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Automation, is it a food forest, or even Permie?  RSS feed

 
duane hennon
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here's something in the city
that grows food on multiple levels
but is it a "food forest"?
or permaculture?

or does it really matter?
is permaculture about to get left in the dust (or mud wrestling pit) by a new generation of growers?

http://triblive.com/business/technology/12458964-74/these-kale-farming-robots-in-pittsburgh-dont-need-soil-or-even-much

These kale farming robots in Pittsburgh don't need soil or even much water  (or woofers)

Robots could grow your next salad inside an old steel mill on Pittsburgh's South Side.

And the four co-founders of the robotic, indoor, vertical farming startup RoBotany could next tackle growing the potatoes for the french fries to top it.

“We're techies, but we have green thumbs,” said Austin Webb, one of the startup's co-founders.

It's hard to imagine a farm inside the former Republic Steel and later Follansbee Steel Corp. building on Bingham Street. During World War II, the plant produced steel for artillery guns and other military needs. The blueprints were still locked in a safe in a closet in the building when RoBotany moved in.

Graffiti from raves and DJ parties once held in the space still decorate the walls. There's so much space, the RoBotany team can park their cars indoors.

But in this space, Webb and the rest of the RoBotany team — his brother Brac Webb; Austin Lawrence, who grew up on a blueberry farm in Southwest Michigan; and Daniel Seim, who has pictures of his family's farm stand in Minnesota, taped to the wall above his computer — see a 20,000-square-foot farm with robots scaling racks up to 25 feet high. This farm could produce 2,000 pounds of food a day and could be replicated in warehouses across the country, putting fresh produce closer to the urban populations that need it and do it while reducing the environmental strain traditional farming puts on water and soil resources. 



 
Tyler Ludens
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This farm could produce 2,000 pounds of food a day


How much food does it actually produce per day?
 
John Oden
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I've heard of similar concepts before. I would say that urban food production like this is inevitable because, as an economic matter, transporting food is expensive.

To me, the question is whether or not these spaces will use permaculture / food forestry principles to mimic multi-layered natural systems. One could easily envision a Garden of Eden type situation inside of a smartly renovated urban warehouse. We have a similar concept we are developing that would make use of the least valuable floors in a skyscraper to store movable habitat cubes filled with mini food forests.

In this specific case though, it sounds like they are monocropping with just kale. Making stacks and stacks of kale (28 feet high I think it said) is not a food forest; it's a factory farm that happens to use hydroponics (specifically aeroponics here). I did not even hear any mention of them using fish, which is unfortunate but typical of the predominant thinking today. I still welcome this project, though, in the sense that I think we should be trying a variety of approaches to discover new ways of feeding ourselves which are more ecologically sensitive. It sounds like the founders are well intentioned but would benefit from taking a high quality PDC to open up their thinking further.
 
John Weiland
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John Oden wrote: I would say that urban food production like this is inevitable because, as an economic matter, transporting food is expensive.


Urban existence is relatively new in human history.  One question might be is the survival of urban existence inevitable.
 
duane hennon
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Tyler Ludens wrote:
This farm could produce 2,000 pounds of food a day


How much food does it actually produce per day?



one of the criticisms of food forests is the vagueness  in the  production numbers
so maybe we shouldn't be so quick to judge


In this specific case though, it sounds like they are monocropping with just kale. Making stacks and stacks of kale (28 feet high I think it said) is not a food forest; it's a factory farm that happens to use hydroponics (specifically aeroponics here). I did not even hear any mention of them using fish, which is unfortunate but typical of the predominant thinking today. I still welcome this project, though, in the sense that I think we should be trying a variety of approaches to discover new ways of feeding ourselves which are more ecologically sensitive. It sounds like the founders are well intentioned but would benefit from taking a high quality PDC to open up their thinking further. 


they are currently "monocropping"  kale, which they have a market for. they plan to expand to other crops as they refine their methods.
in this controlled environment, ideas like growing in  food forest layers becomes moot, because the amount of light can be regulated by something other than shade.
In outside environments, the light source is the same, so the regulation of light a plant receives is determined by its surroundings
thus the food forest concept of stacking elements to take advantage of the different light levels as born.
But with this system, the light any plant receives can be precisely controlled and "layering" becomes unnecessary.
why worry about fish as aquaponics and the like are dead ends.
filtering fish waste from the water so as not to clog spray nozzles and then having to clean the nozzles anyway is labor intensive.
this place is designed to be run by robots!!!

didn't anyone notice that?
ROBOTS!!!
I think a PDC would only confuse the issues
 
John Oden
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Duane,

When you say
in this controlled environment, ideas like growing in  food forest layers becomes moot


In my opinion, this is not correct. I think you are falsely assuming that sunlight is the only significant factor in a food forest. My understanding is that the different types of root systems from the different plants combine in the ground which, together with the Mycorrhizal Fungi, create a sort of biological internet where plants can trade nutrients. This has been proven to have a significant impact on plant root growth and, one would assume, on the overall nutritional density of the resulting food.

I would also think that more intensive planting could occur within a given square footage using the food forest model because then there is a specific type of plant for each niche of space. Their existing idea seems to ignore all the other niches. When they say they will "expand to other crops," I interpreted that to mean they might grow other herbaceous crops, such as various salad greens, but that is an assumption on my part.

aquaponics and the like are dead ends


It's a very bold statement to write off an entire approach to growing food, especially based on the as of now un-implemented ideas of one startup. Yes, introducing fish would probably require a deep water, wicking, or flood and drain approach rather than an aeroponic one. That's easy. The upside is that there would be no ongoing input of hydroponic nutrients, which is going to be very expensive for this startup if they go this route. The aquaponics approach would add an entirely separate yield, potentially with the same overall footprint (although they specifically mention they have extra space).

this place is designed to be run by robots!!!
didn't anyone notice that?
ROBOTS!!!


Yes, automation is exciting but also likely inevitable over time. The more interesting question is specifically how robotic technology will develop and can that technology be used to enable / automate true permaculture systems that mimic nature. I'm not impressed that a factory farm can use technology in a similar way to any other factory. In contrast, when I personally imagine a permaculture future, I see it as being technology-enabled so that routine tasks are automated inside of an idyllic Garden of Eden type environment.

I think a PDC would only confuse the issues


If you honestly think that a PDC would "confuse the issues," I would respectfully submit that it may be time for you to attend a / another PDC. I find the quality varies a lot based on the instructor, but a good one really clarifies the issues the world faces and how we can proactively respond using a permaculture approach!
 
Tyler Ludens
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duane hennon wrote:
one of the criticisms of food forests is the vagueness  in the  production numbers
so maybe we shouldn't be so quick to judge


I asked a question, the same question I ask people who make claims about how much food forests "could produce." 
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