A decentralized future for food: Indoor Farming, the Internet of Things and Blockchain Technology.
Most people living in urban areas are almost entirely dependent on food systems for sustenance. Few, if any, urban dwellers grow enough of their own produce to be self sufficient and, as a result, centralized food systems have replaced the old community-centered model of food production and food distribution. This has created a fragile globalized system that brings into question food security across the planet.
Our current food system continues to have many implications on our globalized society, but, perhaps the most significant, is the fact that the production and distribution of food have become so far removed from the consumer that most people have almost no idea where their food comes from, how their food is grown, how it is transported or who the farmer is that is growing their food. This, paired with a distribution system riddled with negative externalities that consistently go unaccounted for along the supply chain, has resulted in many fears around how we are going to feed 9 billion people by the year 2050 of which more than 70 percent of people will be living in urban areas*.
It also brings into question the nutritional content of the food we are currently consuming as it is becoming increasingly clear that since the industrial revolution every generation has had to deal with the declining nutritional content of their food. Millennial’s have less access to nutritionally dense produce than boomers and that trend seems to be continuing exponentially. If nothing changes, our children will be worse off in terms of the nutritional value of their food than we are — in a world where technology is arguably driving evolution — it is important that we remember that the fundamental aspect our existence is sustenance. Food has been the underlying driver of radical changes in the human story since the very beginning and it is now, in 2017, that the entire food system — at every level — is ripe for change. Our Roots believes that the next agricultural revolution will be a digital revolution where agriculture will become information driven and the Internet of Things(IoT)* will help bring radical changes to the current food system.
We want to help pioneer this “digital agricultural revolution.”
Currently, contemporary farmers are forced to adapt their farming methodologies to industrial techniques, which are highly resource dependent, in order to keep up with economies of scale. In the last hundred years, many small-scale farmers have been pushed out of business by what many know today as “BigAg”. BigAg has been made possible by chemical fertilizers, mechanization, monoculture, GMOs and resource exploitation. This movement toward BigAg was driven by a system that values a single-bottom line without questioning the negative externalities that occur as a result of this type of philosophy. Nothing else matters to corporate farmers other than profit — quantity is preferred to quality. The motto: reduce inputs and maximize outputs at every level — even if it means exploiting people and the planet.
Today, however, that is changing.
The local food movement is being revived by seasoned farmers, young entrepreneurs and conscious consumers. These passionate people who believe in a more just and sustainable future are leading the way in bringing local and nutritious food back onto the table. It is perhaps the most radical step we can take to decentralizing our communities and creating a sense of responsibility within the places we call home. It is high-time that we as consumers reengage in the production of our consumption and the local food movement can inspire us to do just that.
At Our Roots, we are aiming to create a farming model that can pioneer the way for the digital-generation of indoor agriculture. We want to pave the way for farming to be part of the digital age by integrating our indoor farms into the Internet of Things and using blockchain technology to create a new Community Supported Agriculture(CSA)* model that can democratize local food economies. Essentially, this is being made possible by advances in hydroponics, LED lighting, sensor arrays, “climate recipes”* and data analysis which is enabling the economic viability of indoor farming. According to a report by IBM “Today, the sector of the economy with the lowest IT intensity is farming, where IT accounts for just 1 percent of all capital spending. Here the potential impact of the IoT is enormous. Farming is capital and technology intensive, but it is not yet information intensive.”
So what does a new local farming model that is information-driven look like to Our Roots?
Firstly, we will use shipping containers that have been retrofitted with highly advanced hydroponic grow systems to cultivate produce. These turn-key systems are much more productive, less resource dependent and can provide critical insight into the grow-cycles of plants. This is an important part of our model as it highlights a move away from the great outdoors into more efficient and controlled indoor environments.
By moving our plants indoors, we eliminate our dependence on the weather. Instead, we are able to control the climate inside the container, creating the absolutely ideal artificial growing environment as well as nurturing the well being of our plants. Using sensor arrays, our plants “talk” to us, telling us exactly what they need 24/7, 365 days a year. Using hydroponics and a closed loop system, we are also able to reduce our water usage by up to 90 percent, deploy our farms in any geographic location and, perhaps most importantly, we do not need to use any pesticides or herbicides throughout the entire growing process.
For most conventional farmers the weather is their biggest nightmare — droughts, floods, heat, frost, hail etc., can destroy a farmer’s entire crop overnight. In our shipping containers, we not only able to speed up crop cycles by creating ideal grow environments, but we also have the capacity to “hack” the seasons. Instead of only 2 or 3 crop cycles a year outdoors because of the seasons, we can bring our plants indoors, control climate variables and grow produce year-round in any geographic location with between 12 and 16 crop cycles a year(dependent on what crop we are growing). Through these unique growing methodologies there is also a reduction in the crop-variability in and amongst each one of the individual plants and we have a much higher accuracy over our yield predictions.
With this type of information, we are able to accurately control our farm inputs and the climatic environment in the container in real time developing much more precise farming techniques. In doing so, we are consistently learning more about climate recipes and farm inputs for specific types of plants which takes the guess work out of indoor farming and helps us to continually improve our farming methods. This will also help reduce the barrier to entry for new farmers as more information becomes accessible and available in this rapidly emerging industry. The MIT OpenAg Lab* is currently working on an online platform to share information on climate recipes and farm inputs and we hope to be active contributors to this open source platform that will make the future of farming more and more accessible to the everyday person.
To summarize, in just 320 square feet of land we can produce the same amount of crops as a 1.5 acre field-based farm, our yield is about 100X more than that of conventional farming whilst at the same time greatly reducing our dependency on water and land. Our entire farming process is controlled, eliminating the risks that are involved with weather and pests and, by connecting our farms to the internet, we can evaluate data in real time, create the perfect environment for the cultivation of delicious and nutritious produce, and localize the production of produce.
Ok, so we are one step closer to understanding how information and technology can help in the feasibility of producing food locally.
However, how does the economic model work?
At Our Roots, our team is passionate about the implication of blockchain technology and the Internet of Things as a means to democratize societies around the world. Two of our co-founders, Garrett Macdonald and Jake Vartanian have been in the blockchain space from the very beginning. These two incredible human beings have both worked on ground-breaking projects and are now looking to pioneer the application of blockchain technology into local food systems.
Jake has created a token model for Our Roots that will revolutionize how we currently engage in Community Supported Agriculture(CSAs).
RootShares, Our Roots’s crypto-currency*, are essentially “backed” by shares of the crops produced inside of our container farms. What that means is that consumers will be able to buy tokens up front that represent a particular amount of crops produced over a specific period of time. What is different about this model, however, is that the shares/tokens are “liquid” meaning that at any point in time, the consumer can either chose to receive their weekly share of crops or they can choose for their crops to be sold on the market where they will receive RootShares in exchange for the sales of their crops.These RootShares are exchangeable and can be bought and sold on any crypto-exchange.
This model allows us to “crowd-fund” our start-up and operating costs for the farms and will give us the opportunity to prove both the production of indoor local farming as well as the distribution of a Digital CSA program. This Digital CSA will change the ownership structure of farms, putting the power of production in the hands of the consumer and localizing food economies. If all goes to plan, we believe that we can build a self-sustaining farming model whereby the consumer can ‘pay-back’ their RootShares in four years, from which point, all produce produced by the farms for the rest of the farms life-cycle will be free of charge to that consumer. Imagine the opportunity of something like this in food deserts where food access is becoming a major problem for cities or, in developing countries where aid has proved to be largely ineffective?
So, as one can probably understand, at Our Roots we want to build a comprehensive local food model that can be deployed in any geographic location. We are committed to revolutionizing the way our current food system operates and want to deeply disrupt industrial agriculture.
We up against it as high energy costs and distribution bottlenecks create challenges in getting this model up running, but, with an incredibly talented team and a vision for a more just and sustainable world we believe that Our Roots can have serious impact on the global food system.
Help us make the movement move.
- UN DESA report: World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision
- Internet of Things(IoT): The interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data.
- Community Supported Agriculture(CSA): An alternative economic model for the production and distribution of locally grown food. It originated in the 1980s, based on the concept of biodynamic farming first proposed by Rudolph Steiner.
- Climate Recipes: A complete set of specific climate conditions and farm inputs needed throughout the growth cycle of particular plants.
- The MIT Media Lab Open Agriculture Initiative (OpenAg) is on a mission to create healthier, more engaging, and more inventive future food systems.
- Cryptocurrency: a digital currency in which encryption techniques are used to regulate the generation of units of currency and verify the transfer of funds, operating independently of a central bank.