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How urban agriculture means healthier, wealthier and happier cities

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About a year ago I decided to become a farmer. An urban farmer. And as Tim mentioned, I had nothing to do with agriculture in my previous life. And of all the things I could have possibly imagined doing in the future, farming was not one of them. Topic of today: Urban farming. I think there is reason why farming can have a more prevalant a more promising future. First of all, we'll be 9 billion people pretty soon. And something happens, something very important happens. 70% of us, the majority of us, will live in cities. So it could make a lot of sense growing food where people are going to live. In the city. But most importantly, we will be so many more people we need about 100% more food from today to tomorrow. 100% more. Now some people say, this is the most efficient system, this is the current system, the cheapest system, this is how we do it. But I have to ask you, now as a farmer, fellow farmer, how much money are you making? And you are using all this fossil fertilizer which is made out of oil. And we know what's gonna happen to oil. Using all these pesticides and fungicides and herbicides. You are using all this water and all this fuel for transportation. I mean, did you know that the vegetables you buy in your store have travelled on average 2'000 kilometres before they get into your store? How can that be efficient? And, efficient to whom? Maybe to the transportation industry. But certainly not to the farmer and certainly not to the consumer and certainly not to the environment. Not surprisingly, if we look at our overall footprint, the way we consume food today, weighs the heaviest on our total environmental footprint. Food is more important than housing, energy or water or private transportation. It's the biggest impact on your environmental footprint. So small differences can already have a huge impact on this scale. Now there are already a lot of people who are farming in the city it's not a new phenomenon. Look at this picture here, this is taken from a farm in Brooklyn and you're looking out from the rooftop of a building into Manhattan, and on this farm people are farming. They're farming their own food, you can buy it downstairs in the shop. There are other, more creative ways to farm, right? Like this, I love these guys. Truck farm! Alright, so honey, please hop into the car, but don't crash the salad. Right? Nothing to eat. We were asking ourselves: How can we make, how can we hack ourselves into the city? How can we put farming on the urban Google map? And we could start by taking this parking lot, alright? And we could say, alright, so instead of the upper level, the 40 parking lots that we have on this building, let's put that into a green house. And instead of the 40 parking lots we could grow now food for 500 people. Year in year out. So those 40 of you who took the car to work: take the bus. We are growing now food. This could be important. Of course there are many approaches to this and I think that we need to look at solutions that are really productive and scalable etc. and have all the means to actually achieve something. So, as I said, about a year ago I discovered that there are farmers in the city using new, innovative technologies which would allow them to grow food without soil. I said: food without soil, how can you grow without soil? Well apparently it's possible, and some even used a technology called Aquaponics which allows them to grow fish and vegetables in a closed loop system. Now basically this is a technology and by the way, this comes out of a research lab in Wädenswil. Of all places, Wädenswil, the Harvard of vegetable growers, they have developed this kind of stuff. So here it goes: the fish basically provide the nutrients for the plants, ok, so the fish feaces and urine basically is used as organic fertilizer for the plants. And the plants basically, they take up this nutrients and they filter the water and they clear the water and release it back to the fish. So it's a natural symbiosis between fish and plant. Now I brought one of these farms here and you can see what you can grow. You can grow salads, you can grow herbs, you can grow all kinds of vegetables. You can grow tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, melons, you name it. The system is very resource-efficient. We use about 90% less water than conventional agriculture, have everything in a closed loop so it's very resource-efficient and we loose literally little waste. So at the beginning people asked me, well, Roman, do these fish wear any nanosensors? I said no, they're not. And, what are you gonna do, Roman, with the fish, when you harvest the fish? It's very easy. (Laughter) We'll eat them! Think about this: the freshest produce directly from your roof onto your plate. I mean you're gonna have fish harvested just minutes ago on your plate. From the roof. How great is that? Oceans are overfished, now we're bringing the fish into the city. Of course, if you are looking at it and say ok, how can we scale this, how can we present this to people? We started by building miniature farms, small urban farms. We are using recycled cargo containers and green houses. On top. you would have the vegetables, inside the cargo container you would have the fish. And really, what we wanted to do here is proove the point that this is about self-sufficiency. A family of three can basically live on vegetables and protein consumption of a box like this. So you know, small communities, schools, restaurants, groups of people can get together and grow their own food. But our vision and our aspiration is of course to still provide large quantities of food, urban farming. So we are setting out these projects and this is actually a real project which you are looking at currently in the city of Basel. And it's a small project, a pilot project, but already there we can grow about 5 tons of vegetables and about 800 kg of fish year in year out on a otherwise vacant rooftop. It's about food for 100 people. And as we did this study and this project we found out that in the city of Basel alone there is 2 million m2 of idle rooftop space. And using just 5% of that would yield harvest for 40'000 people. So it's a lot of potential to grow food in the city. I would like to close with 3 remarks: First of all, the time is right, I think we need to consider food security. Secondly we are at a tipping point, the environment can not be scaled anymore, we need to think of solutions that are better, and thirdly, we can grow food in the city. So next time you see one of those empty rooftops in your city, imagine what it would be like to produce fresh food in the city like good food from the roof. Thank you very much. (Applause)

Video Details

Duration: 8 minutes and 32 seconds
Country: Switzerland
Language: English
Genre: None
Producer: TEDxZurich
Views: 202
Posted by: brigazh on Nov 21, 2011

Urban agriculture has been real for decades, starting with the industrialization of Western Europe in the 20th century. Urban agriculture has been also well practiced in poor economies such as Cuba, where it serves as an important way of self-reliance. Today, with conventional agriculture “Big Ag” being at a cross-road in terms of its ecological impact on the environment and the increased food demand of a population growing to 9bn people by 2050, urban agriculture may very well be one key of a solution for the 21st century.

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