Just a few blocks down Broadway is one of my favorite places in New York: The Union Square Greenmarket is one of more than 50 farmers markets in New York, and one of the most pleasant and public examples of the local food movement. But here’s the problem: we don’t need a local food movement …. we need some something bigger and bolder: we need a local food system .... In fact, we need a hyperlocal, revolutionary infrastructure designed from scratch to enable smarter cities to feed themselves. It time to transform from a movement into a big, new and literally green local industry. Fortunately, advances in technology, business and social entrepreneurship mean we can now imagine this completely new and more intelligent urban food system.
So what do we mean by a food system? What I mean – and I speak for myself not IBM -- is a network with an intentional design or purpose where all the parts connect and depend on each other. A hyperlocal food system would bring together the whole production chain: growing, processing and distributing food across a city and the larger metropolitan area around it. And more intelligent urban food system would also be more efficient, improve food safety and make healthier food more affordable and accessible. Let’s do for local food what iPods, iPhones and iTunes did for music and mobile apps. Let’s do for local agriculture what ATMs, credit cards and mobile services did for all kinds of transactions. But to start, we need to rethink how and where we can grow food, and who can do that growing.
One of the issues with the local food movement is that its more of a regional movement. With this hyperlocal system, some of it would operate right within the city through urban farming and advanced gardening and greenhouse methods. More will take place just outside the city center to meet the demands if the wider metropolitan area.
Growing techniques will also be different. Some will use indoor environments and hydroponics (that is no use of soil) new kinds of lighting. They will also employ new contol systems to precisely monitoring water, temperature, humidity and plant nutrition. These approaches can produce year round, use less water and not require pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. This image is from PlantLab, a research company in the Netherlands. PlantLabs process uses red and blue LED lights to speed growth and increase crop yields.
So who us going to work in the new food system for smarter cities? Given the deep jobs whole we are in, the right design should engage as many people as possible. The large young, educated millenials are a natural fit. They have the intellectual, physical and moral muscle to change the world around them. They could form a new generation of growers, people who would never think of themselves as farmers, but who would be the human engine of this new industry. The new hyperlocal food system could also create many jobs in other parts of the supply chain, including distribution, processing, wholesale and marketing.
The heart of this new system would be a new kind of franchise or startup that I call the coFarm. It probably won't look like a traditional farm, but it would be co-Farm in the sense of being co-owned and operated by a team of perhaps 5-10 smart, young social entrepreneurs. It might become something like a distinctly American, for-profit version of the Kibbutz, the communal farms that helped build Israel. .
It would be &quot;co“ in a couple of dimensions. First and foremost the individual operation coFarm be a commercially viable and self-sustaining small company, not a hobby. Second, a coFarm would also need to highly cooperative with others like it and plug into a shared infrastructure for supplies, distribution and other support services. Third, the entire complex system would be co-created with the cities and citizens in which it will operate.
For the coFarm model to advance rapidly and achieve scale, people must be able to set one up easily. And the model should also be easy to replicate and continuously improve. To that end it should be an open innovation akin to the Linux open-source operating system. A public, shared good that no one owns, but that everyone can use and all can innovate on top of. This is just the broad outlines of what new food system for smarter cities might look like, but as I started looking into it, I discovered that right here in New York City, there are some incredible, innovative efforts along these lines already underway.
Smarter urban farming isn’t just possible, its already underway. Gotham Greens in Greenpoint, Brooklyn hopes to grow tons of food with a system powered by 2,000 square feet of solar panels and rainwater.
Several inspiring startups are literally growing right around us. Brightfarm Systems aims to operate hydroponic greenhouses on the roofs of supermarkets..
Big Box Farms model is to retrofit warehouses near major food distribution centers like Hunts Point to convert them into highly energy- and water-efficient grow centers.
The concept of vertical farming – integrating urban agriculture into high rise architecture and leveraging all that stacked floorspace – is also homegrown. Dickson Despommier at Columbia University is one of the thought leaders on this front.
Food+Tech Connect, founded by Danielle Gould and based in Brooklyn, is investigating how information technologies and innovations in the food system can come together. It features great topics such as Hacking the Food System, and I wanted to cite Danielle’s energy and effort for getting me thinking more deeply and critically on this topic.
BK Farmyards ,also Brooklyn-based, is a network connecting land-owners with urban farmers. Founder Stacy Murphy notes that there are 52,000 acres of backyards in New York City. By the way, the city itself controls 10,000 unused acres.
coFarmers will also be able to take advantage of new techniques such as SPIN farming. SPIN stands for Small Plot, Intensive agriculture. It can yield as much as $50,000 in an acre. This is just one of the ways that a hyperlocal food system could be sustainable both economically and ecologically
How food would be distributed and sold through a smarter new local system is an area ripe for innovation and new models. This Seattle based startup wants to create a kind of pop-up green grocers using old shipping containers that could be placed in an empty lot in so-called urban food deserts, neighborhoods without good access to fresh, healthier foods. I’m sure there will be many other ways turbocharge how we transform into a local food system. But let me end with this engaging example. Prepared food trucks are taking off everywhere. What if green vehicles could transport produce grown on coFarms throughout a smarter city and serve as both delivery and retail outlet.
The local food movement makes it clear that there is the will. And a new hyperlocal food system could be the way we deliver smarter food to smarter cities. If New York wants to live up to its aspirations to be one of the greenest cities in the world, now is the time for us to create the innovative food system we want and make the unsustainable aspects of the one we have obsolete. And like the song says, if we can make it work here in New York City, we can make it work anywhere. Thank you for listening.
Gotham Greens' $1.4 million, 12,000-square-foot hydroponic rooftop farm will produce 30 tons of fruits and vegetables every year using a water-based, soil-free method of farming. Source: Fast Company
http://www.verticalfarm.com "The Living Skyscraper: Farming the Urban Skyline" by Blake Kurasek