In talking about a new system of sustainable agriculture, people will ask, “So, you want to go back to the land?” Then there’s a silence as we each imagine working the endless fields by backhoe followed by an evening around the radio.
No, thank you, I don’t want to go back in time. Our current ways of producing our food, however, aren’t working. We need big, new visions of our shared future.
This week’s New York Times opinion piece by Dickson D. Despommier, “A Farm on Every Floor,” is one of the inspiring visions. Despommier sees tall buildings in urban centers, growing crops year-around through the use of hydroponic and aeroponic technologies. I don’t know much about these methods, and there’s usually a list of “cons” alongside any “pros”, but there is a lot of potential in this approach. Both of the technologies “behave like a functional ecosystem,” where the crops’ clean waste water and nutrients are continuously recycled. As of today, after we irrigate our fields, the run-off water is filled with pesticides and becomes a pollutant. According to Despommier, “irrigation now claims some 70% of the fresh water that we use.” Imagine the relief that vertical farming could bring to areas of conflicting water rights — the American Southwest and Israel and her neighbors come to mind.
Lastly, it’s wild how a cultural groundswell works. It becomes easier and easier to connect the dots. Before reading this article, I heard someone at a dinner party this week suggest that we do vertical farming in abandoned buildings in areas of urban blight. Perhaps he had read the article, but I don’t think he had. (Around here, we’re always eager to say the words, “I just read in the Times…” and he made no mention of it.) I believe many people are starting to look around and dream up our days ahead.
For more on vertical farming, please see: The Contagious Imagination of Vertical Farming and Other Answers.