Notes From The Skyberries Conference

Skyberries: The three-day conference could be best characterized by broad-scope talks, specific topics and different views on how we could upgrade our global food systems. Highly influential speakers talked in this forum and the Q&A sessions turned into elaborative discussions about ideas.

The second day of the conference ended with Daniel Podmirseg, founder of Vertical Farming Institute and Christine Zimmermann-Loessl, chairwoman of Association for Vertical Farming on stage discussing the collaborative spirit of this conference between the two organizations as well as future mutual goals. Daniel expressed his concern about the implementation gap and the actual realization of ideas in this young industry. He wished to see more discussions on what vertical farming is and educate younger generations about our food systems. Christine talked about the great achievements of the Association for Vertical Farming in just a few years and was more optimistic about the implementation trend. She voiced her concern about the lack of knowledge in sustainable city movements regarding vertical farming and the importance of including vertical farming in circular economy discussions.

 

Vertical Farming: Past, Present and Future

Dickson Despommier, the author of “The Vertical Farm: feeding the world in the 21st Century” talked about the general inter-connectivity in nature. He also voiced his view that humans started producing food in cities a long time ago but the idea got lost along the way. He expressed his delight about the exponential growth in number of vertical farms in the last couple of years. Dickson talked about the buildings of the future that can potentially collect rain water, generate energy, produce food and basically be grid free!

Henry Gordon-Smith, Founder of Agritecture Consulting talked about the importance of feasibility studies and raising awareness in communities about vertical farming. Henry mentioned Kimbal Musk, Co-Founder of Square Roots and his intentions to elevate awareness about our food systems.

How to successfully run a vertical farm

Nona Yehia, Co-Founder of Vertical Harvest talked about the community impact of her vertical farm in the city of Jackson WY by empowering mentally and physically handicapped people.

Chris Malcolm from Spread – which is the largest plant factory in japan and Isabel Molitor, Co-Founder of Farmers Cut talked about their respective companies and how they managed to run a profitable business in the vertical farming industry.

Improve what we have. Energy, light and urban farm

David Schmidmayr, Co-Founder of SANlight talked about the plant’s perception of light and the impact of LED technologies in vertical farming.

Vertical farms in the context of city planning

Jan Willem van der Schans from the University of Wageningen talked about autonomous cities and his researches in London and Rotterdam. He insisted on the importance of studies on where to grow and what to produce in agriculture. He expressed his view that real state development and vertical farming are intertwined and so we have to see them as one.

Stefan Oberman talked about Aerofarms, the creation of their own specification of leafy greens and about the advantages of running a vertical farm. Aerofarm intends to produce berries in their vertical farm and they recently signed a deal with the Dell company to achieve fully predictable agriculture using smart data.

Fighting for Food Justice in Today’s World: Extreme Cases

Renowned sociologist, Saskia Sassen warned about the rise of ‘extractive logic’ in the industry, she also gave examples on the destructive nature of this logic: more franchising leads to disappearance of locality, this results in an accumulation of wealth to the so called ‘one percent’. According to her view; it is essential that we know where franchising is needed. In the past, corporations wanted the next generations to do well so they could consume their products hence the traditional banking system did no harm, but high finance is an extractive sector, excessive growth of high finance lead to bankruptcy – in  7 years 14.5 million household lost their houses. Capabilities were vast but it was used to create asset backed security. Localizatoin has to be intensified; mobilizing people to a local project is easier than global projects and vertical farming has a great potential in this aspect.

Frantz Fischler, president of the European Forum Alpbach focused on access to nutritious, safe and sufficient food in his talk. He stated that currently we produce food for 9 billion people but one third of it is wasted in various ways. He referred to the city of Vienna, wasting more food than the city of Graz consumed in one year! Valentine Thurn’s documentary also magnified his view that we need to educate the public about waste and introduce new methods to influence change in the public’s perception towards food systems.

Frantz continued: Twenty years from now 400 million people will live in urban areas in Europe, consequently, vertical farming should play a role in producing fresh herbs, spices, reduce water consumption, mitigate climate change and reconnect us with nature. Urban farming is not competing with rural agriculture – they both complete each other.

Workshops

One of the workshops was dedicated to the use of vertical farming in space to produce food for astronauts, EDEN ISS; the multinational project basically was the most scientifically-backed and most practical in growing safe food on Mars. They used closed environment systems consisting of a growing medium, air management facilities, Heliospectra’s lighting systems, plant nutrient delivery system and a payload rack. At the end of the workshops the participants were asked to answer one question:

What is your vertical farm of the future? here are some thoughts that came up:

  • Cleverly integrated within cities, all the people engaged are acting in socially and ecologically responsible ways, the farm is economically efficient.
  • Designed to operate in today’s global economy by constantly adapting to people’s needs, the people who are living in global cities.
  • The vertical farm of the future will be necessary to feed us, as well as to save nature from ourselves.  

The market for vertical farming products

Josef Schmidhuber Deputy Director of the Trade and Markets Division at the FAO, talked about the effects of urbanization on our food systems, the need for nutritious and healthy food in urban areas. He focused on the potential implementation of vertical farms in the Persian Gulf region.

Daniel Katz from Infarm talked about their business model, selling living plants, showcasing the growth process in shopping centers to inform consumer about the way their food is grown and their plan to be a player in the self sufficient city of Berlin.

Marc Buckley represented Urban Crop Solutions, a Belgian company that has developed more than 180 plant recipes to be grown in vertical farms. Marc expressed the necessity of ‘renovation’ in the food sector and the need for collaboration between different actors in the vertical farming industry. Marc recognized agriculture as the oldest and most successful human endeavor, he also reminded us that devastation left by hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico showed the need for more resilient, closed-loop, controlled environment agriculture.

 

We wish to thank the author of this article, AVF Correspondent Ramin Ebrahimnejad, for this great insight into the Skyberries conference.

 

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