Columbia University professor Dickson Despommier admits that when his book The Vertical Farm, Feeding the World in the 21st Century was released, he wasn’t entirely optimistic about the idea catching on immediately. After all, his proposition that cities and towns should develop local, indoor, entirely sustainable, multi-story farms is antithetical to the industrialized, globalized farm practices that became the norm in the last century.
To Exploit Market Opportunity and Advance Sustainable Agriculture, Startup Develops Innovative Robotic WeederApril 25, 2012 | Nicola Kerslake
Jorge Heraud, co-founder of Blue River Technology, a Stanford-derived startup that is leveraging concepts and technologies from the fields of robotics, machine learning, precision agriculture and more to advance sustainable agriculture, has deep roots in agriculture technology. Prior to starting the company, he spent 15 years at Trimble Navigation where at different points in his tenure there he headed up engineering for the company’s GPS Products and Precision Agriculture units.
It was while working at Trimble Navigation that Heraud started to evaluate what he wanted to do next. “I loved Trimble and could see myself spending another 15 years there, but then I thought, ‘am I really that guy who spends 30 years at the same company without ever having tried anything else?’”
Innovators Embrace Aquaponics to Strengthen Local Food Systems, Address Food Security Issues and MoreMarch 20, 2012 | Robert Puro
Imagine a sustainable closed loop farming system that is completely self-sufficient, economically viable, environmentally friendly and scalable to the point that it could help insure that the world’s future food needs are met. That is the realization that a bevy of sustainable agriculture entrepreneurs are working toward by experimenting with and embracing aquaponics.
Aquaponics combine hydroponics with aquaculture to create a more optimized and sustainable food production system by solving for problems that occur in the individual systems.
At first glance, Omega Garden’s product list might be a little confusing, with its Volksgarden® and Farmdominium™. But the Canadian-based hydroponics company isn’t selling bio-fuel vehicles or green housing complexes; rather, they’ve created a hydroponics system that may revolutionize not only urban agriculture, but agriculture in general. And 2012 is shaping up to be a big year for Omega Garden – so stay tuned.
The Volksgarden® is a rotary hydroponics system in which plants are installed in a circular unit, growing toward a light source at the center. It has approximately 20 square feet of growing area, and holds up to 80 plants. Its most successful crops include a variety of herbs, leafy lettuces, chards, peppers, strawberries, eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers and some flower varieties.
Vertical Greenhouse Co. Seeks to Bring Fresh, Affordable, Low Carbon-footprint Produce to Urban AreasFebruary 15, 2012 | Melinda Clark
Plantagon is a Stockholm-based urban agriculture company that strives to balance commercial and values-based forces to simultaneously achieve profitability and ‘do good.’ To do this, it has introduced the Plantagon Greenhouse, a vertical greenhouse designed to bring fresh, affordable, low-carbon-footprint produce to urban areas. According to the company, the greenhouses’ efficiency and high productivity make them economically viable – it’s possible to finance each greenhouse from its own sales.
In Creating Fleet of Sustainable, Urban Farmers, Milwaukee-based Growing Power Seeks to End World HungerFebruary 13, 2012 | Jessica Vernabe
Will Allen, CEO and founder of Growing Power, Inc., has a straightforward goal – to end world hunger.
“It’s a lofty goal, but that’s how things should be,” said Allen, a sharecropper’s son who was a professional basketball player when he rediscovered his love for agriculture. “The only way to end world hunger is the local food system that we used to have. … Everybody would buy local food if it was available. We don’t have the infrastructure right now, so one of the things I wanted to do is prove that this could be done and this could be cash-flowed.”
The owners of aquaponics-focused Future Farm Food and Fuel, LLC know how to maximize their resources.
The company’s operations take place out of a 27,000-square-foot greenhouse in Baldwin, Wisc., which houses fish tanks and growing bays that contain herbs and vegetables. Tubes run back and forth between the tanks and growing bays, recirculating water, otherwise known as effluent.
Trailblazing Organic Farm in Maryland, One Straw Farm, Puts Soil and Overall Health of Farm Ahead of Organic CertificationJanuary 20, 2012 | Kelly Hatton
In 1985, the word “organic” had yet to penetrate consumer consciousness. Joan Norman of One Straw Farm remembers fighting misconceptions of the word’s meaning when using it to classify the produce she and her husband, Drew, were growing on their 82-acre farm in Maryland. “In the beginning, if we said ‘organic’ people thought we were growing marijuana, or they thought they had to be vegetarian to eat our produce,” she said.
That changed in 1989. After a report that Alar, a chemical commonly sprayed on apples and other fruit crops, could increase cancer risk, public outcry led schools to stop serving apple juice and stores to take apple products off the shelves. “Everyone was asking for organic apples. Of course we didn’t have any,” Joan said. But One Straw Farm did have an abundance of other chemical-free food, and a growing base of customers seeking organic produce.
Farms across Texas suffered widespread drought and wildfires during 2011, the Lone Star state’s driest year on record. Thanks to sustainable practices, however, two young farmers in northeast Texas are helping to set a smart agricultural example for a state and a country facing a rapidly changing climate. Cardo’s Farm Project, located in Ponder, TX, is a working vegetable farm and education center founded by Daniel Moon and Amanda Austin in December of 2010.
Nearly three years ago, Jon Friedman and Brad McNamara left their careers in marketing to research the pressing issue of food miles, or the distance food is transported from the time of its production until it reaches the consumer. “It seemed crazy that we were shipping in lettuce from California. We figured there had to be a better way,” said Friedman. To address this issue, Friedman and McNamara launched Boston-based Freight Farms, a company that aims to convert used shipping containers into modular, portable crop production units toward the end of transforming urban surroundings into a sustainable food source, increasing access to fresh local food in any environment, and creating local economies.
If you looked into one of the rain barrels at Sunnyside Farm, you’d notice three goldfish swimming in the collected rainwater. The fish help prevent algae growth and control mosquito eggs in the stored water, which is captured from the hoop house roof and used to irrigate the farm’s acre of heirloom vegetables. The setup is just one small example of how husband and wife duo Homer Walden and Dru Peters are using creative innovations to farm sustainably on 13 acres in Dover, PA.
Walden and Peters are part of a wave of new farmers seeking viable models for sustainable food production in response to the high environmental and economic costs of conventional farming. The environmental costs of feedlot livestock operations and monoculture crops include emissions from livestock and farm machinery, soil erosion, and loss of overall soil fertility. Separating the cow from the grass necessitates costly inputs including feed, fertilizer and machinery that can leave farmers in a cycle of debt.
It can be difficult to break down a system and thoroughly examine its component parts without losing sight of the whole picture. Dorn Cox can do just that. As executive director of New Hampshire-based nonprofit GreenStart, he’s working to develop biologically based local food and energy systems designed to return carbon to the soil. To do this, he looks at where and when carbon is entering and leaving the soil – and how to keep it there with as few inputs as possible.
If it were up to The Land Institute, instead of miles upon miles of amber waves of grain the American heartland would look a lot more diverse. The Salina, Kansas research institution promotes agricultural systems that are more in line with the state’s prairies—where different varieties of plants thrive side by side—than with its celebrated monochromatic wheat fields.
The Land Institute was founded in 1976 when Wes Jackson quit his job as chair of California State University-Sacramento’s environmental studies program to return to his native Kansas in order to do practical research on his ideas about alternative, sustainable agricultural methods. Jackson, who has a B.A. in biology, an M.A. in botany and a Ph.D. in genetics is widely considered a visionary in sustainable agriculture circles. He argues that because of the way we have been farming for centuries there is now a “problem of agriculture” meaning that the very way we farm is in question.