roof vegetable garden; we called it “the roof dish”.
Sabien placed the advertisement, ‘Roof Food seeks roof’ in the newspaper and immediately received a positive response from Gaston, a restaurant on the roof of an old textile factory. The first Roof Food roof vegetable garden with an area of fifty square metres became a fact in 2015. Thanks to a subsidy from the Agency for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (VLAIO), Sabien was able to experiment and find the most suitable substrate for different groups of plants. It also meant the start of Roof Food’s first creative concept: the roof dish.
“The idea was to offer the companies in the neighbourhood a sustainable lunch consisting of three vegetarian preparations served in preserving jars. The lunches would then be delivered by cargo bike. That was long before there was anything around like Deliveroo,” smiles Sabien. A cook was needed to bring those roof dishes to reality. Sabien wrote out a job advertisement for a cook/company manager and from then on Roof Food, with Nine on board, had two employees.
The move to the roof of De Punt followed at the beginning of 2016. “That’s when we went deep into the red in terms of workload. We had to arrange the move, create a roof garden of five hundred square metres, design the kitchen and have it fitted out. That was actually a bit too intense, but we had no other choice.”
Sabien and Nine didn’t get a lot of time to recover because unexpectedly they received many more catering requests from governments and companies. “Of course, that was something different from those roof dishes. Catering that is going on location, serving drinks, going around with snacks. In fact, it was pure catering.” In order to meet this growing demand, Roof Food hired a second chef, Aram.
At first, the roof dishes and the catering ran together simultaneously, but it soon became clear that the roof dishes were not profitable. “That was too good a product for too little money,” Sabien admitted. “Inventive vegetarian cooking is labour-intensive anyway. Add to that the competition from Deliveroo and the majority of people who didn’t want to spend more than twelve euros for lunch, so that was that.”
“Commercially, catering was a much more interesting track. Aram was an excellent cook who took the quality of our offer to a higher level. In 2016, we also started with roof dinners. During the summer months, people could dine on our roof and taste our home-grown crops. We bought the products that we could not supply ourselves from local organic farmers.
The guests were also given a tour of the garden and were given an explanation about our vision and operation. It was more than just dining in the end, it was an experience in itself, including a gastronomic five-course menu at a democratic price in the middle of a vegetable garden in full bloom. Those were fantastic evenings!”
A difficult period began for Sabien, personally, and for Roof Food in general from 2017. There was a lot of tension between colleagues, and communication was difficult. “We didn’t argue,” explained Sabien. “We were just on a different wavelength. I had no experience at all with the hospitality industry and it soon turned out that I didn’t like it. I was very focused on Roof Food’s mission to inspire and convince people of sustainable food, to buy locally and to be close to nature. Aram and Nine, on the other hand, wanted to focus mostly on catering and expanding the hospitality side.”
“Meditation helps me to perceive things more objectively”
Three tough years followed for Sabien with a lot of self-doubt and two burn-outs. “In 2018, I crashed twice and was out for six months while my colleagues kept things running. I just wasn’t able to work anymore.” During this period, Sabien met a coach who specialised in intuitive entrepreneurship and who offered to guide her. She took up his offer and one year later she also became acquainted with transcendental meditation, a technique in which you reach a deeper state of consciousness and can think holistically. “That has changed a lot for me!
Thanks to that meditation – which, by the way, I still do twice a day today – I was able to see things as an objective observer. I became softer and I understood Aram’s and Nine’s points of view more. It wasn’t my ego talking anymore and that was quite a relief. Afterwards, I embraced the whole catering business and worked very hard for the roof dinners and catering to show my team that they could count on me. I enjoyed it and they appreciated it.”
In the autumn of 2019, Sabien met Happonomy, the organisation that wants to improve people’s quality of life and offers solutions to tap into human resources, money and technology to make progress. “Together with Happonomy, we took a close look at Roof Food as an organisation. The timing could not have been better because, in that period, we suffered one setback after another; Nine suffered from burnout, the roof was leaking and we were in a difficult situation. At that moment, I couldn’t see a way out.
Luckily, the people from Happonmy had a very clear view and they helped us step by step. Without them, the damage to Roof Food would definitely have been bigger. After the financial analysis, I finally decided to stop the catering. It wasn’t profitable enough and it wasn’t my passion anyway. What’s more, at the time I was already playing with the idea of starting consultancy in roof vegetable gardens. I regained confidence that there were other revenue models and I started to realise more and more that I no longer wanted to work with so many permanent staff.”
When the corona crisis broke out, I stated, “It’s my birthday on March 13th, lockdown day. In spite of the terrible crisis happening around the world, I felt that, for me personally, it was the most beautiful gift ever.
Suddenly, the whole world was on a break. My phone stopped ringing, appointments and catering assignments were cancelled, I received financial support, but most of all, I suddenly got a lot of space and time to think about the future. That was just what I needed after the difficult decision to stop the catering.”
“The fact that the world was on a break because of the lockdown was exactly what I needed. Suddenly I got space and time to think about the future”
Sabien didn’t have to think that long about it. Corona led her naturally to a new, temporary concept: a vegetable garden shop on the roof. “It is a logical step in these uncertain times in which people tend to retreat. More than ever, people are opting for safety, they want to buy locally and be self-sufficient, and vegetable gardening fits in perfectly with that.”
Together with Jonathan, the roof farmer who has been working for Roof Food for a year, Sabien is going to run the roof shop. “I like being able to do this together with Jonathan. We share the same vision and strengthen each other a lot. Jonathan is a real craftsman. He grows plants slowly with a lot of love and patience. We will sell them in the first phase.”
“Today, I feel like I’m reborn, and am ready to give 100% to the vegetable garden shop.”
“As I just said, today I feel like I’ve been reborn. I’ve been able to finalise everything well with Aram and Nine, it looks like I’ve found a buyer for the kitchen and I’m ready to give 100 percent to the vegetable garden shop. Although it’s a new start, it’s one with a lot of knowledge and experience going into it. The brand is there, the customers are there and I’m sure this is going to catch on.”string(3) "yes" NULL
Leadership can be very rewarding for those that inspire to help others. It can, however, result in negative behaviour if those in a position of authority, struggle to manage their influence and advantage over others. If this is not managed correctly, corrupt conduct can easily lead to the forefront of operations, ending in destructive consequences for all involved.
Using Power For The Greater Good Or Personal Gain?
Being aware of both the advantages and disadvantages of being in a leadership position can help to avoid adverse control. It is simple to see how holding such status can be used to positive advantage, particularly in the world of business and change. A leader can easily use their status to influence change and benefit others, but they can also use it for personal gain. This can result in fraudulence, nepotism, or other criminal actions. Some individuals may get caught up in a web of immoral or deviant practice, ultimately resulting in criminal activity. Issues can start to arise when personalised power becomes the focal point in decision making and public relations.
It is important to recognise that not all cases of corrupt behaviour are intentional. Often, those involved can find themselves in a state of delusion, believing their behaviours are justified for the greater good. Others can have a different approach and behave in an unethical manner, with the belief that their power is exempt from consequence.
Being in a position of control and influence can lead to egotistical thinking. Those that develop this mindset may lose key ethical traits that are a fundamental part of using influence to help others. This means that compassion and the perspectives of others may become disregarded. Corrupt conduct can tarnish the reputation of a business or organisation and cause irreparable damage. In addition to this, such behaviour can go against business objectives and cause damage in other areas. For an organisation set up to help disadvantaged members of society, such damage can have an effect on those relying on their services.
Solutions To Avoid Or Eradicate Corruption
Compassion is at the core of the solution to avoid or extinguish corruption. Without it, leaders can quickly lose touch with reality and end up living in an unrealistic and egocentric world. Compassion must come from the top down. This means that leaders must instil compassionate and ethical values into those that rely on their leadership. Striving to have a more personal connection with those that they lead can help to identify a range of perspectives. This is essential when leading a business or organisation that wishes to bring about positive societal change.
Dealing with corruption can be a difficult process. It is often simpler to avoid an encompassing approach and break down the issue as a whole into more manageable areas. This means that over time, the overall issue will cease to exist, resulting in an ethical and compassionate organisation, managed by leaders to be proud of.
Are you an entrepreneur or a business leader who wants to be a force for good? Reach out to explore whether our solutions can help you to move the needle.string(3) "yes" NULL
The stereotypical image of a teenager collapsing into bed in the early hours of the morning, followed by dragging himself downstairs for breakfast at noon, is a common sight in the media and meant to be funny, but it downplays the frightening reality of teen sleep deprivation.
The lack of sleep is so prevalent and so serious among today’s teens that a 2014 report from the American Academy of Paediatrics called it a “health epidemic.” Teenagers around the world are getting less sleep than ever, and it is beginning to affect school performance, behaviour, mood and personal health. As these problems continue to mount, the need for a solution to sleep deprivation in teens is becoming more urgent.
Dwindling Sleep Time
A series of surveys conducted between 1991 and 2012 showed that teens were leaving home each day without enough sleep and getting even less of it as time went on. Over the course of the decade, survey results showed a six percent drop in teen respondents saying they got “enough” sleep every night. Over half of teens aged from 15 to 19 reported sleeping for seven hours or less on most nights.
Bigger demands and higher pressure are partly to blame for the sleep deficit. Most of today’s teens are trying to juggle school, extra academic activities, sports and part-time jobs while still hoping to fit in time with friends. With all these activities on their calendars, it’s almost impossible to maintain a regular sleep schedule. However, regular sleep is exactly what teens need to stay healthy and focused.
The Science of Teen Sleep
Research shows that teens need just as much sleep as younger children, if not more. The recommended amount of sleep during teen years is nine to ten hours per night, a number rarely reached except on weekends when many teens sleep in to “catch up” on the sleep they have lost during the week.
Teens only appear to need less sleep because, during puberty, something shifts in their bodies and pushes their natural “bedtime” later into the night. Although this mechanism isn’t fully understood, it appears to have something to do with the release of melatonin, a hormone responsible for controlling sleep cycles. Melatonin naturally rises in the evening, but this rise may not trigger tiredness in teens until as late as 11 o’clock.
To get the proper amount of sleep to compensate for later melatonin release, teens would have to sleep until eight or nine in the morning. However, many are forced to get up much earlier in order to make it to school on time.
Sleep and Suffering School Performance
Take the U.S. as an example. Around 43 percent of public high schools start classes before eight, meaning that teens must sacrifice beneficial morning sleep most days of the week. A poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation showed that over 25 percent of teenagers tend to fall asleep in class, and 87 percent of high school students fall short of the recommended nightly amount of sleep. A lack of sleep makes it more difficult to concentrate, leading to poor school performance, lower grades and difficulties in learning and retaining new information.
Some schools are beginning to realise the gravity of teen sleep deprivation. In the late 1990s, the high school in Edina, Minnesota, shifted its start time to a little over an hour later in the morning. The University of Michigan researched the effects and found teens reported feeling better, less sleepy and more driven, and both failure rates and absenteeism dropped. As other schools followed suit, further studies showed similar results even with start times pushed down by as little as half an hour.
Dangerous Deprivation: Sleep and Teens in Society
The same National Sleep Foundation poll also showed the problems with early school start times points towards an even more serious trend of drowsy driving among teens. More than 50 percent of teens polled said that they had driven when feeling drowsy at some point during the last year, and 15 percent had driven in a sleep-deprived state within the last week.
A study done in North Carolina highlights how serious this situation can be. Fifty-five percent of accidents which were caused by drivers falling asleep behind the wheel happened to people under the age of 25. The more pronounced sleep deprivation in teens becomes, the more likely they are to have trouble staying awake while driving.
Running on a sleep deficit can also affect mood, as illustrated in a study showing a 58 percent increase in suicide attempts among teens for every hour of sleep lost per night. Sleep deprivation and sleep problems often go hand in hand with substance abuse, heavy drinking and impaired judgement, which might even prompt risky sexual behaviour.
When teens don’t have enough time to rest and recharge, they become more hyperactive, impulsive and disobedient. They’re more likely to suffer from depression and turn to alcohol or prescription drug abuse in an attempt to feel more stable.
Better Sleep Hygiene for a Brighter Future
Promoting better sleep for teens should start at home with smarter sleeping habits:
Parents need to step up to the plate and enforce bedtime rules as much as possible to help teens establish and maintain healthy schedules.
If schools, parents and health organisations work together to give teens the time they need to get a healthy amount of sleep, it’s possible to solve the problem of teen sleep deprivation across the globe.
Moving the start of the school day to later in the morning and unburdening kids from excessively heavy homework loads is just the beginning. Teens need to be offered the leeway to relax and be educated on how to develop healthy sleeping habits.
Better sleep can lead to healthier, happier, more productive teens and a safer society for everyone.
Want to find out in what way sleep impacts our quality of life? We got you covered! Find out more about sleep and surviving.string(3) "yes" NULL string(3) "yes"
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