When I was a bit younger, I used to go with my dad to help him garden in the various community garden spots that he frequented. I remember a distinct sense of admiration for the organized chaos of the sprawling lots. I was also impressed at the resilience of the gardens and how they could grow under rough conditions (like the 30 degree snowy Salt Lake Winter). When I asked Dad, he would tell me about permaculture, or the “development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient”. I got to thinking about this way of food production, and I compared/contrasted it with our current Big Agriculture paradigm. I quickly realized the numerous weaknesses in our current food system and how permaculture and urban agriculture could bolster the nation’s (and the world’s) food security.
Before I discuss the magic that is permaculture and urban agriculture, lets figure out how we got here.
After the green revolution in the 60’s, big agribusiness companies figured out ways to vastly increase crop yields and quality by using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Another technique that proliferated during that era was mono-cropping, the practice of planting vast fields with only a single crop. Herds of livestock were crammed together in unhealthy and incredibly polluting conditions. The focus turned away from the quality and connection we have to our food and towards producing massive quantities. Farmers could transport water to dry areas and use it for irrigation, allowing us to grow large amounts of crops that weren’t native to the area. These techniques had one goal: Increase yearly yields. Not customer satisfaction, environmental sustainability, nutrition of the food, or even setting up the fields to produce more in the future! All that mattered during the population boom in the 60’s was how to produce more food per square foot of land. Agricultural subsidies made it easier to rely on store-bought synthetic fertilizer and purchasing huge machines for harvesting mono-cropped fields. Advances in genetics led to the creation of pesticide resistant plants, so farmers could spray more poison on our food(tasty, right?). Lax regulations on agriculture has allowed mergers of the largest agriculture companies, increasing the scale, environmental consequences and amount of livestock manure produced by factory farms.
These same lax agricultural regulations also enable companies to not really care where their manure goes, poisoning entire ecosystems and causing dead zones with tons of runoff.
So you see, this confused and unfortunate conflation of factors has led to the current industrial agriculture paradigm in the U.S..
Why, you might ask, is this industrial agriculture such a terrible thing? Isn’t it providing more food at a cheaper price?
Sure, the price of food is cheaper when you buy it at the store because of these agricultural techniques. But I argue that while food is cheaper on the surface, the hidden environmental, taxpayer, and health costs that lurk deeper will in time completely override the off-the-shelf price.
To summarize, the unsustainable and rapid scaling techniques of industrial agriculture caused three main issues:
- Physical and emotional disconnection from our food(we don’t know or care how/where it’s made)
- The synthetic fertilizers and singular harvesting periods from the monocropped fields lead to rapid soil degradation, decreasing nutrient richness/crop return overtime and increasing needs for more fertilizer.
- The overuse of pesticides that leads to adaptation of insects, requiring a rapid increase in pesticide use. Pesticides are toxic to humans as well as insects, so this leads to food becoming tainted.
Now that we all have a good idea of why the current system won’t work, lets look at ways to fix it. Thank for your patience in reading through my rant against industrial agriculture, I know that much negativity is hard to handle. On to the solutions!
The first and probably most obvious way to implement urban agriculture is by utilizing massive buildings to produce food hydroponically. This solution does a few great things to address current problems in food production:
- It brings the food closer to densely populated areas. This cuts transportation costs significantly(economic and environmental), brings consumers psychologically closer to their food, and increases resilience of the food system in the case of a natural disaster.
- The food will always be fresh, with hydroponic technology ensuring the plant receives the perfect balance of nutrients- resulting in healthier food.
- This method of growing creates little to no waste and greenhouse gas emissions, especially compared to conventional agriculture.
Urban agriculture and permaculture could also spread beyond warehouses and towers; distributed to parks, community centers, and even personal yards. There could be a distributed and independent food system with the whole community contributing. This would result in the organic greenification of the city, improving air quality and reducing the urban heat island effect.
So you see now that Urban Agriculture has a whole lot of benefits. Permaculture is a bit different(but equally as awesome) because it’s not confined to urban areas. One cool permaculture-inspired idea that I’ve come along is vertical seafood gardens.
While the current implemented ideas leave much to potential and have a lot of room to grow, adopting the permaculture mindset will allow us to take control of our food again. Implementing it correctly could uplift many people in poverty by giving them unfettered access to cheap, fresh, and healthy foods that are produced next door.
There are many obstacles. But I truly believe that this way is the way of the future, at least if humanity wants to thrive. It will take the concerted effort of many intelligent, motivated, deep-pocketed individuals. I plan on being one of them (at least the motivated part.)
Thanks for reading!If you enjoyed please leave a few claps to show it. If you have anything to add/have ideas, please message me! I always love to talk about new, innovative ways to make the world a better place:)