There has been a lot to do about food the last couple of years. Food industries have been trending in the developed world, and they are still rising in market share. People want to make sure that they know what they eat, where it is from and how it is produced. Enough is not enough anymore, some would say, but hold on there: the question whether there is enough food to feed the entire human population and the way our food is distributed is still an issue. Due to climate changes, some traditional ways of farming will not pay off anymore, for example in areas where desertification is an issue. In these areas climate change is already causing terrible famines.
With a population that is still growing and climate fluctuations occurring more often, these problems will only become worse. Therefore, we have to start innovating in farming, especially in areas that are likely to face extreme weather conditions. So let’s take a look at some extreme solutions. It was the mission of the winning designers from this year’s Evolo skyscraper competition to make sure that local communities are able to gather the knowledge and skills to become self-sufficient with the techniques of these new ways of farming. The Polish designers Pawel Lipiński and Mateusz Frankowski designed a footloose building: it is modular, scalable, and therefore, it can be moved to the next place after serving its purpose of educating a community on farming. The building also functions as a farm, a marketplace and a community centre.
Another type of area one can think of as being unfit for farming is a city. Even though urban farming projects such as rooftop gardens and community gardens have become very popular in many cities, the extent to which this kind of farming will yield enough for a city to be self-sufficient is very limited. However, there is another type of urban farming that could surpass these limits. Vertical farming in buildings has been pioneering in some cities as a solution for long-term vacancy of buildings and as a sustainable way of producing food in cities. This method does require lots of energy for lighting, but it needs much less water and fertilizer, and no pesticides of any kind. Just like precision farming, it is all about knowing the needs of a particular kind of plant, but in this case, the farmer is also able to control the circumstances entirely, like in a laboratory. After some experimenting the perfect environment for each plant can be created, using lights with different colours and intensities, specific minerals in the water and so on.
By the looks of it, you could almost call it industrial plant production. And, because there is no need for specific external circumstances, it may even be called a footloose industry. It is a growing industry, still finding its way into the city, but it could be much more than just producing food inside. Imagine the growing shelves full of herbs and vegetables visible in the picture above to be supermarket shelves. This would mean that you know exactly where your food comes from, because it is growing inside the store itself. You would experience a different climate when buying bananas than you would when buying oranges. There could be a certain theme for every kind of climate and culture, not even displayed in aisles anymore, but like a marketplace that resembles the place of origin. This would be a store that brings your food alive (literally), as well as your mood. For all we know it will be the experience that counts in future shopping, because for mere convenience you could just order errands online. So why not make it a place of inspiration?
Aside from finding ways to fit vertical farming into existing built environments, there are projects for new built neighbourhoods that integrate it in the plan from the beginning. In case of the ReGen Villages, a plan from the Danish architecture and urbanism bureau Effekt, vertical farming will become part of a larger ecosystem. The first village is planned at the edge of Almere. All the houses will be built inside a glass structure, making it easy to control the temperature within the building using little energy, and of course, to grow food. However, the majority of food production will be done in the special food production facilities that are placed in the centre of the neighbourhood, surrounded by twenty-five houses. The total amount of room in the village dedicated to urban farming would be 5450 square meters from the total land of 15.450 square meters, leaving 10.000 square meters for all other functions such as infrastructure, social spaces and nature.
These are just a few examples of how we could use new ways of producing food in order to reconnect people to their food. But, they are also innovative living labs that allow us to envision new ways of spatial planning. Whether it is a temporary building or an entire village that needs a certain change of mindset to inhabit, there will be lessons from these extremes to apply to your average neighbourhood.
Top photo: Urban farming in Lowell, MA, United States. By Bernie Ongewe – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36462174