Wait, how did we get to four?
The first agricultural revolution is generally the one we think of as the agricultural revolution, when ancient (~8000 BC) people started to domesticate plants and animals. This period coincided with the first semblance of urbanization.
The second agricultural revolution was prompted by the industrial revolution (~1800 AD). Mechanization allowed yields to go up, and more land to be efficiently used for cultivation. The sizes of farms explode, fertilizers and pesticides come into use, and increased yield provides the food necessary for quickly-growing urban centers.
Defn. Yield: Weight of a crop harvested per unit area of farmland.
The third agricultural revolution, also called the “Green Revolution” (1970’s and 1980’s) marked the introduction of genetic engineering of crops and genetically modified organisms (GMO’s). Yet again, yield was increased.
But in many Green Revolution areas, yield has begun to fall. Why?
Soil degradation is the primary culprit. “The world has lost a third of its arable land due to erosion or pollution in the past 40 years, with potentially disastrous consequences as global demand for food soars”1
Over-cultivation and over-fertilization have caused a decrease in arable land while our demand for food only increases, and the mechanics of this are still not well understood.
And that brings us to the fourth agricultural revolution
Urban agriculture brings food production into the city, where most of our food is consumed. Most urban farming is done vertically, which provides virtually unlimited farmland wherever it is needed.
The biggest environmental and economic benefit of urban agriculture is that it drastically reduces transportation. Transportation makes up the largest portion of the cost of fresh produce. Shipping it thousands of miles to its destination while refrigerated not only compromises freshness, but uses a staggering amount of energy and fuel.
At replantable, we are reducing the distance produce travels to just a few feet - however far your dining table is from your nanofarm.
At the same time, the nanofarm uses 90% less water than traditional agriculture, uses no pesticides, and avoids fertilizer runoff that threatens ecosystems.
In a way, the fourth agricultural revolution reverses the trends of agriculture as we know it. Growing indoors makes pesticides unnecessary, and thereby also pesticide-resistant GMO’s. Crops that were genetically modified in the Green Revolution to withstand environmental stresses are rendered obsolete.
In this new age of agriculture we’ve changed our frame of thinking. Instead of engineering the food we eat, we’re engineering the environment it grows in.
At replantable, we’re looking into the history books to find varieties of produce that have been neglected by modern commercial agriculture. Neglected not because they don’t taste good - far from it - but because they’ve been replaced by varieties that are easier to grow, have higher yields, or are easier to ship.
While at first glance a vertical farm has a look of artifice to it, in ways it is more natural. Fertilizer is not sprayed on top of the produce. There are no pesticides. The growing conditions are the plant’s native climate. The seeds that are used are untouched by genetic modification.
Agriculture has changed course many times, and always in a pursuit of higher yields. This time, it will change course in the pursuit of higher yields and a smaller footprint.