Sustainable agriculture usually implies organic methods of growing.  Many of us deride the use of technology – in the form of pesticides, for example – as one of the toxic practices currently used in farming.  But in the call to grow food more cleanly, some people hear the chant to abandon modern advancement all together.  Over the summer, Blake Hurst, an industrial farmer from Missouri criticized what he termed, “agri-intellectuals” for “demanding that farmers like me use 1930s technology to raise food.”

I don’t believe that is the demand at all.  We don’t want a return to the past; we are advocating for something new.  Today in New York, we’ll investigate the possibilities at a conference entitled, Agriculture 2.0.  Hosted by the investment group, New Seed Advisors, it is “the first conference for sustainable agriculture innovators and investors.”

The changing state of food production is an evolving conversation.  I look forward to reporting on the events of today.  Stay tuned.

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.

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