Henry Gordon-Smith: Agriculture Will Drive Cities to be Smarter and Stronger

Those who know me best, know that I am a realist when it comes to climate change. I think that we have moved beyond the stages of climate mitigation and have already entered the era of climate-change adaptation. There is an important, yet sometimes narrow distinction between mitigation and adaption. Whereas one focuses efforts on halting our global addiction to fossil fuels and cutting carbon emissions, the other emphasizes resilience planning and strengthening urban systems in preparation for the future climate.

Even if you disagree with my assessment that investing in mitigation is less important now than adaption, it’s hard to disagree with the idea that as a society, we must move faster to find feasible strategies and technologies for doing more while using less.

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The negative effects of climate change are in many ways felt most acutely in urban areas. With their high-density levels and over-burdened systems, cities are prime locations to suffer the economic and socially damaging effects of additional climate related stressors. Again, we are only just now starting to feel these negative effects, and the consequences we are facing today are probably a result of carbon emitted into the atmosphere at least a decade ago.

More than ever, cities must lead the way in ‘doing more with less’—not just to mitigate climate change (which is still very important), but to prepare urbanites for a world where resources are less abundant.

Did you know that Americans spend an average of 87% of their time indoors? That number makes me consider buildings as the single greatest means for us to educate, create, and prepare for an increasingly climate-unstable future. Buildings define cities, often making up 50% or more of their total area. They also produce 30% of cities emissions and sometimes consume more than 60% of their energy.

Since an early age, I have always wondered why we develop buildings and urban systems in a way that is so obviously extractive. What I mean by this is that we develop most buildings environments to consume energy, water, and food with the hope that they will produce economic growth in return. Oh, and they also produce tons of waste, too. Why couldn’t the first builders of cities have considered a less extractive model where buildings didn’t only consume resources in exchange for money, but also produced resources themselves?

Another statistic which concerns me is that the average age of the U.S. Farmer is 58 and rising. This bothers me because it’s a clear signal that we have trained our next generations into not seeing agriculture as a viable career. Instead, parents raise their children to pursue high-paying, urban jobs in technology and finance, for example.

Only recently has a growing wave of enthusiasm from millennials led to the development of the first youth in agriculture programs. People often talk about the “food security” challenges we face, which are certainly enormous in the face of climate change and population growth. Much less talked about, however, are the underlying “knowledge security” threats that arise when a whole generation becomes removed from the practice of food production.  Without ensuring knowledge security in food production, we can never hope to have food security.

These threats facing our global society bring us to the subjects of urban agriculture, agritecture, and vertical farming. The terms matter less than the goal: which is to develop viable food producing models for buildings and cities. For the upcoming AgLanta Conference my firm Agritecture is organizing on March 27-28 in Atlanta, we will call this “Smart Agriculture”—or agriculture that is holistic, digitized, and integrated into cities and their existing/emerging systems. Don’t get me wrong, I am not only talking about high-tech farms. In fact, some of the most effective forms of urban agriculture are community-based and low-tech solutions. I am, however, saying that models across the spectrum of low-tech (eg. Soil in-ground) to high-tech (soil-less vertical) need to get smarter, faster.

At Agritecture Consulting, we are going to be driving home the Smart Agriculture approach throughout 2018 as we reach out to every city that claims to be “Smart”. You see, we believe that a city cannot be smart without considering its food & agriculture systems. So, we are contacting them, attending their smart events, inviting them to ours, and sharing best practices for planning smart cities that consider agriculture.

But why the focus on smart agriculture and not energy, water, and waste? Well, for one, I have been happy to see that most Smart City initiatives do consider energy, waste, and sometimes water, in addition to the flashy visions of city-wide WIFI and autonomous vehicles. So, let’s all keep encouraging that. The second, and more critical reason, is that I believe no other emerging eco-technology has the potential to impact resilient urban development as much as smart urban agriculture does.

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Think about it: what technology better embodies the food+water+energy nexus than urban agriculture? Smart urban agriculture will accelerate a new generation of urbanites focused on tackling our greatest resilience challenges.

It will continue to ignite the imagination of social entrepreneurs around the world. Smart agriculture reminds us of where we came from and what we will need to survive for generations to come. When done at its best, Smart Agriculture connects community, creating safe spaces in cities, and it accelerates technologies that benefit more than just itself, creating a leapfrogging effect to help us to adapt and thrive. Sure, not all urban farms will succeed on the first try—the technologies and business models that define them are new and challenging. But, with more support from consumers, cities, and smart policies, I am confident that a new understanding of how to make cities develop into producers of water, energy, and food will emerge.

So, if any of this ignites your interest, I invite you to join us at The 2nd annual AgLanta Conference and the first-ever Smart Agriculture for Smart Cities event. We ask you to join us in considering cities that are smart enough to adapt and thrive in our uncertain future. Take the time to join us, connect with other Smart City innovators, break down the silos that may exist between us, and build a new Smart Community. We want to work together with you to make cities, and agriculture smarter. I couldn’t be more grateful that our hosts, The City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Resilience, more than 30 experts from around the world, and an incredible line-up of mission-driven sponsors have the vision to make The AgLanta 2018 Conference possible.

Want to further explore the connections between Smart Cities and urban agriculture innovation? Come join us at  AgLanta 2018, on March 27-28. The dynamic 2-day conference will bring together a diverse group of professionals to explore the ways smart urban agriculture can make cities more efficient, resilient and sustainable. Use code DIGICITY for 20% off regular admission price.

 Henry Gordon-Smith is an acknowledged global thought leader in urban agriculture. Henry’s breadth of experience ranges across the spectrum of the sector; from vertical farms and commercial greenhouses to soil-based farms and architectural design amenities. In 2011, Henry started Agritecture.com, a leading media platform covering the news, business, and design of how agriculture integrates with the built environment. In 2014, Agritecture held its first design workshop, and has now hosted 9 such workshops in 9 different cities. In 2017, Agritecture hosted its first major conference, the Aglanta Conference. In 2017 Henry co-founded some of his most experimental projects yet: AgTech X and +Farm. Agtech X is a Brooklyn based urban agriculture incubator and co-working space, while +Farm is an open-source, affordable, DIY, vertical farming system designed to make growing easier for new enthusiasts. In September 2017 Blue Planet was merged with Agritecture to form Agritecture Consulting.

Henry Gordon-Smith is an acknowledged global thought leader in urban agriculture. Henry’s breadth of experience ranges across the spectrum of the sector; from vertical farms and commercial greenhouses to soil-based farms and architectural design amenities. In 2011, Henry started Agritecture.com, a leading media platform covering the news, business, and design of how agriculture integrates with the built environment. In 2014, Agritecture held its first design workshop, and has now hosted 9 such workshops in 9 different cities. In 2017, Agritecture hosted its first major conference, the Aglanta Conference. In 2017 Henry co-founded some of his most experimental projects yet: AgTech X and +Farm. Agtech X is a Brooklyn based urban agriculture incubator and co-working space, while +Farm is an open-source, affordable, DIY, vertical farming system designed to make growing easier for new enthusiasts. In September 2017 Blue Planet was merged with Agritecture to form Agritecture Consulting.