Monday, October 31, 2011

Food for Thought

By Erik Illies

How about a little food for thought? During my initial research for thesis I've found out some very interesting facts/ statistics/ propaganda/ general lies/ persuasive insinuations/ and a few random worthwhile things to consider. The topic of my thesis is Vertical Farming and the benefits of urban agriculture. Hence the clever/ witty preface question (insert pat on the back for being funny). So, please indulge in some of my findings of the need for a big ole rash of "Vertifarms" to start popping up in our cities! Enjoy:

Currently over 800 million hectares is committed to soil based agriculture, about 38% of the total land mass of earth to feed 6.8+ billion people (Despommier, 2011). It is predicted that after the next fifty years our global population will increase to 8.6 billion people and will require an additional 109 million hectares to feed them (using current food production methods)(Despommier, 2011). This equates to a total land mass the size of Brazil, with necessary climate/ soil conditions suitable for food growth. This amount and type of available land simply does not existing anymore on Earth. Most sobering of all is that this is only one problem humanity will have to solve concerning food production in it's foreseeable future.

As the global population grows so does the amount of people living in cities and urban environments. Unless suddenly or even eventually humanity reverses this trend we are going to have to start getting creative about how we create food. Already our cities are very unsustainable from a food consumption point of view since they typically do not have the food producing land necessary to meet their consumption needs surrounding them (Nordahl, 2009, p. 16). But even if they did, an agregarian city model of agriculture surrounding the city begins to fail when the population continues to push cities further into undeveloped land and the agriculture further away from its center. Population growth and the current trend of urbanization will continue to increase city growth, so instead we might consider placing farms inside the city as opposed to out.

The disconnection our urban environments have with their food source hosts several problems, one of which being its environmental impact. As agriculture is pushed further away from those who consume it the food must travel further. Not only does this cost more since fossil fuel prices continue to rise, it also creates a strain on the environment from the emissions of transportation. Much less the pre-existing embodied cost of producing/ and harvesting the food to begin with. Michael Pollan contends that "smaller, localized agricultural efforts that do not rely on big, complex machinery, industrial agrichemicals, and vast systems of transport are needed in and around our cities" (Nordahl, 2009, p. 16). "
The problem of environmental impact caused by the current model of food production/ transportation is easily overlooked by the casual consumer in urban environments. Daniel Solomon argues that "the lack of everyday contact with fresh food in the modern city erodes our sense of place, and disconnects us from the natural environments" (Nordahl, 2009, p. 21). And that's just the issue of being aware of the problem, there are still the ridiculous statistics associated with transportation costs/ emissions. Who knew that something as basic as the food we eat could have such a widespread impact on the world we live it? Well, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture commented on this very topic exampling Americas heartland, and says that "the average produce item trucked to a terminal market in Chicago travels more than fifteen hundred miles" (Nordahl, 2009, p. 21). Statistics like these highlight the issue of transportation costs alone associated with the current food allocation system. They also hint to another issue of food quality due to the lag time that can be expected between harvest and point of sale.

Hhhhmmmmmm, how'd that taste? Would you go back for seconds? I know I would! There definitely seems to be a need steeped in reason for cities to pursue greener pastures in the deep blue sky. Furthermore, if we intend to colonize neighboring planets in the future we will certainly need to have developed and employed the technology of growing food on a large scale indoors. Regardless of urgent necessity, vertical farming would provide a valuable cultural resource no matter what. Who is going to argue that safer, healthier, local food is a bad thing? Not the guy two thumbs pointing at himself (this guy).

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