UCLA Student Researchers Complete First Comprehensive Look at Urban Agriculture in Los Angeles CountyAugust 16, 2013 | seedstock
While farming has long been the domain of rural landscapes, increasing interest in the local-food movement, healthy eating and sustainable cities has sparked the growth of farming in urban environments. The new report, “Cultivate L.A.: An Assessment of Urban Agriculture in L.A. County,” is intended to aid city planners as they learn how to accommodate these new land uses in the nation’s most populous county.
A multi-disciplinary team of researchers scattered around the country is gearing up to piece together the world’s first high-resolution map of global croplands, in a cross-institutional collaboration. The team’s goal is to answer the question, “Where is all of our food going to come from when global population reaches 9 billion people?” Researchers hope that having a detailed picture of what’s happening with croplands around the world will help to inform the net effect of regional demographic and geological changes. Piecing together that accurate of a map will likely take five years, $3.5 million (funded by NASA), computation of thousands of satellite images, and collaboration with crop experts all over the globe.
Beekeepers have been reporting entire hive losses since 2006, when the media dubbed the phenomenon Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Several studies have pointed to poor nutrition, pesticide, pests, and pathogens; however, no single smoking gun has emerged.
Have you ever wondered how some plants are able to endure the most extreme conditions from the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park to the high altitudes of Mt. Everest? It turns out that many of these plants likely owe their survival to symbiotic fungi that make themselves at home within the plants tissues. Microbiologist Russell (Rusty) Rodriguez and geneticist Regina Redman of Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies in Seattle, Washington are trying to foster similar relationships between fungus and plants in agriculture in hopes of improving drought and salinity tolerance, promoting temperature resistance, and boosting nutrient content.
The husband and wife team first discovered a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and a plant by chance while studying plants that grow in different soils in Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s. Rodriguez was collecting data for the U. S. Geological Survey where he worked as a principle investigator and microbiologist. Redman was conducting her own research while working as a research professor in the State University of Montana’s microbiology department.
According to Green Spirit Farms‘ Research and Development Manager Daniel Kluko, the future of farming is heading in one clear direction: vertical. “If we want to feed hungry people this is how we need to farm,” said Kluko.
Kluko believes that vertical farming offers a very important benefit in today’s world of scarce land and resources— the potential for unparalleled plant density. After all, how else can a farmer grow 27 heads of lettuce in one square foot of growing space?
Green Spirit Farms was started by Daniel’s father Milan Kluko under his engineering company Fountainhead Engineering LTD. The idea for the farm emerged while the company was evaluating indoor, urban farm models in North America for a non-profit client—a process which piqued Milan Kluko’s interest about the viability of a vertical farming operation.
Industrialized agriculture pollutes water, land, and soil; harms natural wildlife habitats; threatens natural resources, all while still leaving a billion people hungry around the world, charged a new policy brief by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-profit science advocacy organization with headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “American agriculture is at a crossroads: a point where we can either apply our scientific knowledge to create a vibrant and healthful food and farming system for the future, or double down on an outdated model of agriculture that is rapidly undermining our environment and our health,” the brief began.
While grassroots movements around the country have pushed back against industrialized agriculture for decades, the science has only recently caught up to the sentiment, said Doug Gurian-Sherman, plant pathologist and senior scientist for the Food and Environment Program at UCS.
Currently, the world’s food system is in a state of flux. Small growers across the globe attempt to impact their local communities by producing organic food that challenges traditional food production. The students of Stanford University’s FEED (Food Education Entrepreneurship Design) Collaborative intend to impact the food system in another way: human centered design.
Matthew Rothe of Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design explains the FEED Collaborative’s approach to fixing the global food system. “We believe that human centered design is a powerful process for uncovering the unmet needs of people and for unlocking the creative problem solving potential of its practitioners. Coupled with the domain knowledge of our collaborators and opportunities for social entrepreneurship, we believe human centered design is the most compelling opportunity we have for driving the level of innovation needed to transform our food system.”
What larger lesson have you gleaned from your work?
The lesson is what’s out there in nature - how does nature do it? What can we learn from that? How can we take those ideas and either manipulate them and use them in our farming systems to accomplish the same kind of things that we’ve done as we’ve short circuited [the process] with off-the-shelf chemicals? If we do it by using systems that nature has evolved, we bypass the danger zone of creating things that nature hasn’t learned how to deal with. And we’re using materials and ideas that already exist on the planet. There’s microbes that already exist and know how to metabolize the stuff. The planet knows how to deal with these things as part of the system.