Smart farming for Smart cities

Using our atmosphere as an open sewerage plant and pouring into it excessive amounts of pollution and carbon dioxide (Co2) has led to global warming. Global warming and its effect on climate change leading to extreme weather events are being experienced by all of us across the globe. Efforts are on to reduce the production of Co2, by reducing the amount of fossil fuels that we burn for producing electricity, industry, transportation, etc. Afforestation is another way of creating carbon sinks, so that the excessive Co2 is absorbed by the plants and trees in forests.

Logic dictates that increasing agriculture should also act as carbon sinks – the agricultural crops need Co2, so they should also be effective carbon sinks? This is far from the truth, because some of the devastating practices from industrial agriculture, actually lead to global warming!

Industrial agriculture, which is common in most of the developed world, has a hugely negative impact on global warming. On a global scale, agricultural land use contributes 12% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This is because of the embodied energy required for industrial agriculture. This includes, manufacture and use of pesticides and fertilizers, fuel and oil for tractors, equipment, trucking and shipping, electricity for lighting, cooling & heating, and emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gases.

The only way to combat this is to switch to move from large scale industrial agriculture to neighborhood organic farming (NOF) practices. This ensures that food is grown locally to feed the immediate neighborhood in an organic manner, thereby reducing all the negative effects of large scale industrial agriculture. It is said that in the future, agriculture will not be a rural activity, but a smart urban necessity, and a necessary ingredient of smart cities.

The concept of urban farming is often dismissed because of the ‘lack of space’ for farming. This argument is invalid now because of the great success and multiple of proven models of ‘vertical farming’. A vertical farm reaches up toward the sky, maximizing each and every inch of soil. You train plants to grow along a trellis, or on chicken wire, or within an interwoven climbing pyramid of pots, or wound around a series of tiered garden structures. Any size space can become a vertical garden, as long as there’s an adequate combination of soil medium, light, and water. We’re now seeing vertical gardens on patios, jutting out of sidewalks in squares of soil, crawling up the side of a building. With a home vertical garden, it’s easy to maintain soil quality and assure proper watering.

The Rodale Institute, which researches the best practices of organic agriculture, has designed prototype vertical gardens called “growing towers” in Allentown and Philadelphia, PA. Aeroponics, is another technique in which crops are grown in vertical stacks of plant beds, without soil, sunlight, or water, but uses LED lights (instead of sun light) and mists of water vapor (instead of flowing water). While it may seem like science fiction, the time has come for us to consider urban farms housed in multi storied buildings, filled with tiers of LED lights, substrate, and plants.

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The Riverpark Farm is located at the Alexandria Center and is hailed as New York City’s most urban farm. The farm then produce fresh and local produce to its adjacent restaurant the RiverPark Restaurant. Photo Courtesy : ispotgreen.com

Many examples of vertical gardens exist around the globe. Sydney, Australia’s One Central Park residential tower designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, and features a vertical gardening scheme developed by botanist Patrick Blanc. Milan’s Bosco Verticale, the first vertical forest in the world, will measure 260 feet and 367 feet tall respectively, and together they have the capacity to hold 480 big and medium size trees, 250 small size trees, 11,000 ground-cover plants and 5,000 shrubs, an equivalent of 2.5 acres of forest. Vancouver’s Siamiahoo Library has a ‘green wall’ where they converted ugly grey concrete walls into beautiful lush vertical gardens.

Neighborhood organic vertical farming can contribute towards sustainable agriculture for the future, while reducing the negative impacts of industrial agriculture on climate change. This is smart farming for the future, and should become a component of model smart cities!

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CB Ramkumar is an author, speaker, entrepreneur, Founder & Managing Director of Green Dreams for the Planet – An Environmental Awakening & Sustainability Action Enterprise. He can reached at the following address http://www.cbramkumar.com

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