Tag: #agriculture


The future UK food policy – presentation by James Elliott from Green Alliance

Last week at our #openhouse we had James Elliott from Green Alliance in to discuss the future of UK food after Brexit and the need to create a resilient and sustainable food system.

Jame’s highlighted the need for serious change both on our own soil and globally when it comes to producing food – with much of current agriculture practice being unsustainable.

Here are the main points discussed in his presentation:

‘The damage farming is doing to the environment is undermining the very ability to farm and grow food in the future – So how can we make food production more sustainable?’

The sustainability of agriculture in the UK is of particular importance as over 70% of our land is farmed (a much higher average compared to the rest of Europe). Globally soils are degrading, the worlds aquifers are over-exlpoited, mass deforestation is taking place worldwide to make room for farming, the global food system contributes to a quarter of green house gas emissions and we are seeing rapid biodiversity loss due to food production.

Having said this, compared to global standards UK agriculture is relatively good having low natural capital costs compared to other countries around the world, however, whilst we are ahead of many other countries, we are still degrading the environment and undermining farm productivity.

Taking East Anglia as an example, one of our most productive farming regions with over half of the best farm land in the UK – we are rapidly loosing top soil and most of the surface water is in a poor condition – and with a 1 degree temperature rise the rate of soil loss is only set to increase.

What does the Government plan to do about this?

Most of our policies for food production and food standards have been set by EU law and regulations for decades. In particular the Common Agricultural Policy has entirely shaped our current farming system and practices. Brexit presents the first opportunity for radical reform, where we would be able to set our own policy. The Government has been clear that they want a ‘Green Brexit’ and have released several important plans and strategies in the past year which show strong ambition for the environment. The most recent of which is a consultation paper on the future of agriculture and land management in the UK. The main proposal is to change farm payments so that government money is used to pay for public goods like a healthy natural environment.

This is a massive step in the right direction for the UK, however, it wont solve environmental problems on its own as it largely focuses on domestic farming rather than looking at the food system as a whole.

Also the way we produce food is driven by a whole host of factors other than governmental policy – with consumer demand having a large impact, the willingness to pay a certain price, and what food businesses themselves demand from farmers.

How does the Governments plan to fix this:

A 25year plan for the environment that commits to ensuring that our food is “produced sustainably and profitably”, that all soils are managed sustainably by 2030, and that achieves clean and plentiful water by improving 3 quarters of water bodies to be close to their natural state.

Clean Growth Strategy that puts carbon sequestration on land and enhancing natural capital at the heart of a strategy for growth. Specific commitments include massively increasing tree cover in England, to 12 per cent by 2060, and innovation investment focused on areas including low carbon fertilisers, soil health and low emission farming.

Industrial Strategy. Sets out a new ‘Transforming food production: from farm to fork’ programme, including £90 million as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge fund to bring together AI, robotics and earth observation to improve supply chain resilience in the agri-food sector. This creates a new Food and Drink Sector Council to capture leadership opportunities in sustainable food and agriculture.

Agriculture Command Paper. Sets out proposals for a new environmental land management system to replace the Common Agricultural Policy, which would replace subsidy for land ownership with targeted payments for farming that provides “environmental public goods” such as improved soil health, improved water quality and increased biodiversity.

But 'farming' is not the same as food

Whilst reforming agricultural policy would be a big step in the right direction, this does not tackle the whole problem as ‘farming’ is not the same as food.

The sustainability of imported foods is determined by the direct environment this food is farmed in, and the standards that these countries adhere to. Ultimately we always loose an element of control whenever we import food, as we have to trust that other nations are producing it in a way we would want. This also has an impact on the standards of food within the UK as farmers may be undermined by cheaper imports with lower standards.

Looking at food as a whole rather than just farming is fundamental as 66% of our calories come from processed foods, with farming accounting to only 8% of the value of the UK agri-food sector. While consumers feel that food prices are high most farms would be making a loss without government subsidies under current practice.

Finally our own knowledge about what we’re eating, where it comes from and how its produced is surprisingly low, creating a void of understanding between consumers and farmers.

what might the future food system look like?

After Brexit, if the government decides to reduce or remove import tariffs on food most of our food imports would switch from mainly coming from the EU to coming from the rest of the world. This could have a negative impact on food production in the UK as many of our own farms won’t be able to compete with the lower prices countries outside of the UK can produce food for. This could also encourage UK farmers to farm more intensively in order to be competitive. Importing food from outside of the EU would also make it more difficult to ensure high standards of food. For example illegal pesticide levels are found nearly 3 times as often in produce from outside of the EU.

And if we do end up doing trade deals their is a good chance we may trade away important standards. Most potential scenarios will lead to some degree of loss of control if new policies are not put in place.

If we trade with the US?

The US has already identified certain areas of EU regulations as to strict, meaning that if we make a trade deal with them we are likely to import chlorine washed chicken, hormone treated beef and pork, genetically modified foods and poorer quality dairy products. They have also criticised the EU maximum for residue levels of certain pesticides (MRL) – a trade deal with them could lead to lifting bans on certain pesticides. The US again has stated the EU’s rules regarding the tractability of meat products (country of origin labelling and animal welfare statements on import certficates) as unnecessarily restricting.

Taking all of the above into consideration it is clear that we need complimentary policies on a full range of food related areas in order to create a sustainable food system – agricultural policy alone is not enough.Outside of the EU we will need to set our own food and production standards in an open and transparent way, leading the path to a sustainable food system. In order to do this the government must uphold our food standards, and not risk trading them away to make unsustainable deals. By implementing the new agricultural policy being proposed whilst simultaneously encouraging people to connect to their food and increase understanding of where our food comes from and hows its produced we stand the chance to have an important impact.

We also used the evening as a chance to discuss whether urban agriculture has a place within the future of our food systems and whether one day growing in the city will need to be taken into consideration when making policy changes. Their is a debate as to whether it will ever have a significant impact to UK food production or whether it will merely play a small supporting role – but perhaps that is enough? If it encourages consumers to grow themselves and also develop an understanding of their food sources perhaps that is all it needs to do?

We shall see…

If you want to take part in our next #openhouse and join the debate on how to create sustainable futures sign up to a free ticket.

 

 

Green Lab #openhouse – Urban Agriculture movement in London, New York & Shanghai

For our first #openhouse of 2018 we welcomed our fellow urban agricultural mavericks into the lab to hear how urban ag is impacting cities and communities around the globe. With urbanisation on the rise and our growing concerns for the current food systems in place we are seeing technology set to play a larger role. With this increasing move from countryside to city our relationships to our food sources are becoming jeopardised and as a result people are turning their hand to growing for themselves, finding unique and smart ways to grow within the city. We heard from our green fingered friends in New York and Shanghai, discussing how our cities are growing for the future and how small change is taking place across the globe.

New York

We heard from Agritecture – an urban agriculture consultancy based in New York and we also spoke to AgTech X, a makers space based in Brooklyn creating opportunities and space for designers and makers to build an urban agriculture community.

Agritecture logo &

Agritecture

Henry Gordon-Smith, Founder of Agritecture, showed us different examples of urban agriculture throughout the city, ranging from low tech community based projects to high tech commercial ventures.

We looked at case studies of these different typologies, focusing on 5 New York based projects:

Battery Park – a community soil based garden

Brooklyn Grange – a commercial rooftop soil-based project

Harlem Grown – a community hybrid

Sky Vegetables – a commercial rooftop hydroponic growing system

Edenworks – a commercial vertical aquaponic growing system.

Each of these examples have varying levels of success and Henry discussed the urban agriculture impact categories that they measure projects against – looking at success more holistically and how it impacts not only on an economic level. The categories we looked at are:

Aesthetics – does it attract people? Is it an enjoyable experience?

Social – does the farm engage the community? does it improve food justice and equality?

Economic – How much yield does the farm producer? does it create jobs and revenue?

Ecological – does it encourage biodiversity? does it help to manage rain and storm water

Health – Is it providing fresh food for those that need it? Is it providing stress relief and a sanctuary from urban living?

It was a comforting insight to hear that not everyone measures success on ‘growth’ and that sometimes the project with the most impact are not the most economically minded.

The discussion of low tech versus high tech urban farming was another interesting point. With many people joining the urban agriculture movement keen to use high tech smart methods, such as hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics, soil based farming can often be overlooked, despite it’s many benefits. Whilst high tech farming and controlled growing environments can result in food security and utilise precious space these methods take time to perfect and the energy consumption can be huge. They also may not provide the local community with sometimes much needed jobs and the biodiversity we all need to bring back to our cities.

See Henry’s presentation here.

AgTech X logo &

AgTech X

We also heard from Ricky Stephens, co-founder of AgTech X, a co-working space focused on the intersection of urban agriculture, technology and sustainability. Based in Brooklyn, AgTech X is creating a working community space that also runs classes and workshop for the public to engage with. As we are finding with Green Lab it is becoming increasingly important for these spaces to exist, not only as a space for play, test and experiment with new ideas, but also to create a dialogue between the local community and those working and growing within the city. Green Lab and AgTech X are facing similar hurdles in sustaining this concept, looking for a permanent space where the ideas can grow and for that all important funding to sustain the project.

Shanghai

Domosfarms vertical green wall &

We also heard from Andy Garcia – a product design engineer and founder of Domosfarms – based in Shanghai.

Whilst New York has been a big player in the urban agriculture scene from the beginning we hadn’t heard much in the way of China’s involvement and Andy gave us an interesting insight into the urban ag community developing in shanghai and also the general agricultural issues that China is currently facing.

When Andy first moved to shanghai 8 months ago he found that he not only couldn’t drink the tap water but he couldn’t cook with it due to the heavy metals found in the water. These heavy metals are a result of china’s mining and processing industries. These metals cant be filtered by the body, resulting in an increased chance of cancer and disease when consumed. Not only are these heavy metals found within the water systems but also within the food grown and produced.

With this concern Andy was keen to start producing his own food and he started to build his first hydroponics system. With the success of his first system he garnered interest from others keen to produce their own food and is now in the process of creating two open source projects for those wishing to build their own hydroponic systems and produce their own food.

China came quite late to the urban agriculture movement, with neighboring countries of Japan and Korea way ahead of them. this was partly due to their large agriculture industry producing plenty of food but in recent years, with increased urbanisation and fears of both food security and food safety the need to explore urban agriculture has increased.

The safety of the food produced has come into question, with the entire food system now possibly contaminated from China’s industries people are now demanding safer food.
Sunqiao Urban Agricultural district &amp

China is addressing this problem by investing in land all over the world, having brought areas in Africa, America and Australia. They are also looking to architectural developments to solve their problems with a current project being built on the outskirts of Shanghai. Sunqiao Urban Agricultural District is being developed to include vertical farming systems such as hydroponics and aquaculture, whilst also providing research and public outreach to the community.

Our next #openhouse will be on Thursday 22nd February, make sure you sign up here.

 

We’re measuring our aquaponic Chilli plants in Mhz

Scoville is the scale of measurement of the pungency (spicy heat) of chili peppers. Mhz is what Green Lab are using to measure the effectiveness of our chilli aquaponic system, 30Mhz.

Located in one of our 24 demo bays is a small scale aquaponic system, home to two bonito chilli plants, two red comets and a host of 30Mhz sensors. The sensors are tracking (in real-time) the humidity, temperature, leaf temp and light intensity of the growing environment, providing the Green Lab team with insight into the growing cycle.

Aquaponic 30Mhz system

Pointed light temperature

Data from the sensors can be viewed in a real-time web and mobile dashboard giving the Green Lab team access to critical environmental data; sensor units are also battery powered, making them very portable and also waterproof. We like.

Zensie Dashboard

Over the coming months we’ll be adding pH and CO2 sensors as part of a year long pilot to embedd the 30Mhz sensor technology into a variety of lab projects; aquaponic, hydroponic, insects and algae.

About 30mhz

30MHz believes that with technology and data, organizations of any size can innovate to become more efficient, sustainable and cost-effective. Using easy to deploy wireless sensors, we’re empowering businesses to turn metrics captured from the physical world into actionable insights at industry-scale.

With the 30MHz Toolkit, we’re lowering the barrier to entry to industrial sensor technology. Our scalable and interoperable plug-and-play solution is designed for quick roll-out of sensors in the hundreds of thousands, and our dashboard makes data monitoring simple and user-friendly from any device.

Find out more at www.30Mhz.com

Atlas of the Future: Green Lab is on the map.

Green Lab team is very pleased to have been included in the Atlas of the Future, an online curated atlas of real projects that are innovative with long-term vision and committed to lasting positive impact.

Read the Green Lab entry in the Atlas.

The Atlas lists project from all over the planet having a real impact on a local and global level, projects are chosen based on four criteria.

    • Projects have to be real. That means they aren’t dealing with the probabilities of futurology, the stuff of science fiction or in the research stages. They are really happening.

    • Projects have to be innovative. They bring a creative element or unique contribution to solving the challenges facing humanity.

    • Projects have to be created with long-term vision. The Atlas is not about one-off, flash in the pan ideas, but a real dedication to the future.

    • Projects are committed to lasting positive impact.

Atlas of the Future is inspired by the talent and energy of people across the world working to solve our biggest challenges and create a better tomorrow. As part of a non-profit being launched in Barcelona and London, our mission is ‘democratising the future’.

Read the more about the Atlas of the Future.