I'm a staff writer for the Justmeans Sustainable Food blog, which means I have an excuse to spend a bit of time each week researching topics that I'm really passionate about, like local food systems, community garden projects, food security, and farm to institution efforts. Offline, I coordinate a community garden project on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington....
Agropolis: The Future of Urban Agriculture?
Last week at the Nordic Exceptional Trendshop 2010, held in Denmark, one presentation took urban agriculture to the next level. A collaboration with NASA, you might even say it launched urban agriculture out of this world, and into the future.The idea is called Agropolis, a combination grocery store, restaurant, and farm all in one building, employing the most advanced technologies in hydroponic, aeroponic, and aquaponic farming. As it stands, Agropolis is still just a mere idea, with little more than some cool graphics to back it up. But regardless, Agropolis ushers forth a new wave of thinking about urban food systems.
The team behind the Agropolis concept proposes that this new generation of store would be an ecosystem unto itself, a finely tuned orchestra of parts in balance, that would not only be totally envrionmentally sustainably and friendly, but also just plain producing the freshest food around. But what would all these innovative, NASA-inspired state of the art hydroponics and other high-tech solutions look like in practice? According to the vision of Agropolis, a customer would walk into a store that is covered in green. Vegetables growing on the walls as far as the eye can see. And below the floors one would see tilapia swimming, working in tandem with vegetables in an aquaponic system. You would buy a tomato that was literally just picked, from a plant that you can see in front of you. The store would bring a whole new meaning to local, and one-up the notion of hyper local, since all the food available to eat or buy would have traveled zero miles from the farm to the store. At most, just a few steps.
It all sounds grand, and more than a little space-age. But the challenge given to the team that came up with Agropolis wasn't entirely outside reality: Create a farm without relying on arable lad. As the Earth's healthy soil and other resources dwindle, it may not be out of the realm of possibility that a system like Agropolis be needed, particularly in urban areas. And while urban agriculture has come a long way, incorporating all kinds of creative and innovative ideas and technologies, in order to make it work on a large and global scale it may be time for something as futuristic and high-tech as Agropolis.
But imagine if, in fifty years, or some other future point, our grocery stores did include built in farms, how our relationship to food would change. For one thing, the variety of food we eat might change--are there some vegetables and fruits that can't be grown using these artificial systems? Would we only eat tilapia, and no other meat? Other vertical and urban farm project proposals include a variety of "staple" crops and animals that all work seamlessly together. But is biting into a fresh, hydroponic, LED light feeding tomato really as good as getting one from your local organic farmer who's tomatoes ripen in the sun? What will the foodies of this imagined future look like? In this brave new world of urban agriculture, one this is certain: While Agropolis insists that the store/restaurant/farm will be a sort of ultimate consumer experience, it'll be a much different experience than what we have access to now.
Photo credit: Agropolis