I find the promise of this very alluring. However I strongly believe in emphasizing the culture in agriculture. Additionally I am largely interested in permaculture because it has a decentralizing effect on society. It returns power to the many, as opposed to the few. This system portrayed in this video seems that it would cause greater human concentration in cities, granted pesticide and fertilizer use would drop to zero, but it would maintain the same power structure that we have now. Similar to how the internet has be a revolutionary force for quite a bit of people, however it has just reinforced, and multiplied the patterns of mindless consumption for the majority.
Cultured container growing has been around for years. Looks like this guy took it a step further with the lighting and environmental controls.
A few years ago I did a thought experiment on growing radishes is such a cultured container environment. The production numbers were astounding. Bring in artificial lighting, monitor and adjust moisture, control temperature and humidity, take away the weeds by germinating the soil before use, take away the bugs with a clean environment, take away disease by sterilizing the soil, mechanically place seeds at optimal depth and distance and the entire concept of food production becomes a matter of manufacturing process engineering. Anything which would negatively impact growth is removed from the system by design, leaving an environment in which the plants have no choice but to perform. With all aspects of growth being supplied artificially, production is no longer based on square foot land area, but upon volume of constructed space, and we can build an enormous volume of space cheaply and quickly.
With the production process nailed down, the rate of production becomes a matter of investment in infrastructure and equipment. Investment will be made with return on investment in mind. Enter the bean counters. Getting the absolute highest return on investment takes center stage. What if you can speed up the process by a day by genetically engineering a radish which will produce a marketable root in 30 days instead of 35. How about a radish that will be consistent in size and shape enabling more efficient processing downstream. What sort of treatments can be applied to stimulate the system in order to achieve more bang for the buck.
The ultimate result would be artificially produce food in mass quantities. Sure, this method could feed 9 billion people, can do it with a minimal footprint, produce a uniform, consistent product independent of climate and do all this economically. But is this really the way to go? Thinking hard about this I came up with some conclusions:
-Nutrition will be sacrificed if production rates can be improved
-Flavor will be sacrificed if production rates can be improved
-Artificial additives will be slathered on this stuff to boost production
-Biodiversity will be sacrificed in order to boost production. Probably leaving a handful of genetically modified cultivars which offer the most desirable features for improved efficiency in the process.
-Plant species that can be grown this way will ONLY be grown this way if the cost of production compared to the value of goods passes a threshold rate of return.
-Plant species that can not be grown as economically will slowly and quietly disappear from store shelves as they fail to compete in the marketplace
-Labor involvement will have ever decreasing involvement with the plants, instead focusing on a single aspect of the assembly line operation. Read: unskilled workers earning low wages.
-Further refinements in processing the harvest will involve extraction of key elements, be it sugars, starches, or what have you in order to fabricate top selling consumer goods, say, high fructose syrup used to make a Twinkie.
-The operation would be increasingly energy intensive due to the automation and controls involved.
Does the above list sound anything like the current food system?
There is no doubt in my mind: This is the future of industrial food production. This methodology is already being applied to everything we eat, from potatoes to meat. Have a look at battery caged chickens who never see the light of day, CAFO feedlots with lakes of effluent, meat substitutes being grown in a petri dish, sugar cane plantations that extend to the horizon, amber waves of grain covering entire counties-untouched by human hands until you reach into the bag to make a sandwich. Consolidation of vested interests by fewer and fewer corporate administrators bent on complete dominance of the food system.
This is dangerous.
All our eggs are placed in one basket. A single point of contamination destroys the viability of all products serving a vast area. Food production becomes dependent on the financial solvency of a corporation or the bank providing the financing of an operation. Take away access to energy supply and the whole plan falls apart like a house of cards. Meanwhile, the decentralization has left no alternative food supplies to which we can turn in the event of disaster, it will have removed from society the knowledge to get it going again, and laid waste the gene pool necessary to start over. This will be our fate if we do not fight for our own ability to produce food naturally, the way the earth intended.
Seed the Mind, Harvest Ideas.
I think Ken has made some very good points. About half way through the video I was thinking just about the same thing as he was All the concrete and steel to make hi tec new grow farms with hydrological arms! But he mentioned integrating them into existing super markets - and there I thought, Ah-Ha! There are so many sprawling half empty shopping strip malls in my country. Perhaps this has potential! I would imagine one could re-purpose any space to grow food under lights - Including parking garages.
Now if I'm taking the Dutchmans point correctly he states that in using the ideal red/blue light balance for plants he is in fact increasing their vigor. Now I didn't see his supporting evidence for that but its an interesting though - especially if LEDs are relitivley more efficient to produce than say a hybrid car. And who says you have to use sterilized soil? Why not do it aquaponically like Will Allen?
The elimination of the need for transportation in the food system would be gigantic. I don't want to kill the idea just because I kinda feel the speaker is trying to sell me something. People in the city gotta eat too though right?
Speaking of selling something... Have you seen this TED Talk?
It's low tech and most likely to be employed outdoors but pretty promising itself. The least energy intensive for of power for the planet come from the sun. That doesn't mean outdoor gardening is the only alternative pursuing. Just the best in my opinion.
The video didn't cover the real footprint of these buildings at all. There's electricity for light and automation, mining for plant nutrients, and building the units in the first place. Looking at the energy intensive present system, I think this sort of thing beats it hands down. But growing plants in the garden uses no electricity. I doubt that I could ever compete with them on salad greens. I wonder how they plan to grow apples and coconuts. My garden is visited by wild critters every day. I suppose that with forests of these units, many gardens would be completely turned over to nature.
The hospital like cleanliness may work for a while in preventing disease, but super clean environments breed super tricky adaptation of pests and diseases.
If a foreign power were looking to invade a country with such concentration of food, the electrical grid would be the obvious first target. Bio weaponry might also work. They wouldn't need to kill every living thing but would instead breed disease targeted toward these growing units. Or, they could just roll into each town and take control of the food supply. That would be more powerful in controlling a population than any fence or other messy means of coercion.
A magnificient life is loaded with tough challenges. En garde tiny ad:
100th Issue of Permaculture Magazine - now FREE for a while