“The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.” – Will Rogers
It’s difficult to sum up the challenge we’re all facing. Our planet is on the brink, this much you know. Our capacity to innovate must (emphasis there on must) outweigh the degradation we’ve been causing for decades. And agriculture is right there at the centre of this quagmire, this epic challenge.
When it comes to climate change, farming has been a bad, bad boy. Industrial agriculture combined with unbridled capitalism has let us down; using pesticides systematically, depleting precious top-soils, deforesting, consolidating money and power (and food) in the hands of the few, and the list goes on. But farming is looking better and better. Worldwide, entrepreneurs, designers, scientists, tinkerers and, of course, farmers themselves have thrown it into high gear and are finding solutions that range from romantic to futuristic and from unbelievable to inspiring.
And that is what we’ve been doing this May. In our search for a better tomorrow (#atlasofthefuturestyle) we’ve logged 23 agricultural projects from all over the world that literally summarize the future of agriculture. Did we miss a few? Surely. But this list will give you an in depth understanding not only of the challenges we’re facing but the creative solutions that our most innovative, talented and collaborative humans are working on. We can do this, people. Now let’s read!
1? The fertile path
In KENYA, a three-step process turns agricultural waste into carbon-negative fertiliser. The down side? There is no downside. Safi Organic’s biochar is affordable, is produced locally and reduces soil acidity while increasing yields. Oh, happy day!
Read more ► Keeping it local
2? Vertical, regenerative ocean agriculture
In the US, GreenWave’s vertical underwater farming reduces ocean acidity, absorbs carbon, provides nutritious food and just might create a ton of jobs. “We’ve screwed up. But in a way, that’s what’s exciting.”
Read more ► Growing down
3? Tailoring light recipes
In THE NETHERLANDS, GROW fuses art and science, using lighting design to improve crop resilience and production while inspiring us to take a second (and beautiful) look at farmers and their farms.
Read more ► Shining a new light on agriculture
4? Cooler than crypto
In HAITI, what do mangoes and blockchain have in common? Thanks to Agriledger, mango farmers are cutting out the middleman, taking more risks and earning a lot more. But that’s not the end of the story. Welcome to the ‘value chain’ revolution.
Read more ► When mango farmers meet blockchain
5? Supercrop bambara noodles?
In SINGAPORE – The Bambara groundnut has been farmed for centuries in Western Africa but it is nearly impossible to get your hands on this supercrop, unless you find a startup like WhatIF Foods that doesn’t mind travelling far from home to create value chains that make a difference.
Read more ► The future in a groundnut
6? Big roof, big dreams
In the US – High in the sky in downtown Brooklyn city farmers cultivate crops on a giant rooftop. But it’s not the size that matters, it’s the community that counts. Brooklyn Grange Farm shows the city (and the world) how to “grow” it.
Read more ► A rooftop farm grows in…
7? The cricket coup
In MEXICO – Edible insects, while not new to many cultures, have recently been getting a lot more attention globally. Griyum produces edible cricket flour to help combat malnutrition, provide better economic opportunities to farmers and help the environment.
Read more ► Flour power
8? Cooling the planet by regreening Africa
In TANZANIA – Justdiggit unites with the collective power of the local farmers, teaching restorative agricultural techniques to green up Africa and cool down the planet. How? By making the earth smile.
Read more ► Cool Africa, cool Earth
9? The vertical maze
In DENMARK – Is this a farm or a futuristic sci-fi thriller? Nordic Harvest is Europe’s largest vertical farm and it is inhabited by robots, powered by wind energy and ready to invest in reforestation. Close to the Danish capital, this startup is going full circle.
Read more ► Ambitious agents of change
10? Feeding urban food deserts
In the US – Urban food deserts are sad places where obesity, diabetes and fast food reign. But with a little of help from LA Green Grounds, any water-guzzling lawn or unused backyard can be turned into a veggie oasis that feeds – and builds – communities.
Read more ► Turning food deserts into triumphs
11? The miracle of duckweed
In the UK (and KENYA) – Duckweed is a free-floating powerhouse that can produce eight times more protein per hectare than soy and could stop deforestation in its tracks. Startup DryGro is testing the waters in Kenya.
Read more ► Solutions across the pond
12? You can’t park here (anymore)
In FRANCE – Empty underground car parks are being used in mind-boggling ways by urban farmers. In Paris, Cycloponics takes advantage of dark spaces to farm mushrooms, endives, microgreens and more.
Read more ► Farming in the dark
13? Turning London’s railway stations into flourishing gardens
In the UK – You step off the train after a long day of work feeling peckish. You grab an apple from the platform orchard under a solar-powered street lamp, and maybe some rosemary as well to spice up your supper. You’ve stepped into the Energy Garden dream, and we think you’ll sleep soundly.
Read more ► Edible platforms
14? The most political food in the world
In PALESTINE – In 2004 a small group of activists used their EU passports to provide Palestinian farmers safe passage to their olive trees in the occupied territories. 2021: Zaytoun ships award-winning, fair-trade olive oil and much, much more to the UK!
Read more ► Commerce to the rescue
15? Old sheep, new wool
In CATALONIA – The Xisqueta sheep traces its roots back milenia and had nearly disappeared from the Catalan mountains until the Associació Obrador Xisqueta looked for new ways to use its wool.
Read more ► The resurrection of a 5,000 year-old sheep breed
16? Protein from thin air
In FINLAND – Solar Foods is one of those mind-blowing future-food incubator stories that can save any dinner conversation – and perhaps even an entire planet from overheating. In the words of it’s CEO, “we are liberating food production from the constraints of agriculture.”
Read more ► Next stop: forest regeneration
17? Taking the sting out of apiculture
In AUSTRALIA – Flow is changing beekeeping and their new Flow Hive is popular with novice beekeepers and farmers alike. Do bees love it, too? And how is this project helping pro-pollinator agricultural practices? Let’s see what the buzz is all about.
Read more ► My hive is your hive
18? Urban sharecropping
In the US – Imagine your neighbors converting their yards into a small-scale urban gardens and then sharing the surplus food with you. That’s what Good Neighbor Gardens is all about, and we’ve yet to see a more genuine expression of community.
Read more ► A compassionate food system
19? Delicious “weeds” and edible flowers
In CATALONIA – On today’s menu we have a nettle omelette with wild rocket and a purslane soufflé. Eixarcolant is bringing long-forgotten native “weeds” and wild flowers back to the table, and education is key. Are you ready for a lesson in modern ethnobotany?
Read more ► Weeds for dinner
20? Carbon capture captures hearts
In FINLAND – Carbo Culture’s goal is to sequester no less than one million tonnes of CO2 by 2025. So far so great, but Henrietta Moon dreams even bigger. “We’re aiming to remove eight billion tonnes by 2030.” Her weapon of choice? Biochar.
Read more ► Black magic
21? Back to the roots
In CATALONIA – To compete with the big players in agriculture you need a strong team. Easier said than done, but our sister project, Arrels, is on the right track, growing a community of Catalan farmers and building an online marketplace so that urbanites can buy groceries directly from the source.
Read more ► Bye bye, middleman
22? Farming in harmony
In JAMAICA – The grass might just always be greener at The Source. This farm and ecovillage grows fruit and veg guided by permaculture principles and cultivates respect in the community. It is a safe haven – a homecoming – that stretches beyond the land it cultivates.
Read more ► A catalyst for change
23? Pulling carbon from the air down into the soil
In AUSTRALIA – Farmers can draw carbon out of the atmosphere and into the soil by doing what they have always done: growing plants. But according to SoilCQuest, if you add a specific fungi and stop tilling, a lot of carbon can be captured for centuries.
Read more ► Carbon is a crop