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Creating Agroforestry Digitally

How a group of high school students created 3D agroforestry models in Minecraft

A group of students from the Calandlyceum in Amsterdam just finished an amazing project titled ‘Creating Agroforestry Digitally’. Without much prior knowledge on the topic, but with a great enthusiasm to learn more about it (and, not to forget, some experience playing Minecraft) Maxim, Robert, Arik, and Jasper managed to produce three inspirational and educational videos displaying agroforestry design in Brazil, Kenya, and Siberia. The goal of the assignment was to find out how feasible it was to use the software to create agroforestry designs, as well as finding an engaging way to connect to younger people about sustainability topics. Below you can read more about how they did it; and moreover, how you can do it yourself! – And to see some great videos of the designs!!

Front cover of the report “Creating Agroforestry Digitally” (Source: “Creating Agroforestry Digitally” by Arik Santee, Robert Mertens, Maxim Kanon and Jasper de Jong).

Several weeks, the team consisting of four long-time high school friends have been working to recreate agroforestry digitally in the Minecraft environment. Recreating agroforestry here was a good way to find out how feasible it was to use this software to create visually attractive and interactive agroforestry designs, as well as it being an engaging way to connect with younger people about regenerative farming topics.

Waas – “How did you guys get to this topic in the first place?”

Arik – “Our teacher, Gerard van Soelen, had a list with assignments. We found reNature through Jana Stolz from Thought for Food. We saw many possibilities in doing a project for reNature, and we really wanted to work for a good cause as well”

Waas – “So how did you like it to see there was an assignment out for a Minecraft project?”

Maxim – “We liked it of course; we have all played it before and were familiar with the game. One risk we saw though, was that it would be perceived as childish. That is what we wanted to prevent and this is why we wanted to add a research component to the assignment”.

In a previous conversation, Arik had mentioned that, though Minecraft is mostly popular amongst younger people, there are serious communities and serious usages for Minecraft as well: architects are building entire worlds using the software – it has moved far beyond children’s play.

The team presenting their models to reNature’s Massi and Waas  (Source: Robert Mertens).

Waas – “So what did you learn from this assignment?”

Maxim – “Well, for sure we learnt a lot about what regenerative agriculture and agroforestry are, how it works, and how those farms may look. Furthermore, we developed a lot of technical skills to develop the models, we really had to do some research to find out how to do that”.

The guys had to go through several steps to create the agroforestry models in Minecraft. Basemaps representing the real world were created using a software called Blender, which allowed them to create digital terrain models, taking data from google earth and processing it there to shape it into the blocky Minecraft environment. They then created the trees needed for their agroforestry designs, using both available pre-made trees as well as making some of them custom made from scratch.

The team has written a guide on how to create these models yourself. The document also describes how to download the world containing the models. It can be viewed here: Creating Agroforestry Digitally.

Waas – “So, whilst learning something about the digital environment – coding, etc. – you also learnt something about nature? Do you think that this combination of ‘re-enacting’ nature in a digital environment holds good educational aspects?

Maxim – “A big part of the functionalities in Blender you could get acquainted with through the building of these trees for instance. By working on how to create these trees in Blender, we were also learning how to make these trees look as realistically as possible. You learn about both by doing this”.

Waas – “This makes me think… Do you now also have the idea: I want to go outside more often now? Of course, you are still sitting behind your computer using your imagination to work on something that is supposedly happening outside.”

Maxim – “Well, visiting such a farm would be a cool thing to do!”

Arik – “The way we worked now focused a lot on foreign countries. If we would have worked on a project in the Netherlands, it might have been a bit less abstract.”

Jasper – “Yes, then we actually could have gone there and had a look”.

Arik & Jasper – “But we wanted to focus on those countries. This is because from an academic, aesthetic, and socio-environmental perspective it seemed most relevant to us. That seemed most interesting to communicate”.

Indeed, the guys actually made a decision-making matrix before starting to create the models in order to decide on which areas to focus. With different criteria (“Extremity”, “Visual Appearance”, and “Relevance”) and different weights, they came to the three “locations” of Brazil, Kenya, and Russia.

The decision-making matrix that the students used for deciding for which locations to make their models (Source: Creating Agroforestry Digitally by Arik Santee, Robert Mertens, Maxim Kanon and Jasper de Jong).

Waas – “So you’re saying that the first contact with agroforestry is very important? The first time you come across it you have to make it attractive so that people get inspired.”

Arik – ”It’s a new technique to make the world a better place. Then it is also important that this inspiring way of working also comes across well to people new to the subject. If we would have selected less interesting locations to build our models for, that might not have been inspiring to people who are not familiar with agroforestry yet.”

Waas – “And you did a great job at making it inspirational! I think it’s very special how you have managed to do that and feel that it is largely due to how well you have worked as a team.”

Arik – “Well, we’ve been friends for five years you know!”

Maxim – “We have that bond of friendship to begin with. But then also, each member of the group is not afraid to tell each other when we think someone can do a better job. If you are quick to point out where things can improve, you’ll actually advance much faster than if you’re too nice to each other and tell each other that “you’re doing a great job!” all the time; we can all deal with this type of feedback from each other because we are good friends.”

The team presenting their ‘Template Island’ which holds the trees used in the three agroforestry models (Source: Robert Mertens).

Waas – “Well, when I was in high school, I also had good friends, but we weren’t really so occupied with what was happening at school!”

Arik – “That also very much depends on the way in which we are being taught. That has helped a lot with strengthening the group, especially making it more professional. We also learn to take on a proactive mindset on how to approach things. I think it really depends on how we were educated.”

Waas – “Right, because you guys clearly show a lot of intrinsic motivation towards this topic, as well as showing a strong entrepreneurial spirit.”

Arik – “And we had fun doing it! For example, Jasper got the chance to have Minecraft declared by school because he didn’t have the game yet. The first three years at school we were assigned projects that everyone hated. But as soon as you get the chance to choose your own projects, you get the chance to specialize in where your own interests lie. I think that helped a lot too. We got the chance to translate our fun in this project into a good product.”

“…Jasper got the chance to have Minecraft declared by school because he didn’t have the game yet.”


Waas – “Outside of this project, do you have any ideas about what you want to do after high school?”

Arik – “I would like to go into biology and paleontology. It is likely I will come into contact with this sector [i.e. regenerative agriculture] for that. I would like to specialize in understanding the past, but whilst keeping an eye on what that means for the future; since that’s where these kinds of techniques come into play.”

Maxim – “I want to study medicine – if I get in. Beyond that, I don’t know yet. Maybe I’ll keep focusing on some of the things we’ve done in this project, and find out if there’s a possibility that I can continue on that too.

Robert – “I want to study computer science. It is somewhat the opposite of what Arik and Maxim want to do, but in fact, it has also been an important part of this project.”

Jasper – “And I want to study business”.

Arik – “So we actually had all important components for this project covered in our team!”

Jasper -”It helped a lot that in our team we had different interests, then you can really complement each other”.

The guys are now moving on with their high school curriculum, but are still willing to be connected to the potential next steps for this project. They hope that there’s enthusiastic people that will pick up their ideas and take them to the next level. Perhaps at some point a whole community could start around “Creating Agroforestry Digitally”.

Arik – “If you have an audience that is already interested in agroforestry, and you put out a ‘call to action’ regarding this project – showing people that it is possible replicate what we’ve done – and let people do something like this on their own initiative, then there is a lot of passion in that. If you engage with the public in this way, you are building a stronger community.

Waas – “Do you think this is an interesting way for young people to come into contact with these topics?”

Jasper – “It’s very accessible because almost everyone has minecraft”.

Arik – “And even if they don’t have it, they will surely know of it”.

Jasper – “It is the bridge between leisure and learning”

Reflection on the project

reNature is absolutely amazed by the professionality and enthusiasm with which the team has executed and delivered this project. Creating agroforestry digitally in Minecraft shows that connecting people to nature can sometimes happen in unexpected ways. We dearly hope that after completion of the project the team is inspired and wants to continue learning more about nature – and to be more in nature as well. After all, it seems the best way to study nature is still to submerge oneself fully into it (that is a hint – get away from that screen now!)

Note: the opinions and viewpoints of the students as they are presented in this article and in the videos do not necessarily represent the opinions and viewpoints of reNature. The students have worked on this assignment independently and have shaped their own understanding of the topic of agroforestry through literature and other materials available online.

Do you own Minecraft? You can visit the 3 agroforestry worlds. All the downloads are available from here with instructions available here.

Brazil / Banana + Coffee
Kenya / Timber + Livestock
Russia / Timber + Wheat + Potato