By: Connor Sanborn, Co-Founder of SunFlower LLC
If you haven’t yet: check out the introductory post for this series — it lays the groundwork for Parts 1-4 exploring the limitless potential of the world of tomorrow.
Hitchhikers and Food Travels...
As a curious child, fascinated by the wonders of food mold and other such biological networks beyond the comprehension of my own brain’s network, I asked myself where this magical grey-blue substance came from — inevitably appearing seemingly without bias on foods of all shapes and kinds kept in our trusty refrigerator. Passionate for science and the endless pursuit of the “Why?” of things, I quickly learned that these molds were hitchhikers, coming all the way from where the food taxi started (wherever that was).
Not until I was older did I realize that what I eat sometimes comes from halfway across the world, or is injected with chemicals to retain “freshness or shelf life,” often both. I eventually looked at a shiny plastic package of moldy food with slightly less amazement, and a smidge more shame -- the food’s gone bad before anyone could make use of it; an awful waste of time, energy and carbon (if you ask me). But no wonder foods went bad so quickly, they were harvested sometimes weeks before we even had the chance to taste them!
You’re not alone if you’re the kind of person who wonders why the blueberries in your fridge come all the way from Chile, your tomatoes from Canada. An embarrassing fact is: for most human communities between 1960 and 2050, the majority of our food resources came from hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away. Such vast distances were psychologically shortened when all it took was a drive to the local grocer to buy your bread and butter. The grocer and their suppliers knew the untold truth — an out-of-control food system was lowering the quality of our nutrient intake and narrowing the range of accessible crop varieties for most people, all in the name of lower cost for the corporate sellers and conglomerate producers.
For many reasons (some mentioned in previous installments of this series) the broken food system defined by the 20th century was dismantled around 2050 and rebuilt using the principles not of economics and mass-production, but of ecological sustainability and social equity. Centralization, the favored child of capitalism, was pushed aside for a fresh smelling societal newborn: decentralization. This was no truer than in the case of energy and food production. The epiphany leading to the union of these two industries was simple — humans require food and growth demands energy. And it’s true, isn’t it? Agriculture is simply an additive process of carbon-based energy storage we rigged to piggyback on for our midnight snacks, morning lattes and much, much more.
Nowadays, the inherent flexibility of a decentralized peer-to-peer system allows me to trade energy with those nearby — my neighbors, for example — for a variety of their agricultural produce, anytime. You’ll find bartering to be a viable form of economic transaction in the time of 2076, mainly because the people around you have unique resources and services to contribute; plus, the process of assigning value to ‘things’ has come a long way since the invention of money.
In all urban populations and countless rural establishments, the planning and cooperation of members within communities has enabled the production of vital plants and proteins to occur within a 5 mile radius. Because of these local nutrient resources, many foods no longer have a carbon footprint. Okay, so money is still a thing, though I would encourage you to use some of your free time, free atmospheric CO2 and free modern biotechnological resources at your disposal! I’m talking 3D printers, bioreactors, self-contained horticultural setups! If you’re contributing, you’re a help to society and the human species (and will be given subsidized equipment to get up and running).
Energy+Farming = Happiness
Journal Entry: 7.12.2076 3:37am
After a faithful life of devotion to what some call carbon drawdown — others (the realists), ecological pathology and medicine — I’ve come to appreciate certain societal developments and their downstream effects on humanity. The most important of these was the adoption of agrivoltaics (agriculture + photovoltaics) en masse. Years ago, growing and harvesting crops alongside renewable energy went from a fad to a necessity so fast that farmers’ heads spun. After the transition, some producers grew to distribute food to neighbors, or… to burn the crops for energy, capture the carbon, repeat; some to feed the algae, seaweed, fish, insects, fungi, you name it. Aquaculture, hydroponics, 365 greenhouses — the energy hogs of farming — all needed to become carbon-neutral in the blink of an eye.
The new methods of operation had weaned farmers off of fossil fuels, encouraged a more distributed model and brought about a new economic welfare for this group of folks who’ve supported society since its inception. Being not only our food producers, but also our energy farmers, redefined their role as the backbone of prosperous society. Ironically, this role they’ve been cast in parallels that of energy as the foundation of the food system — we can’t get along without them.
Initiatives & Techniques
Beyond farming the sun with food, there are so many other small movements that, in synergy, have created the modern framework for global agricultural sustainability we’re all now a part of. Long the bane of ecosystems worldwide, many invasive species’ presence have been reframed as an opportunity for those human populations impacted by them to change the narrative. Lionfish in the Caribbean are hunted enthusiastically, their poisonous droves neutralized and kept from destroying native fish populations, body tissues used for regenerating the tropical soils depleted of nutrients from centuries of monoculture farming (they’re also great on pizza!). The once rampant pythons of South Florida, now a popular delicacy as famous ‘snake sushi rolls’, can be found left and right in restaurants. I’m pretty sure they’re cooked? Maybe best to ask first. Anywhere you can find invasive species with a potential upside, like utilizing their biomass for food or soil enrichment, the opportunities are taken.
Sometimes removing parts of a broken system is the best way to fix it. The ideas of zero-additive, zero-runoff, no-till and regenerative farming were welcomed changes to the old practice, the negative effects of adding pesticides and excess nutrients becoming painfully clear (from their effect on soil and pollinators, algae blooms and coral reefs, all the way to human development).
With these subtractions acting to guard the new ecological baseline, less micromanagement of the land and leaving more trust to nature and its processes began to simplify and reduce the size of farms, their operations becoming super-efficient and either mostly automated or highly-specialized — beneficial to the farmers in either instance. Big data revolutionized the network, analyzing and optimizing everything from compost temperatures to land-use efficiency.
Emphasizing nature over chemicals was when ‘the farm’ really began to transform. Rotating crops for the natural replenishment of soil meant that additives didn’t need to be sprayed on or tilled into the land. Natural (native) plant biodiversity was encouraged alongside the crops of choice — yielding an increased presence of pollinating insects, reducing losses of crops to common pest species and strengthening the local biodiversity as a whole.
It was an ecological miracle, providing new wild habitat for the insect and animal pollinators (native bees, butterflies, moths, bats and more) and natural enemies (the good bugs who can eat the invasive and pest bug species). It killed two, or maybe three, birds with one stone. Pests were less of a concern to farmers and crops, the world was being ‘re-wilded’ in the most unexpected of places (farmland!), and the places where our food was grown went from black boxes ending at the supermarket to locally accessible wildlife preserves exhibiting exactly where and how our food was sustainably grown.
Lots of hard working people were pushed out of their land and livelihoods when the farming model became globalized in the 1900s; by 2050, it was about time that social equity in our food was returned to a level where economic welfare, particularly in the impoverished rural communities, was not secondary to, but an intended byproduct of the network in which its members participated. Low and moderate income families are now given actual, fresh food resources, rather than food stamps. In a changing climate, many processes are now automated and run by AI, but there will always be a demand for the imagination and help of locals in designing and maintaining the farms of the future, from their native wildflowers and grasses to the introduction of habitat refuges for animals critical to the function and conservation of the local ecosystem. In other words, a regrowing workforce with an invaluable responsibility is now supported, uplifted and paid by a network farming both our food and our energy.
In 2076: Food Eats You!
Speaking of the pests of yesterday and the food of today! It may (or may not) come as a shock to you — we eat them now, lots of them. As the treats of some countries and the creepy-crawlies of others, you might find such morsels as the mealworm, grasshopper, cricket, jellyfish and sea urchin in your daily nutrient intake, depending on where you live. The creatures of culinary abomination, the ones that feed from the waste of others, and of the kinds that can grow together in an unidentifiable mass of millions, all are welcomed because they truly serve the most noble of purposes — recycling our seemingly endless human waste products, the breakdown and reformation of our poisons into remedies.
The food of yesterday’s tomorrow is finally here; and it’s not just plants and animals in some ‘food pyramid’ anymore. Now, many fungi(s) have also joined the party, and they brought the beer... or yeast, anyways. Not just yeast, but thousands of other species of fungus now hold their place as organisms most useful in our daily lives. From food to fuel, packaging to clothing, fungi are here to stay. Hey look who showed up, fashionably late! It’s bacteria: the misunderstood kid who eats lunch in the bathroom. We weren’t sure they would show, but here they are: serving up valuable proteins from thin air and fresh nutrients to cure the societal hangover of the 2020s; now things are really starting to get live.
Given the startup equipment and materials from the government, you too can become an energy and food farmer, a resource creator. Protected from seasonal drought, natural disasters and pests, your resource center (formerly greenhouse) is but a microcosm of the whole order and, at the same time, all you could ever need. Your resource center requires three central ingredients: carbon, energy and time.
Add the seeds of life and within a matter of weeks, you’ll begin to see the fruits of your labor. Fresh graphene printed daily, crops of your choice maturing at an accelerated pace, all of your micronutrients conglomerating nicely between the various forms of fungi growing and the bioreactor filled with a cocktail of microorganisms; you’ve got protein, lipids and carbohydrates for days! When humans were once forced to have jobs completely unrelated to their survival, the main objective was the hunt for wealth, thereby providing an intermediate for the means of survival (money). In 2076, fame, connections and a high-paying job aren’t requirements to earn a decent living and enjoy an admirable quality of life. You only need three basic ingredients.
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