What would the permaculture approach to vertical farming look like?
Most permaculturalist agree that we must grow more food with in our cities, but does that mean inside the buildings of the city itself? Vertical farming has been making some big headlines lately and so I’ve decided to approach some of the latest ideas and innovations and examine them through the lens of permaculture principals. This idea has been around for a while (think terraces in Asia) and has some very strong merits. Bill Mollison remarked that “95 of the cost of food in a city like New York comes from it’s transportation, storage, and packaging.” Growing in a high density fashion has the potential to save ample land and resources if done correctly. But, as a permaculturalist I have some serious reservations about vertical farms. Most of the skyscraper type designs would grow food hydroponically This requires considerable energy and maintenance the trade off being a year long growing season; that is if your not dealing with constant “technical difficulties”. Dickson Despommier the leading proponent of the vertical farming idea had this say, “You can control nothing outdoors, and you can control everything indoors. That means no floods, wildfires, hailstorms, tornadoes, or droughts. Plant diseases and pests are more easily controlled, too, meaning less need for herbicides and pesticides.”
“And indoor agriculture is more efficient. One indoor acre of strawberries can produce as much as 30 outdoor acres can. In general, indoor acreage is four to six times more productive, in part because of the year-round growing season. Outdoors, you might get one crop [per year]; indoors, you might get four or five crops per year,”
Now, I might disagree about his use of the word “efficient” because it may not account for the imbued impute energy of a large hydroponic system not to mention large steel and concrete building. His emphasis on control is also a little unsettling too, simply because it was a disproportionate emphasis on control, instead of more flexible whole systems design based on relationships, that got us into the current food crisis mess in the first place. Now I wouldn’t throw out the idea of vertical farming entirely I just think there may be a better use of our energy and resources. Skyscrapers alone use ample amounts of energy in their construction let alone ones potentially holding complex hydroponics systems. Some of these designs incorporate aspects of passive and active solar, wind, housing, rainwater harvesting, methane digestion for energy, composting, aquaculture, and other generally cool features you would expect from the sustainably minded. But, here is what my friend Richard Register author of Ecocities: rebuilding cities in balance with nature had to say about it, “the notion of filling a building [with plants] and artificially supplying the light for the plants … from any kind of energy system is one of the weirdest ideas I’ve ever heard of. It’s not serious agriculture. It’s just not…. It’s an intellectual plaything.”
“A better answer is to develop, over time, more compact, energy-efficient cities along the European model, he says. That would free up land near urban areas for conventional agriculture with “100-percent-free solar energy” falling on it. Urban community gardens and high-intensity conventional commercial gardens could also supply part of the need.”
I echo Richards sentiments; it seems to me that before we consider growning food in farmscrapers in the future we should reclaim what is already available to us now. New York City alone has 1700 unused and vacant lots! If space is the issue well I’d rather get rid of some streets. Mo Town in Detroit is starting to turn into one large urban farm and should’t we encourage ideas from the bottom up, as in from the community, versus developers first. This doesn’t mean I think vertical farming is a absolute dead end. Like I said I still think that it is an idea with good merits but it needs to be more scalable and less impute intensive. If vertical farming becomes a euphemism for taking the industrialized petrol based monoculture outside and then reconfiguring that inside (which is what some designs looked like) then I say no way! Recently, one design called Sky Vegetables caught my eye. This design was developed by 22 year old Keith Agoada, a University of Wisconsin business student, and took home a 10000$ first place prize in a competition for creative start ups. Sky Vegetables is basically a big box remix with vegetables being grown on the grocery store roof (in greenhouses), complete with rainwater harvesting, solar panels, compost, oh and large unsightly asphalt parking lot too of course. I believe if you were to add affordable housing and office space to a idea like this, scale it down a bit, build most of the building with Glubam or with recycled wood, and of course take out the parking lot, well then I might sign on to vertical farming. Until then, when I hear the word vertical farming used I’m going to think of a forest garden.
Take care and fair share!
P.S. Check out my next post on this subject when I examine arcologies and the way in which they aproach vertical farming. Oh, and sorry about the typos I have to stop typing so late.
So what does punk rock and permaculture have in common?
First of all, both movements speak strongly about community and autonomy. Punk popularized the DIY ethic now becoming DIO (Do it ourselves) which means even more attention is being paid to community sufficiency. Self governance has been essential to punk since it’s inception. Punk activism has long placed emphasis on non hierarchal structure advocating for anarchistic (without rulers) governance, and systems based on consent, and full participation which are also essential to any permaculture operation.
Secondly, both movements have spoken up joyfully and loudly for the earth. Whether it vegan folk punk bands singing about treesits or earth activists creating temporary sustainable community at climate camps as training grounds. Permie punks are a organizing force to be reckoned with.
Finally, embracing diversity is key to both movements. As I always like to remember “unity through intergration, intergration through diversity”!
Permie punks unite!
Recently, my roomate just left Olympia for the Earth Activist Training permaculture course and so I though I would highlight what this inspiring course is about.
It’s time to get retro….
retrofit that is
Hey everyone I really wanted to share this great video about my good friend Jan Spencer’s suburban permaculture retrofit house in Eugene, OR. Jan is a extremely knowledgeable permaculturalist, a awesome mural painter, and all around upbeat and very friendly guy. We first met two years ago during his west coast permaculture bike tour and we had a great time together coming back with some friends from the Ecocity World Summit in San Francisco. He showed us around his place which was such a cool retrofit I thought I would share it with you here.
Grow your own food!
This is an inspiring little video from the folks at the Lama Foundation in New Mexico.
You can fix all the worlds problems in a garden…..
Part three of my ten part inspiring permaculture video series is Greening the Desest with Geoff Lawton from the Australian Permaculture Research Institute
clearly it’s true.
—Don’t let the cute smile fool ya
BE WARNED!— because
I know that if you’re like me then the very, very, last thing you want to read about in these times is anything with the taglines: fiance, corruption, negligence, scheming, losses, or economic gloom and collapse. No these things are not very fun or funny (okay sometimes they’re funny.) But, thinking about alternatives is essential. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of research on permaculture economics, finance, and theory. I’ve found lots of good work out there in the noosphere. Today though I was laughing a bit at the antics of Carlo Ponzi of the imfamous Ponzi Scheme fame the predecessor of the Madoff Scheme that the already broken banking and fiance industry is currently freaking out about. It is a wonderful aspect of life that criminals can teach you almost as much wisdom as saints, and if you know how to learn your lessons from their mistakes they might even teach you more.
It seems some people have a hard time learning lessoons. So what if the whole of global economy we’re to come unraveled in on ultra Ponzi Scheme? Unfortunately, as many of you know, it very well could; that is if people we’re to simply stop buying government backed bonds in the current precarity. Well, “precarious times call for precarious minds”, or as I like to call them the “carefully minded”.
. I just started tearing intoToolbox for Sustainable City Living by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew cofounders of the Rhizome Collective in Austin TX who are definitely of the carefully minded sort. Along with great knowledge and methods the awesome illustrations in this book are done by my good friend Juan Martinez, also from Austin TX, a member mutant bike collective, and the amazingly prolific Beehive Design Collective based in Maine.
Lets just say I love this BOOK!!! This is one of my most favorite Permaculture books to date!! Go get it because it’s only ten bucks online! We need more books like this and more folks doing applied urban permaculture work in the cities!
Permie Punx Unite!
The twenty first century is a century of global convergence. Never before has humanity had the power to spread ideas and modes of being as quickly as today, never before has there been a greater need to examine what has come before so that we might build today what is coming….
The horrendous problems and also staying power of exploitative capitalism are well known. Today we are faced with a social crisis, a credit crisis, a labor crisis, a housing crisis, a extreme food shortage, an environmental mega-crisis, and of course the energy crisis; the fact is that capitalism is a system designed to create and exploit crisis. This year 100 million people are likely to face possible starvation due to food shortages and hurtful policies. Instead of endlessly playing with in one economic game, occasionally bending the rules, sometimes even breaking them a bit, today we have the option of creating a wiser, more just, dynamic, and dare I say, more colorful game. A new economic system that fully incorporates the principals of living systems instead of ruthlessly denying them is on the verge of creation. This is the basis behind permaculture economics. It is imperative now that innovative alternatives aren’t seen as optional bandages for a wounded world, but are once and for all embraced as lasting solutions.
It is not enough to just value living systems if our everyday actions are contrary, destructive, and apart from the foundations on which those systems are built. One point of importance we must all collectively realize is that money generated by exploitative means is a entirely different form of money than money that is generated by just and sustainable means, and should in all ways be recognized as such. This point is not easily discerned especially since everything gets mixed up in circulation; just like with so many destructive products the biggest lie is one of omission. Triple bottom line accounting is one solution that has started to gain ground at taking into account these so called social and environmental “externalities”. But, how can we make an entire economy that recognizes these distinctions and can incorporate the proven principals of living systems, and who is already working to do so?
Perhaps one of the most exciting experiments in alternative economies is the local currency movement which guarantees more accountability with in a local economy because the people that use the currency have control over it. Unfortunately, this experiment is also in danger of always remaining as a experiment, albeit a successful one, do to the fact that it can never transcend the local scale. Whether we like it or not trade and commerce at the global level is here to stay simply because demand for global goods and services will not decrease until population does, and also because it is nearly impossible for any system no matter how sustainable to get all of the inputs from the local region including steel, lumber, plastics, and whatever other little necessary evils infiltrate our lives. Localism has a very prominent place with in sustainability but it can not be a panacea with which to fix all our current global woes. So what options are we left with?
Fortunately for us all it already is working. Currently, social micro lenders, green lenders, and permaculture credit unions, are providing the ground work for this incentive system by giving lower interest rates for socially and environmentally responsible projects. In essence, they are creating social and environmentally responsible capital. Community Land Trust are providing healthy living environments at affordable prices without the destructive and volatile swings of speculation. Others are doing important work by linking up green consumers and producers with online technology such as “green mapping”, green consumer rebate cards, and online barter systems, all of which are becoming increasingly popular.
Here is the most favorable scenario: first, green mappers using open source online technology target potential entities who would be interested in participating in this alternative currency. All participants will be measured by a social environmental index each year (many of these indexes already exist and have proven successful). Theoretically, at the top of this index would be entities such as green cooperatives, while as, non profits might be more in the middle since they may be green though not necessarily socially democratic, and at the bottom would be single proprietor green business or traditional businesses that are environmentally sound with employee stock ownership plans. Participants would be allowed to exchange their national currency or even local currency in for this alternative one, but would initially be prohibited from exchanging back (note, the value of this currency would be pegged to the average of all currency markets hence reducing volatility). Making this currency as digital as possible would cut down on prohibitive printing costs and increase its general liquidity. Having lower interest rates on loans made in this alternative currency based on an entities social environmental index rating provides a strong incentive for businesses to have the most progressive business structure possible. Once proven successful this incentive would then draw other entities into the alternative economy thus growing the transactions and trades of social environmentally friendly alternative goods and services. Seemingly ironic, this kind of economic activity will help substantially support multiple domestic economies with out the negative effects that we’ve seen from neo-liberal globalization thus far. It is possible to develop lending rules that would allow growth to primarily be horizontal in nature and create more diversity while at the same time minimizing monopolization and speculation. This type of horizontal and diverse growth with be more beneficial for all and create more stable economies. It is my conviction that the future as my generation will determine it will have a global economics system in which all social environmental cost will be accounted for.