WRITTEN BY MYLES BARNARD, OPERATIONS MANAGER AT URBOTANICA*
The Food gap is potentially one of the biggest impending disasters facing mankind. It’s one of the most alarming potential outcomes of climate change, whilst our agricultural industry is simultaneously one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. We here at Urbotanica have realised that we need to drastically overhaul the ways in which we currently grow our food in order to be more sustainable. One of the ways in which we need to change is to start growing more of our own food at home, taking some pressure off the food supply chain (or “food-chain”).
Micro-gardens allow for food to be grown at the closest possible point to where it will be consumed, with a fraction of the waste, avoiding deforestation, soil erosion and associated pollution, compared with traditional broad-acre farming methods. Amongst other great Agriculture and Food Technologies, we believe micro-gardens have a very important role to play in helping close the Food Gap.
What exactly is the Food Gap?
In the next 30 years there are going to be 10 billion people living on this planet, and our agriculture industry is not at all equipped to feed that many people. Our food-chain currently wastes 7.3 million tonnes of food each year, just here in Australia, and the food that you do eat has travelled an average of 70,000km from paddock to plate for the average shopping basket.
So, it’s perhaps no surprise the IPCC (the UN’s scientific authority on climate science) has recently issued a damning report of the use of farmland around the world. This has been most notably demonstrated by the uncontrolled forest fires in the Amazon which were caused in part by unsustainable farming practises and the effects of climate change.
The conclusion from the IPCC’s report is simple; the world is running out of food and polluting the environment while doing so. If we don’t overhaul our food-chain, the gap between what we will be able to produce and what we will need to feed everyone is tipped to be around 30% by the year 2050.
What is contributing to the Food Gap?
No one knows what the world will look like in the year 2050, but let’s just imagine for a minute, what the worst-case scenario will be if we don’t overhaul our food-chain:
- Our use of land will accelerate the effects of climate change, and the effects of climate change will drastically reduce our capacity to produce the food that we need.
- The pollution caused by the agriculture industry will continue to contribute around 22% of the worlds greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to a 2-degree rise in global temperatures.
- This increase in global temperatures will lead to more severe and more frequent drastic weather events, such as tropical storms, droughts and bushfires – causing massive crop failures.
- Soil erosion will continue as more and more nutrients are sucked out of the land and not replaced. More frequent and extreme storms and bushfires as a result of climate change will accelerate these affects.
- Soil erosion will lead to further crop failures in the Wheat Belt in Western Australia, whilst droughts in Queensland and NSW will continue to cripple the farming of cattle in the semi-arid areas of the country.
- There will be a 30% shortfall between the level of food produced around the planet, and the amount needed to feed the 10 billion people that will be living on it. This is assuming the current level of technological advancement continues and discounting the effects of climate change. If we factor in crop failures and the loss of farmable land as a result of climate change and current farming practises, then the gap could be even wider.
Now while this all sounds disastrous, I’m not writing this article to instil despair or anger. In-fact, I want to highlight some of those out there who understand these issues and who are working tirelessly to solve these problems.
Recently, billions of dollars have been pouring into Agriculture Technology (AgTech) – which are essentially technologies that allow us to grow more with less, or to grow more sustainably.
You would have heard about the developments in the meat industry in the media over the past couple of weeks – with the emergence of fake-meat products and the push to substitute meat-based diets with insect-based diets. These are essential technologies the media has been focusing on as potential part-solutions to climate change and the food-gap.
Whilst these are some of the greatest advancements in food technology, there are still two large problems left unsolved. Firstly, our food is still grown too far away from population centres, meaning there is a lot of pollution and waste associated with transporting food from the farms to the cities. Secondly, most of the food that is produced is wasted, whether it is produce being rejected by those who pick it, those who pack it, those who wholesale it, those who retail it, or the eventual end customer. New farming techniques that allow for the growing of food in or around our major cities is essential for reducing the waste in the food-chain, and the pollution associated with transporting it.
Challenges of growing in urban environments
Of course, urban dwellings are continuing to diminish in size and space as we move towards a more urban society.
50% of new home starts in Australia were for apartments last year, and in the year 2050, 60% of the world’s population will be living in major cities. So, the stuff we grow to feed ourselves won’t be grown in the backyard or in community gardens (at least not in any serious way), but increasingly it will be grown indoors, in micro-gardens, on rooftops and often on multiple levels.
Some of this food will be grown on major roof-top farms, like the 14,000m2 rooftop farm being built by AgriPolis in Paris, and more will be grown in major vertical farms, like the ones Grok Ventures have been pouring money into in Singapore.
There will always be a place for traditional broad-acre farms to grow the things that are simply inappropriate to grow in Urban environments, however what we will begin to see is increasing investments into regenerative agriculture practises that allow our farmland to remain usable in a sustainable way.
What exactly are micro gardens?
At Urbotanica, we are targeting the last segment of this multi-factored approach to disrupting the food-chain – the consumer.
We want to take all the indoor growing technology that is allowing large, commercial-sized vertical farms to become successful contributors to our food security, and scale down the technology into gardens that can fit on the kitchen benchtop.
The idea is to have the exact same technology, just in much smaller units. This allows for the democratisation of growing and has a range of benefits:
- All the food you grow yourself takes pressure off the existing food-chain.
- There is far less waste associated with food that you grow yourself.
- Herbs and salads especially are much healthier and tastier when eaten fresh.
- You know the food grown in your micro-garden has travelled the least possible distance between paddock and plate, and your impact on the environment is minimal.
- Indoor gardens are protected from the weather and pests that can lead to growing failures. This further reduces the amount that is wasted.
That’s why we were very excited to find Earth Collective, a place for companies like ours that are trying to make products that can help tackle some of the world’s biggest issues.
So, we’ve teamed up to share with you the UrbiPod – a smart indoor micro-garden that takes all of the guess work out of growing. Its tailor-made for those who have never grown anything in the past (or more commonly, those who have tried to start a veggie patch in spring, only to have everything die on them as they forgot to water their plants!).
This is a great opportunity for everyone to start their own growing journey and begin to recapture some of the forgotten knowledge of horticulture.
Support the grow your own revolution
It’s never been more important to be aware of how and where the food you eat is produced. Experts have warned us that we should be eating food that is grown locally where possible, and what better way to do this than to start your own micro-garden.
You can join Urbotanica’s “grow your own revolution” by getting involved in micro-gardening through purchasing an UrbiPod to help take some strain off of the food-chain.