Future Foods and Urban Solutions: Exploring Agtech Trends

“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”
— Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

The Green Quotient: Environmental Impact of Hydroponics 

There are many benefits of hydroponics. Hydroponic farms reduce the environmental impacts of traditional farming. They do this by replacing soil with water. Hydroponic farms use water Instead of soil to provide nutrients to crops. Because hydroponic agriculture doesn't need fertile ground, it's ideal for indoor use or on rooftops, patios, or other open spaces. Here’s what you need to know about hydroponics vs. traditional farming.


Hydroponic farming saves 70-80% more water than traditional soil-based farming. Traditional crops receive nutrients from the soil, but hydroponic crops receive nutrients from water. The water is continuously recycled and delivered to the root system instead of sprayed over the entire plant and potentially lost to evaporation or runoff. 


Because hydroponic farms don't use soil, they don't need land. This results in less land erosion, reduces the amount of pesticides in use, and makes land available for other purposes.


Hydroponic crops don't grow in soil and are often protected inside controlled environment agriculture (CEA) facilities. This means pests have less access to hydroponic plants, so growers don't need to rely on dangerous pesticides. 


Hydroponic farms use less land, water, and pesticides than traditional farming. They also reduce their carbon footprint by keeping things local. Hydroponic crops are fresher and better tasting than conventional farming. Crops grown hydroponically can be in continuous production regardless of the season. Continuous local crop production helps reduce the carbon footprint used in shipping. 

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New York Times | Meet the Climate-Defying Fruits and Vegetables in Your Future 

From the article:

Plant breeders, by nature, are patient people. It can take them years or even decades to perfect a new variety of fruit or vegetable that tastes better, grows faster or stays fresh longer.

But their work has taken on a new urgency in the face of an increasingly erratic climate. Recent floods left more than a third of California’s table grapes rotting on the vine. Too much sunlight is burning apple crops. Pests that farmers never used to worry about are marching through lettuce fields.

Breeding new crops that can thrive under these assaults is a long game. Solutions are likely to come from an array of research fronts that stretch from molecular gene-editing technology to mining the vast global collections of seeds that have been conserved for centuries.

And, of course, the new fruits and vegetables have to taste good. “You can use these technical solves to find climate solutions, but they won’t be useful if it’s not what people want to eat,” said Michael Kantar, an associate professor at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa who studies wild relatives of existing crops.

National Geographic | Do you want to eat more veggies in 2024? Read this.

From the Article:

Salads are an easy vegetarian dish to make since everyone is familiar, Moran says. But rather than tossing a few grape tomatoes onto a small plate of romaine lettuce, break out a huge bowl and get creative. “Start with a base that is meaningful,” Moran says, such as a mixture of massaged kale, arugula, and baby spring leaves or whatever leafy greens you enjoy. “After that you want to make it fun,” she says.

Include vegetables of various colors, shapes, and tastes, from sweet peppers to pungent radishes. Add additional texture with raisins, avocados, nuts, and/or seeds. In colder months, you can warm up a salad by tossing in a few cooked vegetables like sauteed mushrooms or winter squash and/or beans or seared tempeh made from fermented soy.

Bowls filled with cooked plant foods can be almost as simple to put together, Moran says. Instead of lettuce the base here is typically a cooked grain like rice or quinoa, which is topped with steamed or sauteed vegetables and beans then drizzled with a sauce like pesto or teriyaki. Serving this in a bowl rather than on a plate allows the flavors to meld, she says.

Washington Post | Opinion | Vertical farming could be a solution for downtowns

From the article:

The Oct. 1 editorial “Don’t count on office space to solve America’s housing crisis” discussed the high vacancy rates of commercial office buildings in American cities and why converting them into habitable real estate to help the housing crisis has been difficult, if not prohibitive. Unfortunately, the editorial missed an opportunity to plug the use of such spaces for vertical farming, a practice that is expanding rapidly in Asia and even in U.S. cities.

Area 2 Farms recently started a vertical farm in a vacant Arlington paper storage warehouse; it now delivers greens and vegetables to more than 100 families a week. Using vertical racks stacked on each other, LED lights and hydroponics, vertical farms need no sun, soil or pesticides and reportedly can produce up to 30 harvests a year with 95 percent less water than outdoor farms. News reports indicate that high-energy usage for LED lights has been the Achilles’ heel, but breakthroughs in LED technology and artificial intelligence promise to lessen energy needs. Using micro-robotics, for example, Area 2 Farms reports it uses 25 percent fewer LED lights than the average vertical farm.

With the potential to revolutionize the food industry and benefit the environment, urban vertical farming is the future, and it would seem a propitious use of vacant commercial buildings.

Reuters | Comment: Why investing in food security is investing in the future

From the article:

The average cold storage facility in the U.S. is between 40 to 50 years old, and many are in dire need of upgraded technology. Yet despite the growing demand for organic or perishable foods such as fruits and vegetables, cold storage has been a relatively under-appreciated infrastructure investment due to the higher build costs and greater specialisation of units. In 2021, Acumen Research and Consulting estimated that by 2030 the global cold storage market could be $324 billion.

Up until now, investors have largely chosen to focus on high-growth opportunities related to food security and sustainability. Investors have utilised venture capital and opted for experimental ideas, however many of these innovations have struggled to scale, often because the costs of implementation are too high.

Vertical farming, the practice of growing food in vertically stacked layers, was once hailed as a revolutionary solution to enhance food production and security in urban areas. Unfortunately, the industry still needs to demonstrate that its cost of production can be equally competitive to traditional farming. It also has other environmental and scarce resource challenges to overcome.

Cold storage, in comparison, may not be as revolutionary as vertical farming, but reliable facilities to keep food fresh will help ensure accessibility and have a real impact in the fight to reduce food waste and food cost.


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