First, some fundamental background information. One of the biggest threats facing our food systems today is soil depletion. The conventional agricultural processes being used right now extract virtually all of the nutrients from our soil. And there is no feasible way of returning those nutrients to the earth. Once soil depletion has occurred, that land can no longer be used to grow food. It simply cannot produce crops without nutrient-rich soil.
Secondly, North America is notorious for creating excessive amounts of food waste. It’s estimated that up to 40% of the food we buy goes to waste. But this food waste isn’t just filling our landfills to capacity. Because of the lack of oxygen in landfill waste piles, the food is not able to break down naturally. Instead, it undergoes a process called anaerobic decomposition, which releases methane gas into the atmosphere. As a greenhouse gas, methane is over 20 times more harmful than carbon dioxide.
So what to these two things have in common? And what do they have to do with urban micro-farms?
It turns out that much of this food waste, sitting in landfills, polluting our air, contains the same nutrients that are being removed from farmland through soil depletion. The waste can actually be used as a medium to carry this nutrition back to the farm. And by returning these nutrients into the earth, we can actually replenish our soil, making it healthier and better for food production. The challenge is that no feasible method exists today to send this food waste the hundreds or thousands of kilometers it needs to travel, to the farms that are able and needing to use it.
But what if the waste didn’t have to travel hundreds or thousands of kilometers?
This is where urban micro-farms come in. Building food production into the very cities in which we live doesn’t just mean growing our food closer to home. It means opening ourselves up to the possibility of, agriculturally speaking, turning lead into gold.
By utilizing urban micro-farms, we can turn this food waste into an opulent supply of nutrients for our farms. In this, we can find a sustainable solution to the problem of soil depletion. And in doing so, we can also turn the food waste that is polluting our landfills and poisoning our air into a valuable, environmentally sound resource.
This isn’t to say urban micro-farms do away with the necessity to reduce our food waste. There’s no question that today, as a society, we are throwing away too much of our food. But the concept of reducing our food waste to zero is neither realistic, nor possible. The reality is that some foods are going to spoil, some foods are going to be damaged, and a lot of the parts of our food are simply not commonly consumable.
If food waste is something that we have to live with one way or another, why not make it the solution to an environmental problem rather than the cause of another?