Modern agriculture is extremely unsustainable. As a case in point, food production is responsible for 29% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, making agriculture a significant driver of climate change. Farming practices use up 70% of the planet’s accessible freshwater. Worse than that, huge quantities of water are wasted due to leaky irrigation systems, wasteful field application methods, and the cultivation of thirsty crops not suited to the environment. Excessive irrigation can also:
Indeed, modern farming practices are unsustainable in a variety of ways. Agriculture has used up around 50% of the world’s habitable land, with farmland now covering 38% of the planet’s total land area. Agriculture results in the loss of 12 million hectares of land every year to desertification, while roughly 4 million hectares of forests in South America are destroyed every year to grow soy as feed for livestock. Moreover, soil erosion caused by soy production in Brazil results in the loss of 56 million tons of topsoil every year. This reduces soil fertility and degrades the land.
Clearly, the way that we produce our food needs to change, and radically so. We cannot keep growing crops in this manner; otherwise we will deplete all of our natural resources or continue to exacerbate climate change. There are life-threatening implications involved here.
Many innovative and ambitious startups and companies are seeking to find solutions to these problems. And one Italian startup is showing promise in this regard.
The Living Farm Tree
Hexagro Urban Farming is a startup that “strives to deliver sustainable, scalable and community-based farming systems to let anybody, anywhere access healthy food”. And they have created an indoor gardening system which does exactly that. It’s called the Living Farming Tree: “a modular, scalable and automated indoor garden that allows you to grow healthy food without spending time in maintenance”.
Hexagro Urban Farming highlight a number of benefits from using the Living Farming Tree, including the lack of pesticide use; the ability to grow several kinds of fruits and vegetables; the chance to scale up your system and maximize yield; 90% less water usage than would normally be required, due high efficiency aeroponics; the ability to harvest in less than two months, with a short amount of time spent in maintenance; and a reduction of GHGs.
The company says that as many as 13 growing modules can be connected as a single unit, allowing you to grow 78 plants. This means that it would be possible to grow more in a physical footprint than you would be able to do with a traditional garden bed. The relatively small amount of space required for these units would allow homes, restaurants, offices and many other places to have freshly grown food available without the system becoming a nuisance. While the Living Farm Tree can’t grow everything, Hexagro are still keen to point out its amazing capabilities:
“The modularity of our system lets you produce any plant you want as long as it can be grown aeroponically. I’m sorry, this means you cannot plant a cherry tree there. However, you can go from micro-greens and sprouts up to aromatic herbs, salads, leafy greens and berries. If you want to produce higher plants, you will just need to configure the system in its 2D configuration, and you will immediately be able to produce plants such as tomatoes, cucumbers, medicinal herbs and many more!”
Applications for space travel
In the future this kind of system could be used in space, since plants will play a crucial role in the survival of astronauts on long-duration space missions. With the mission to Mars being a three-year round trip, it will not be feasible to stock up the spacecraft with enough food to last that amount of time. What is needed, therefore, is a highly efficient way to grow crops in space. And so a gardening system like the Living Farm Tree may end up being on board the first manned mission to Mars.
About the author: Sam Woolfe @samwoolfe
Sam is a writer who is especially interested in space exploration, sustainability, animal agriculture, nutrition, wellbeing and smart drugs. He is also currently writing a book about the psychedelic drug DMT.