Urban Farming Is The Future Of Agriculture

Surplus and Scarcity

The planet is growing more food than ever, and yet millions of people continue to starve worldwide. People are hungry everywhere — in the country, in the suburbs. But increasingly, one of the front lines in the war against hunger is in cities. As urban populations grow, more people find themselves in food deserts, areas with “[l]imited access to supermarkets, supercenters, grocery stores, or other sources of healthy and affordable food,” according to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

New technologies are changing the equation, allowing people to grow food in places where it was previously difficult or impossible, and in quantities akin to traditional farms.

Farming at New Heights

Urban farms can be as simple as traditional small outdoor community gardens, or as complex as indoor vertical farms in which farmers think about growing space in three-dimensional terms. These complex, futuristic farms can be configured in a number of ways, but most of them contain rows of racks lined with plants rooted in soil, nutrient-enriched water, or simply air. Each tier is equipped with UV lighting to mimic the effects of the sun. Unlike the unpredictable weather of outdoor farming, growing indoors allows farmers to tailor conditions to maximize growth.

With the proper technology, farming can go anywhere. That’s what the new trend of urban farming shows — these farms go beyond simple community vegetable gardens to provide food to consumers in surrounding areas. All vertical farmers need is some space and access to electricity, no special facilities required. Farmers can buy everything they need to start and maintain their farms online as easily as shopping on Amazon.

In fact, because it’s so easy to access starting materials, officials don’t really know how many urban farms are running in the United States. A 2013 survey by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) received 315 responses from people operating facilities they describe as urban or suburban farms. However, federal grants for agriculture development show thousands of city-dwelling recipients, indicating that the number of urban farms is likely much higher.

“You have to look at these facilities in cubic feet as opposed to square feet. We can really put out a lot of produce from a facility like this,” Dave Haider, the president of Urban Organics, a company that operates urban farms based in St. Paul, Minnesota, told Futurism. Technology allows vertical farmers to control the environment in their farms, enabling them grow a lot more in the same amount of space, according to a 2014 study in the Journal of Agricultural Studies.

Image Credit: Urban Organics

Urban farms can grow more than just fruits and vegetables. Urban Organics grows three varieties of kale, two varieties of Swiss chard, Italian parsley, and cilantro, but uses the same water to raise Arctic char and Atlantic salmon — a closed-loop system often called aquaponics. Fish waste fertilizes the plants, which clean and filter the water before it goes back into the planters; excess drips into the fishtanks. 

Urban Organics opened its first farm inside a former brewery complex in 2014. In the years since, it’s brought food where it’s needed most: to people in the food deserts of the Twin Cities. In 2014, The Guardian named the company one of the ten most innovative urban farming projects in the world.

“Trying to put a dent in the industry when it comes to food deserts is really one of the driving factors behind our first farm, which was actually located in a food desert,” Haider said. Urban Organics sells its produce to local retailers and provides locally-sourced fish to nearby restaurants. “That was sort of a sort of our approach  let’s try to grow produce and raise high-quality protein in an area that needs it most.” As more people move to cities, problems like food scarcity might get even worse.

The vertical farm is also environmentally-friendly. Aquaponics systems result in very little waste. Vertical farming allows growers to use their finite area more efficiently, so we collectively can better utilize established space instead of creating more arable land, leaving more ecosystems intact. Placing the farms close to vendors and consumers means that fresher produce can reach tables with less reliance on trucks, which contribute to pollution and global warming.

What’s the Harm in an Urban Farm?

As people all over the world move to cities, urban centers sprawl to accommodate them. Often, that means taking over former farmland to support more people. In New Jersey, cities like Camden and Trenton are becoming more populous as they convert into urban spaces.

Vertical farming can limit that sprawl. “Vertical farms can actually come into these areas to recolonize the city and to take spaces that have been removed from producing anything,” Paul P.G. Gauthier, a vertical farming expert at the Princeton Environmental Institute, told Futurism.

But setting up an urban farm is often not an easy task. Finding enough space for an affordable price can present a significant obstacle for potential farmers. Vertical farmers also need to know how to operate more technology, including systems that control elements such as soil contaminants and water availability, that nature takes care of on a traditional farm.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Now, companies are popping up to help urban farmers get their facilities up and running. One Brooklyn-based company, Agritecture Consulting, helps people and organizations that want to start their own vertical farms to conduct market research and economic analyses, and to design and engineer the farm plans. The company has successfully completed more than a dozen projects to date, creating farms around the world, including some in the cramped confines of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The benefits of urban farming practices extend beyond the tangible aspects of growing food in underserved areas — there’s also a fortunate side effect of cultivating community. That’s a big draw for organizations, including Urban Organics and Agritecture Consultants.

Growing Communities

Urban Organics opened a new facility this past summer. It’s much larger than the organization’s other locations, and could provide more than 124,700 kilograms (about 275,000 pounds) of fresh fish and nearly 215,500 kilograms (more than 475,000 pounds) of produce to the nearby area each year.

The former brewing complex in which the new farm is located is undergoing a revitalization, adding artists’ condos and even a food hall, according to a press release emailed to Futurism. Haider is excited about the potential of the new facility and the impact it will have on the developing neighborhood. “Not only are we creating some good-paying, quality jobs with some medical benefits, but these are jobs that just didn’t exist in the area prior to Urban Organics. And these are the things that excite us,” he said.

This winning formula of bringing food and jobs to these areas can help build underserved communities. “Once that’s done, we get to go out to identify the next markets and then do it all over again,” Haider said.

Empowering individuals to get into urban farming can build community, too. Henry Gordon-Smith, the co-founder and managing director of Agritecture, has a side project called Plus.farm, a do-it-yourself resource website for individuals and small groups looking to start urban farms of their own. It’s his passion project, his “labor of love,” he told Futurism. “This is my way of not-so-subtly democratizing some of the best practices. It’s a great way for people to create their own approaches, which is what I really want to see.” The site allows farmers to come up with their own hacks — better lights, better sensors, better growing techniques — and share them on the site’s forum. That’s how an ancient practice like farming continues to improve with modern tools.

Farms of the Future

As people continue to study and tweak urban farming practices, we will continue to learn more about how they can benefit the areas surrounding them and the greater global community. Data on how urban farms directly affect their local communities may compel lawmakers to support and invest more in urban farms.

Gordon-Smith has planned another side project to this effect: an entire building or neighborhood to test urban farming technologies while gathering data. Though the location has not yet been decided, Gordon-Smith has already received a $ 2 million commitment from Brooklyn borough president Eric L. Adams; he has also taken his proposal to the New York City Council. The proposal is waiting for consideration from the Committee on Land Use, and there is no indication of when it will be decided.

Vertical farming, and urban agriculture in general, could be a significant boon for areas with the resources to invest, feeding residents and bolstering the local economy. Still, it’s important to know that urban agriculture is not a singular solution to solve a massive problem like helping people access enough nutritious food. Gauthier, the Princeton urban farming expert, points out that there are a lot of important crops that simply cannot be grown indoors, at least not yet. “We’ll probably never grow soybeans, wheat, or maize indoors,” he said. “Vertical farming is not the solution for solving hunger across the world. It’s not the solution, but it is certainly part of the solution.”

Other efforts to combat world hunger grant people in poor nations more economic freedom by giving them lines of credit, or instituting basic income policies, like those being tested in Kenya. Education, social change, and female empowerment are all social initiatives that can help more people access the food they need to sustain themselves and their families.

Urban farms have the potential to change the world’s agricultural landscape. Granted, we’re probably not going to see a planet of supercities in which all farming is done in high-rise buildings. But urban farms can bring greater yields in smaller areas, increase access to healthy options in urban food deserts, and mitigate the environmental impact of feeding the world. That seems like enough of a reason to continue to develop and expand these transformative farming practices.

The post Urban Farming Is The Future Of Agriculture appeared first on Futurism.


Apple’s future shouldn’t be at CES, but at global in-store events

Every year, journalists start CES with faint optimism and conclude with disappointment; as the song goes, they thought the future would be cooler. At some point right as the show is ending, someone will typically float Apple — which officially skips CES every year — as either the cause of the show’s boredom or its future savior. Right on cue, analyst and former Apple marketing director Michael Gartenberg today published the latest version of this pitch, titled “It’s Time For Apple to Go to CES.” I agree with much of what he says, but respectfully disagree with that conclusion.

I’m uniquely positioned to discuss this topic for a few reasons. I created CES’ incredibly popular Apple product exhibition area, the iLounge Pavilion, which kept growing until it filled the equivalent of more than two football fields. During the same time, I covered virtually all of Apple’s major events, including speaking with people behind the scenes. Last but not least, I’ve held no stock in Apple and have no stake in its success or failure, other than as a customer.

My position: Apple’s 2009 withdrawal from trade shows may have been justifiable back then, but the overall impact has been negative. Additionally, Apple’s related decision to move most of its product launches to a single quarter each year has damaged the brand, despite the strength of Apple’s sales and stock. However, unless certain highly improbable changes are made at CES, this particular trade show is not the right venue for Apple. Instead, the company should leverage its incredible retail infrastructure to do something different.

Apple and trade shows

In December 2008, when Apple withdrew from exhibiting at future trade shows, the company described them as “a very minor part of how Apple reaches its customers.” It also downplayed the importance of professional shows such as NAB and regional shows including Apple Expo Paris. The logic seemed simple: Why prepare a keynote and staff a booth to reach perhaps 100,000 attendees when Apple Stores collectively had “more than 3.5 million people visit every week?”

To Apple-focused journalists, the real reason behind the change was becoming clearer: Then-CEO Steve Jobs was looking thinner with every keynote, and as his illness progressed, he had more important things to accomplish than working on speeches. No one else could take ownership of Apple’s keynote process at that point, and without a keynote — pulling the cloth off of surprises that would then be offered for public examination — an Apple trade show booth wouldn’t be exciting.

Sure, Apple participated in trade shows as marketing events, primarily to spread the news on new products. But the keynotes also became cultural events, actually setting the tone for both the technology industry and arguably human progress as a whole. What if everyone could easily access the real internet from a pocket-sized device? What if a portable computer could be made so light and easy to use that kids and grandparents could figure it out? There was good reason to tune in and see what Apple was announcing: The devices might, in fact, change the world.

Above: Apple’s Jeff Williams introduces ResearchKit at a media-only Special Event.

Apple sometimes still hosts “Special Events” around March solely for hand-picked audiences, as well as small demonstrations at events like NAB, but they’re exceptions to the rule. Yet a company that will likely have nothing to say for half the year can’t dominate the media like one that’s always on the cusp of a major announcement. Stock price aside, both the company and the world have been measurably worse off without the enthusiasm generated by these events.

There are also products, most notably the Apple TV, that could have made much bigger splashes with keynote and booth marketing. Imagine if Apple had debuted the first downloadable Apple TV games and proper game controllers at E3? Or if it had launched the pulse and workout-tracking Apple Watch at Medica, the largest health care trade show in the world? Much of the “so what” shrugging that followed their launches might have been avoided if they’d been presented initially in the strongest possible environments.

Apple’s predictable, boring calendar

On a highly related note, Apple never formally said that it was going to stop staggering major new product releases across the year, but that’s effectively what happened: Since Tim Cook took over, Apple has announced almost nothing of significance until WWDC in June, and the vast majority of new products are released during a narrow window from mid-September to early November.

Key Apple executives have spoken proudly about refreshing most of the product lineup simultaneously, as if having a hundred new device models, sizes, colors, and capacities hitting stores over 4-5 weeks was a great thing. That’s cool for people who manage supply chains, but it’s overwhelming and not particularly great for consumers.

Above: Apple chief executive Tim Cook onstage at Apple’s event in San Francisco on September 7, 2016.

Image Credit: Screenshot

Dropping a huge load of stuff all at once is the opposite of what Apple did under Steve Jobs. The company used to keep people excited all year about new Apple products, generally debuting only one or three of them at a time. Staggering new releases across each year gave people a chance to spend their limited income on Apple products at times other than the holidays, keeping Apple’s stores buzzing (not just busy) year-round.

The only positive Apple has accomplished for consumers with the “all at once” tactic has been to create some sense of purchasing predictability. If you’re wondering whether there’s going to be a new iPhone, Mac, Apple TV, or Apple Watch any given year, the answer is now most likely “yes, around September or October.”

Some people have suggested that fewer events are the natural result of maturing products — version 1 deserves a splashy event whenever, but no one will care to show up for the “special” debut of a slightly slimmer version 2, or a waterproof version 3, which could arrive via press release. That’s Apple’s problem to remedy, partially with more breakthrough products, and partially with developer engagement and marketing to show how seemingly small changes — say, adding a game controller and games to the Apple TV — could disrupt an entire industry.

Does Apple need to do CES, specifically?

Gartenberg’s pitch for getting Apple to CES is that “Apple’s presence was always felt” at CES regardless of its lack of attendance, and that CES is lacking in big, quality announcements these days. “Tim Cook and Apple’s superb executives could put together a keynote that showcases not just the company’s products but its vision for the new year.” I agree on all of those points.

But when Apple stopped attending Macworld Expo, another subtext left out of its “no more trade shows” press release was that in Steve Jobs’ view, January keynotes only served to delay purchases that would have been made during the prior holiday. It was also suggested that this obligation wrecked the holidays every year for people who had to prepare keynote presentations and demos — including Jobs and the employees closest to him. Other Apple employees also suggested that the company didn’t enjoy attending events where it had to share floor space with rival companies.

Above: CES attracts thousands of exhibitors, within which Apple would be only one.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

There was also some performance anxiety. Put aside the virtue of infrequent, category-creating January debuts such as the first iPhone and iPad. What is Apple supposed to show every other January, and what huge vision is it going to lay out every year? At what point does Apple hold off on releasing ready-for-Christmas Macs, just to have something “new” to share at the keynote a month later?

Furthermore, CES has a seniority-based space allocation system, which is highly problematic for companies that haven’t been exhibiting for decades — it’s likely why Google had to set up its booth in a parking lot this year, only to get rained out. Believe it or not, CTA wouldn’t necessarily make an exception to its space rules for Apple, citing its impartial stewardship of the entire consumer technology industry.

So unless CTA is willing to make some big changes, it’s not time for Apple to go to CES. But it is time for Apple to rethink the negative impact that its narrow keynote and product release schedules are having on its business and the larger technology industry. People do appreciate when Apple takes on an industry leadership role, and they do want old Apple-style excitement, but that doesn’t need to happen at old trade shows.

A better option: Apple Stores

Above: Hundreds lined up at Buffalo, NY’s Apple Store for the iPhone X, October 2017.

Perhaps Apple’s “goodbye, Macworld” press release had the best idea of them all: Since Apple’s retail stores see millions of visits per week, why not bring them all together once or twice a year for global-scale special events?

Live from Apple Park’s Steve Jobs Theater, the company could simultaneously broadcast a keynote to all of its retail stores, complete with a window of limited hands-on time with new products for press and customers. Imagine the lines and the local media coverage; they would be off the charts, and diversify the voices offering perspectives on new Apple products.

Though attendance would be limited somewhat by individual store floor space, the number of people in the aggregate would probably be larger than any CES. Would they actually come? Of course. For true Apple diehards, the ability to attend something like this — especially if it was local — would probably be worth taking the day off work. On Apple’s side, all it would require is existing retail staff, augmented by some extra security for whatever new products were arriving.

The infrastructure’s all there; all Apple has to do is decide to use it properly, and trust its people to take on such a global-scale event. For many companies, participating in a single-location trade show isn’t a bad idea. Apple’s unique footprint and ambitions give it the perfect excuse to pioneer massively multi-location events at its stores.

Apple – VentureBeat

Best iPhone Game Updates: ‘Rules of Survival’, ‘Cooking Dash’, ‘Marvel Future Fight’, ‘Sniper Fury’, and More

Hello everyone, and welcome to the week! It’s time once again for our look back at the noteworthy updates of the last seven days. Well, it was another somewhat slow week in terms of content updates. A lot of developers are still trying to catch up with iPhone X and/or iOS 11 compatibility issues, I think, which really just leaves the evergreen service games to populate this column for the time being. Sorry, but I’ll try to at least be entertaining about it all until things pick up again. Of course, you can keep an eye out for updates yourself using AppShopper or by participating in the TouchArcade forums. This weekly summary is just here to fill you in on the things you might have missed. Let’s dig in!

Rules of Survival, Free Wow, another update so soon? Neat. Rules of Survival, I expect you to be useful for filling out these columns for the forseeable future, okay? This is actually a rather big update with a lot of details. UI fixes, sure, and some minor improvements to the visuals and some sound effects. But it’s the new content additions that are headlining things, including weapon camo, a new Bunny Girl look, an improved looks interface, a new token store, advanced supply boxes, a team-up request option, and a spectator feature for the battle results screen. That’s a lot of new stuff to juggle, but I have faith you’re all up to the task.

MARVEL Avengers Academy, Free The holidays are over and it’s still something like seven weeks until the next Marvel movie launches, so what is a Marvel app to do to bide the time? In the case of Avengers Academy, the answer appears to be a vague shrug of the shoulders. The latest event is billed as the Return of A-Force, which it certainly is, but as far as new additions to the game go, you’ve got a Premium Red She-Hulk and a bunch of characters that were made up for the game. Mostly nameless henchmen. Oh well, if nothing else it’s a chance for newer players to add some cool heroes to their campus. Still waiting on Dazzler-Thor to properly complete the set, though.

Frozen Free Fall, Free Yes, this is still getting updates. It seems like someone can’t… let it go? Sorry, but also not sorry. There are a few things in this update to the popular Disney puzzle game, with the highlight probably being the 40 new levels that have been added to the Endless map. There’s a new… obstacle? Item? Anyway, Elsa’s left her gloves laying around and you need to make matches beside them to pack them into boxes. There are also some new decorations for your plaza including a Snow Globe Cart and a Barrel of Carrots. I’m capitalizing those words because I am unclear as to whether or not they are specific and/or unique objects. Not going to take any chances with Disney.

MARVEL Future Fight, Free There’s no cute theme to wrap this update into, but you get two new characters and some new costumes, so it’s hard to complain too much. Unfortunately as has been the case for the last couple of updates, you probably won’t be getting your hands on either of the new roster additions without spending some money. I suppose I should say who they are, though. From Cosmic Marvel, it’s Jim Starlin’s other pet, Adam Warlock! And from the X side of the equation, it’s Logan’s clone-daughter, X-23! Laura Kinney really should be in every Marvel game by now, if you want my opinion. This update also includes some new Marvel Legacy-inspired costumes for Falcon, Punisher, and Satana. This is a quiet week and I like X-23, so I guess I’ll give this game the coveted UMMSotW award this time around.

Cooking Dash™, Free Wait, I just remembered. There is a holiday coming soon, and it’s a big one! The Lunar New Year is only a few weeks away now, and it looks like Cooking Dash is getting a head start on things with its newest version. You can ring in the Chinese New Year by cooking some dim sum at the Dim Sum Citadel. There are 60 new levels to play featuring such tasty dishes as potstickers, spring rolls, egg tarts, sesame balls, and more. Deck your restaurant out for the season in decor inspired by the Chinese New Year to really set the mood. Likely just the first of many, so you’d best get ready.

Sniper Fury, Free It’s version 3.0 of that game whose ads were kind of inappropriate to throw into the ol’ incentivized video rotation that could show up in kids’ games. There’s a new region that the dad-jokey update notes seem to imply is connected with virtual reality, a new mentoring system, global chat, a new Protector class, a new quest system, and a bunch of little quality of life improvements and tweaks. I HAVE FURY!

That about wraps it up for last week’s significant updates. I’m sure I’ve missed some, though, so please feel free to comment below and let everyone know if you think something should be mentioned. As usual, major updates will likely get their own news stories throughout this week, and I’ll be back next Monday to summarize and fill in the blanks. Have a great week!


Get Your First Look at the Future of Hypersonic Flight

Aerospace companies are in a heated race to create a hypersonic plane to replace the SR-71 Blackbird. Though retired in 1990, the SR-71 still holds the record as the fastest plane ever built, achieving a top speed of 3,540 kmh (2,200 mph). The goal now is to build a plane capable of reaching speeds above Mach 5 (6,171 kmh/3,835 mph), and Boeing thinks they may have the design that could do it.

During the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ SciTech Forum in Florida last week, Boeing unveiled a model of their next-generation demonstrator hypersonic aircraft. The twin-tail, tapered-wing concept hasn’t yet been approved for full-scale development, but Boeing’s head of hypersonic research told Aviation Week Aerospace Daily that it is a feasible design.

Boeing’s recently unveiled design for their hypersonic plane. Image Credit: Boeing

Popular Mechanics reports that Boeing’s current design works off of previous successes in hypersonic aircraft, including the unmanned X-51, which broke records in 2013 when it flew at Mach 5.1 for three-and-a-half minutes before running out of fuel and crashing into the ocean. The big challenge is building a plane that can not only reach Mach 5, but that can also decelerate to land.

To that end, both Boeing and Lockheed Martin are researching designs that utilize turbojets, a type of engine that has long been used in commercial aircraft, to achieve Mach 3 speeds before swapping to a dual ramjet/scramjet. Those types of compression engines only function at speeds above Mach 3, and they would provide the power to propel the aircraft to Mach 5 speeds and higher.

Artist's concept of Lockheed Martin's SR-72. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin
Artist’s concept of Lockheed Martin’s SR-72. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin’s planned SR-72, which they are developing with the U.S. Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has a similar design to the craft revealed by Boeing last week. The tentative release date for the SR-72 is 2030, though sightings of an unmanned demonstrator aircraft at Lockheed’s California facility suggest the company may be further along in development than expected.

China also has several programs currently researching and developing hypersonic flight systems, including a hypersonic space plane and scramjets that have already been tested at speeds of Mach 7 (8,642 kmh/5,370 mph).

Regardless of who wins this race, the development of hypersonic flight promises to change the future of travel, exploration, and military engagement — for everyone.

The post Get Your First Look at the Future of Hypersonic Flight appeared first on Futurism.


10 Years Ago Today Steve Jobs Unveiled MacBook Air With No Optical Drive, Redefined The Future Of Laptops

10 years ago today, late Apple CEO Steve Jobs walked onto the stage at Macworld to reveal the super-thin MacBook Air from within a manila envelope.

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