I came across an invite for a webinar (see link below) organised by the Robotics Business Review in my social media stream. Although I share an interest in electronics and robotics, I find myself thoroughly disagreeing with the sentiment of this article (event invite).
‘Barely 2 percent of the U.S. population is on the farm; growers in California’s San Joaquin Valley are hard-pressed to find field workers to hire, and in places like Japan the average age of farmers is 70 years old. The future outlook for more people to fill the gap by taking up farming is slim to none.’
This comment to me seems from a perspective of a robotics person with no knowledge of small scale farming and related food trends. There is a slowly growing “back to the land” movement and I personally know of many more people toying with the idea and some already doing it.
Technology (including robotics) has a potential of being an excellent help, but I do not share the technocratic “Big-Ag” vision. Countless examples have exposed the myth of “efficiency” in Big Ag. There is undoubtedly ‘efficiency’ when viewed the most narrow vision in labor input / production cost, but in a more holistic view there are plenty of Big Ag costs (as well as Small Ag benefits) not counted.
Event Registration: https://event.webcasts.com/starthere.jsp?ei=1034586
I am hoping there will be a recording of this webinar as due to timezones I am not going to attend myself. It appears previous webcasts are available (thank you RBR!).
Similar to our media’s obsession with body image which is causing disorders in our population, there is also an obsession with ‘food image’ that has been build over the years largely by advertising.
This has contributed to a lot of waste of perfectly fine food in the traditional industrial supply chain. Some producers have no other options than compost or feed such ‘misfits’ to animals.
I recently came across a project in Germany called ‘Culinary Misfits’ (see link below) that has made a point of changing these perceptions and do something about this issue. These guys have created a shop for selling food that has been rejected by mainstream food distribution systems. Which helps both producers and some organisations helping to feed more disadvantaged sectors of the community. They are also running courses and there are some lovely images generated via Social Media.
Well Done !
This article by Lester R. Brown in the World Future Society Blog is an excellent read on the effects of wealthy sovereign and corporate interests. These foreign interests are blocking valuable land in poorer countries to produce output largely exported, with little to no benefits for the local population.
Growing demand for food and fuel has put pressure on the world’s agricultural lands to produce more. Now, a trend in “land grabbing” has emerged, as wealthy countries lease or buy farms and agribusiness in poorer countries to ensure their own future supplies. The result may be further economic disparities and even “food wars.”
Original Article: http://www.wfs.org/futurist/january-february-2013-vol-47-no-1/food-fuel-and-global-land-grab
Whilst this particular example by the Benson Institute is situated in a Northern Hemisphere cold climate region, the same principle should apply in Australian conditions. Obviously the aim would be to provide relief from the heat rather than cold by tapping into the thermal mass of soil.
In it’s simplest form it is a rectangular hole in the ground 1.5 – 2 meters deep and covered by plastic or ideally plexi-glass greenhouse sheeting. A rammed earth wall (or dry-stone if you want to get fancy) at the back of the construction and a lower wall at the front provide the angle for the clear. The roof seals the underground greenhouse providing an insulating airspace and allowing the sun to warm the space providing a stable environment for plant growth.
Here is a follow-up video from the original author showing a subsequent year
Benson Institute Manuals: http://www.bensoninstitute.org/Publication/Manuals/
Pure Energy Services: http://peswiki.com/index.php/Directory:Walipini_Underground_Greenhouses
Another interesting ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) program discussing the current state and future possibilities in printing your own food. The main part is an interview with a researcher from Cornell University in New York about the usage of their fab@home project to print food.
The program does raise some of the issues commonly associated with the printing of food, but largely focused on the aesthetics and taste. Unfortunately it missed one of the more insidious side-effects of this technology which would most likely lead to more industrialisation and corporatisation of the food eco-system. Personally (while I am a great believer in the potential of Open Source 3D printing and manufacturing) I do think that this would not be a track I would ever want to follow…