A couple of weeks ago my co-founder Felipe and I were sitting in the conference room of the hotel where one of our Living Farming Trees is installed and we were trying to work on the (probably) 90th version of our pitch. The pitch was to a young audience of green-driven minds in Milan and after the enormous quantity of feedback we received along the way, we were trying to put it all together.
Yes, anyone working in food tech would probably start their pitch by saying “in 2050 we’ll live in a world of 9 billion people, 70% of us will live in cities and we need to increase by the same number the amount of food produced to feed ourselves.” But this is not the point of why indoor farming will be the solution.
Of course, we can produce faster and in a less horizontal space, but how can a super expensive climatically-controlled farm be the solution if only the rich can afford it? How will industrial profitability-driven farms let anyone achieve their dream of eating exactly what they want when they want?
What I learned as a SlowFood student and activist in my previous life is the real difference between a healthy and independent society, and a community where people do not have the right to eat what’s best for them: the right to grow.
Now the question is, how do we guarantee people the choice and freedom to grow what they want, when they want, and not what is currently growing the fastest and making the most profit, while also not expecting people to process 10,000 years of agricultural knowledge and experience to achieve a successful harvest?
I do think the obvious answer is technology, but there’s a greater and more obvious inspiration. Nature.
Nature optimizes rather than maximizes, using shapes to determine functionality.
Looking into nature and finding designs, patterns and solutions that have already been tested since probably millions of years is what is called having a biomimicry approach, which is essentially what we do at Hexagro. We look at what’s already around us and we try to design and develop products that most integrate with what has already been tested and approved by billions of living creatures. Then we combine it with the latest technology to build a future where anybody anywhere can access healthy food.
Here we come back to the main question Felipe and I were asking ourselves at the hotel’s conference room. How can we convince our audience or anyone else that is curious about indoor farming that there is the opportunity to build a system that is naturally imperfect but still abundant for everyone?
Thankfully researchers more experienced and influential than us have already worked on this topic and discovered nature has very clear guidelines.
Nature benefits from existing abundant resources. Find what’s already around you and think of how to make it productive. We started with hotels, offices and restaurants and we created customised installations that turn their unused spaces into beautiful vertical gardens. Gardens that even interact and enhance their guests and employees’ wellbeing.
Nature recycles all materials and circularity is always preferred to linearity. Imagine then an indoor farm where every single component can be constantly upgraded and updated with the latest gadget instead of a product that must be thrown away after its first lifecycle.
Nature is resilient to disturbances, is decentralised and runs on information. How do we build a supply chain that can withstand even the most impossible conditions? Nature has taught us that decentralised building systems can keep communicating with each other. We are able to increase productivity while still not risking to shut down an entire facility if there is a power outage or an earthquake. After all, even the wisest farmers never have all their vines on the same slope, right?
Nature optimizes rather than maximizes, using shapes to determine functionality. Let’s imagine a farm that is agile enough to be able to produce more than just leafy-greens, but also carrots, fruits, and mushrooms at the same time. And what if this product can even adapt perfectly to your own indoor environment and your farming needs?
Nature rewards cooperation. Actually, even economy seems to start doing the same, right? What if someone that is very keen on growing specific herbs can be rewarded for helping someone else that is trying to grow the same? How cool would it be if I decided to open up my co-working space with the installation of farming systems that decorate my place, supply my canteen and I can even pay for the power consumed? Are we still going to see supermarkets in the same way we see them today?
It may all sound like the content of a white paper, but these are the questions the Hexagro team are already asking themselves while installing their first indoor biophilic gardens and building the first steps to rethinking the way we will produce the food of tomorrow.
Article by Alessandro Grampa, Co-Founder of Hexagro Urban Farming