I recently had the opportunity to attend an event on the future of food production. The event, “Essen neu denken” was organised by young+restless in Berlin. The presenters talked about how the future of food production look like, while discussing and debating some very pertinent questions like:
- Will food of the future come from laboratories and closed factories, grown using artificial lighting and without soil? Or will it come from small, ecological and community-driven farms?
- In the search for sustainable methods of food production, should we go towards modern precision farming technologies like hydroponics and aquaponics, or should we go back to the age-old practices of organic farming in small landholding?
- How does indoor-cultivated food taste in comparison with conventionally grown food?
Irrespective of the different approaches to food sustainability, the central problem driving the discussion was quite clear: more and more people are going to move to the cities in the future. With this increasing pace of urbanisation, it seems that the goals of the food production system of the future is quite clear:
- Less CO2 emissions from the food sector – which means we cut down the distance food travels in reaching from farm to plate, we cut down food wastage which is currently at 33%, and we use fewer chemicals and pesticides in producing food
- More production per acre of land – which means we find newer ways of growing food in underutilised urban spaces like rooftops and basements, and we improve the quality of rural agricultural landholding
There is a lot happening in not just the precision farming sector, but also in the very definition of what constitutes as food! Below are excerpts from the presentations.
In the city of Berlin, an ambitious new project is shaping up under the chairmanship of Prof. Dr. Christian Ulrichs of the Humboldt University. The project is called CUBES Circle and it will bring together an interdisciplinary team of researchers, scientists and industrial partners to build a futuristic food production system of freight containers. Worldwide, there are several projects that are growing fish and plants together using aquaponic methods. However, the CUBES Circle project will try to go a step further by including the harvest of essential proteins and oil by including the production of insects along with fishes and plants. Each of the three cubes – insects, plants and fishes – will be interconnected and communicate with each other using complex production algorithms. This system of food production, if successfully tested, can be implemented in urban areas as well as regions with extreme climates.
Located between Shanghai’s main international airport and the city center, Sunqiao illustrates that, like the city’s soaring skyscrapers, its farms are also going vertical. After 20 years of conventional agricultural production on the site, Shanghai is expanding the role of Sunqiao in its foodshed. The new plan for the district focuses on the integration of vertical farming systems in conjunction with research and public outreach. The result is an interactive, playful, and socially-engaging experience that presents urban agriculture as a dynamic living laboratory for innovation and education. While one goal is to position Shanghai as a leader in urban food production, Sunqiao incorporates more than just the creation of vertical food factories. Providing a robust public realm that merges indoor and outdoor agricultural experiences, the Sunqiao experiment presents a new idea for urban life by celebrating food production as one of the most important functions of a city. Sunqiao not only addresses Shanghai’s increasing demand for locally-sourced food, but also educates generations of urban children about where their food comes from.
The Floating Farm, currently being built by a construction company called Beladon in Rotterdam, will be the first of its kind farm-on-water in the world. The farm will begin its operations with 40 cows onboard that will be milked by robots and will produce around 800 litres of milk everyday. The robots will also gather manure for the floating farm that will be used for energy production as well as a product sold to local farms.
After spending 4 years working on the concept, two co-founders in Germany have come up with burger patties made from insects. These burgers, unlike the conventional ones, are rich in protein and unsaturated fats, and free from artificial additives. But most importantly, they have a drastically smaller resource consumption footprint in comparison with the production of conventional beef.
Founded in California in 2009, Beyond Meat produces plant-based meat substitutes. It develops and manufactures a variety of plant protein-based food products. The vegetarian meat substitutes are made from mixtures of pea protein isolates, yeast, and other ingredients. Since their inception, the venture has raised a considerable amount of funding and also received highly positive reviews from food journalists and chefs.