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Charlotte Duboc’s new documentary America’s Shrinking Farm highlights the importance of vertical farming in eliminating food deserts while also recognizing its limitations. Relevant excerpts from Food Tank below:
The United Nations (U.N.) predicts that global population will exceed 9 billion people by 2050. To feed the growing population food production will have to increase by 70 percent, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). One way to achieve this would be to focus on foods that require less land and fewer resources to produce. In a new Collectively documentary titled America’s Shrinking Farms correspondent and documentary producer Charlet Duboc speaks with food innovators across America about alternative farming methods that may help feed the world. Food Tank sat down with Dory Carr-Harris, the managing editor at Collectively, to talk about the inspiration behind the film and the innovators she met along the way.
Food Tank (FT): Why don’t we start by talking a little bit about what motivated and inspired you to make the film.
Dory Carr-Harris (DCH): At Collectively we’re really trying to reframe the conversation around sustainability through the lens of culture. By showing people how sustainable living and best-in-class sustainable innovation plays into the interest and passions that fill their daily lives, whether that’s food, technology, fashion, travel. Through that, really demonstrate how sustainability should become a part of people’s daily existence, rather than this thing that sits outside of it that people have to participate in as an extra cause or by making sacrifices in their daily lives, etc. With that in mind, we decided that this month we were focusing in on food. We wanted to really explore how people are addressing the question of how we’re going to feed our growing population in the coming years. Obviously farming is the main source of food in the world today, but looking at the system it’s incredibly inefficient in terms of the resources used and we’re not actually feeding large portions of our global population. So we decided to take a look and see what cutting edge innovations are really being developed to address some of those solutions. That was sort of the impetus for the film. We decided to start in the U.S. Obviously this is a global issue, but since the U.S. diet is often criticized highly for being very protein heavy, very meat heavy, very fat heavy, with less emphasis on vegetables and legumes, and also having an incredibly unsustainable system in terms of their impact on the planet. We started there to sort of see what was going on close to home.
FT: Can you explain some of the groundbreaking farming methods that you came across?
DCH: Of course! We explored a bunch, especially looking for stand out ones in terms of the impact they could have and the progress that we have made thus far. Obviously vertical farming, which is quite a trendy topic. Definitely one that has been the source of a lively debate, especially around admissions fee and implementability. But it is really an interesting one because of its ability to take place almost anywhere. There have been a lot of articles and discussions about food desserts especially in the U.S. and I think that vertical farming is a great way to address these because you really can, with a certain amount of capital investment and technology, set up in an abandoned warehouse and create a food source in the center of a city, as opposed to having to cultivate acres and acres of land. And obviously, like we laid out in the film, the amount of land it takes to feed just a hundred people is quite intense. Whereas in vertical farming you can feed at least ten times as many more in a fraction of the space. I know a lot of people have questions about efficiency of the vertical farm. I think that there are certain impacts. They are not zero impact, in terms of the electricity used to power the lights and the energy that’s used to create a water system and pump water around. There is certainly an impact. But if you’re comparing it to the impact that traditional farming has, the balance is off. Vertical farming is more efficient. Right now in terms of where the technology is it only allows us to provide foods to specific areas and certain socioeconomic classes, to be honest. Because usually the types of greens that are being produced are then being sold at a higher price point, like microgreens and baby kale. But I think that, looking to the future, this is definitely a method that should be explored in terms of scaling up.
FT: And hopefully you can eventually get more sustainable energy sources, like wind or solar power, to lower the emission of the farms as well.
DCH: Exactly. And the LED lights that some of the farms are using are between 50 percent to 70 percent efficient, which is a big jump. Some farms that have been written about are still using the sodium powered LED lights, which are less efficient. But I think that what’s important to realize is that we may not have solved it immediately right now, but the infrastructure is starting to develop and the complementary technologies are starting to develop that could really push this type of farming to a completely sustainable model. It’s really now about people picking up the gauntlet and running with it. And pushing that forward.
[Read more here, Food Tank Link]