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.