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A single tree blossoms thousands of times, part of a beautiful biology that continues the species. Yet, of those thousands of blossoms, we do not consider those that do not become another tree wasteful. Instead, they are beautiful, and useful. Those that don’t lead to another tree start to decompose and begin a cycle of nourishment where the biological building blocks of the blossom are fed back into the parent tree. The circle of life.
This illustration is used repeatedly in Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, a book that describes in a growing wave of persuasion the need for what’s known as a circular economy.
Vertical farming strives towards this type of system, and one farm in particular has been recognized for embodying this ideology. Many of you know AeroFarms for recently raising millions in funding to build the worlds largest vertical aeroponic farm in Newark. AeroFarms is a finalist for the World Economic Forum (WEF) Ecolab Award for Circular Economy Enterprise. Whether or not they win the award, this is an honor for sure.
A circular economy essentially means closing the various manufacturing loops (its estimated in the book that about 90% of industrial inputs are cast off as waste) in our economy. I saw the potential early on for vertical farms, and aquaponic farms, to fill this niche in urban agriculture and its amazing to see that vision come to fruition.
“In the United States, about 70% of our fresh water goes into farming. About 70% of water contamination comes from farming. If you want to address water issues, you have to look at farming. AeroFarms is able to grow the same seed as the big conventional field growers, with 95% less water in almost half the time. ” said David Rosenberg, AeroFarms CEO.
The advantages of vertical farming are incredible. To start thinking about how this can fit into a circular economy, we can look at some of the concepts guiding principles:
- Being “less bad” is no good. When it comes to manufacturing and design, why do we want to: “reduce, avoid, minimize, sustain, limit, [and] halt” versus solving the problems?
- Eco-effectiveness. We can embrace the principles of biomimicry- study nature and use those designs to improve our own. This involves a level of systems thinking that often isn’t present in our current industrial society.
- Waste equals food. How can we use the waste products of one process usefully in another?
- Respect diversity. In designing different systems, we have to think about the ecologies (whether that’s ecology in the most basic sense, agroecology, or industrial ecology) of different areas. That means thinking locally about culture, materials, need, and landscape.
AeroFarms technology is a closed loop system, recycling the water and nutrients with virtually zero waste and it’s easy to see how it fills the above principles, and like most vertical farms, helps the environment in a number of ways. A little about their set up: patented misting system provides the roots of leafy greens with targeted nutrients, water and oxygen. This aeroponic system uses 95% less water than field farming and 40% less than hydroponics to grow perfect produce faster and more efficiently with zero pesticides.
We’re going to come back to these ideas in the future, but I wanted to get this news out there before it got too stale! Thanks for reading!
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