Tag Archives: farm

Urban farming can feed surprisingly many people — at least in Sheffield

Using 10% of a city’s green spaces such as gardens and urban parks could provide the fruit and vegetables to feed 15% of the local population, according to a new study.

Gateway Greening Urban Farm, St. Louis, Missouri.
Image via Wikimedia.

Researchers at the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield analyzed the potential of urban horticulture in feeding Sheffield citizens by mapping its green and grey spaces.

Domestic gardens, allotments, and suitable public green spaces put together would correspond to 98 square meters per person in Sheffield for growing food. Commercial horticulture across the UK currently uses around 23 square meters per person, the paper adds.

Local produce

Green spaces cover around 45% of the city, which is similar to other cities in the UK. Allotments represent 1.3% of this surface, with domestic gardens, which have immediate potential to start growing food, making up 38%.

Using data from Ordnance Survey and Google Earth, the team showed that a further 15% of the city’s green space (such as parks and roadside verges) could also be converted into community gardens relatively easily.

If all the green areas in Sheffield were to be turned over for food production, the team estimates it could provide fruits and vegetables for approximately 709,000 people per year (that number is, currently, 122% of the city’s population). But even if only 10% of available green space is used to grow food, it could provide for 87,375 people, or 15% of the city’s population. The team explains that this would greatly improve the UK’s food security, by increasing the share of locally-grown food in the economy.

The team also analyzed soil-free farming on flat roofs through means such as hydroponics (plants grown in a nutrient solution), and aquaponics (a system combining fish and plants). Such farms would allow year-round growing of food with minimal lighting requirements, and virtually no ecological impact — the greenhouses would be powered by renewable energy and heat captured from buildings, with rainwater harvesting for irrigation. The 32 hectares of flat roof cover in Sheffield would translate to only half a square meter per local, but the team says it could have a significant impact on local food security.

“At the moment, the UK is utterly dependent on complex international supply chains for the vast majority of our fruit and half of our veg — but our research suggests there is more than enough space to grow what we need on our doorsteps,” says Dr. Jill Edmondson, Environmental Scientist at the University of Sheffield and lead author of the study.

“Even farming a small percentage of available land could transform the health of urban populations, enhance a city’s environment and help build a more resilient food system.”

The paper “The hidden potential of urban horticulture” has been published in the journal Nature Food.

Biodiversity is a linchpin of productive, resilient crops

Greater biodiversity supports greater agricultural output, a new study reports.

Image via Pixabay.

The study looks at data from roughly 1,500 agricultural fields across the world. From American corn crops to oilseed rape fields in southern Sweden, from coffee plantations in India to the mango groves of South Africa and cereal crops in the Alps, one factor always has a positive effect on the productivity and resilience of crops: biodiversity.

The more the merrier

“Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production,” explains Matteo Dainese, Ph.D., a biologist at Eurac Research and first author of the study.

“For example, a farmer can depend less on pesticides to get rid of harmful insects if natural biological controls are increased through higher agricultural biodiversity.”

The study focused on two ecosystem services (the natural processes that keep ecosystems running without the need for oversight or costs on our part): pollination services provided by wild insects, and biological pest control. In short, they looked at the natural processes that fertilize crops and those that keep ravenous insects at bay through predation.

Heterogeneous landscapes (those with greater biodiversity), the team reports, can support greater populations and varieties of wild pollinators and beneficial insects. This directly leads to greater biological control of pests and crop yields.

Monocultures, on the other hand, lead to simpler landscapes and adverse effects for crops: there are fewer pollinators, both in overall numbers and in the number of species. Monocultures, the team adds, are the cause of roughly one-third of the negative effects pollinators experience from landscape simplification. If human control of harmful insects is also present, the strain on pollinators is even higher (the team notes that the loss of ‘natural enemy richness’ can represent up to 50% of the total effect of landscape simplification on pollinators).

If you boil everything down, the findings basically say that greater farmland biodiversity leads to more productivity and greater crop resilience in the face of environmental stressors such as climate change. Given that we’re contending with a two-pronged issue — on the one hand, we’re disrupting natural patterns, which impairs agricultural productivity, while on the other we’re trying to produce more food to feed an ever-growing population — the team believes that fostering farmland productivity should be a key goal of the agricultural sector.

“Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important,” underlines animal ecologist Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter from the Department of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology at the University of Würzburg, the initiator of the study within the EU project ‘Liberation’.

“Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations.”

The researchers recommend that we work to protect environments for which health depends on diverse biological communities, and try to diversify crops and landscapes as much as possible to foster biodiversity in areas that lack it.

The paper has been published in the journal Science Advances.

“Farm air” can protect children from asthma

Your grandma was probably right: rural, farm-like air is better for your health, at least asthma-wise. The key? Microbes.

Farm air might ward off asthma, the new study reports.

In recent years, the incidence of asthma in children has been increasing. Although the causes are not exactly clear, the phenomenon has been linked with urbanization, and particularly the lack of certain microbes. The relationship between the microbial world and asthma is not well understood, but there does seem to be a connection between the two. Researchers also figured out something strange: children on farms don’t really get asthma. Now, they’re starting to understand why this is happening.

Previous research has suggested that exposure to rural house dust can reduce the incidence of asthma, although it’s not exactly clear what particular species of the microbiota contribute to this.

Researchers from Finland led by Pirkka Kirjavainen studied the indoor dust microbiota from the rural and suburban homes of 395 Finnish children. They discovered a very distinct pattern associated with farm homes — a pattern which was not present in urban areas.

“The microbial composition in farm homes was clearly distinct from that in non-farm homes,” the researchers write.

The lower incidence of asthma in rural areas is well known, but the team wanted to see if this can be traced to or compared with the microbiota. So they replicated the microbe patterns found in farms and applied it to the homes of 1,031 German children, showing a reduced risk of asthma in children living in non-farm homes where the microbiota resembled that of the Finnish farm homes. This strongly supports the idea that the microbes themselves were providing the asthma-protective effect.

“The indoor dust microbiota composition appears to be a definable, reproducible predictor of asthma risk and a potential modifiable target for asthma prevention,” the team continues.

It may seem counterintuitive that microbes have a protective effect, but by this point, it’s not exactly surprising. Although there are some substantial knowledge gaps on this issue, it’s become increasingly clear that the microbiota plays a much more important role than we thought, affecting our bodies in a number of ways. Since the dawn of our species, humans have adapted to live in rich microbial communities, and urbanization is changing that faster than the microbiota can adapt.

This isn’t the first study to find that farm air wards asthma. Future research will attempt to better define the species responsible for this phenomenon and better study how their protective effect can be replicated to reduce the asthma risk for children.

Countryside road.

Pesticide build-ups are contaminating Europe’s fields

Pesticide use has propelled agriculture to new heights of productivity. However, they’re also eating away at farmlands.

Countryside road.

Image via Pixabay.

Over the last 50 years or so, phytosanitary products have enjoyed wider and wider use in agriculture, especially across developed countries. This helped to bring productivity to levels unheard-of before — but, at least in the European Union, it also degraded the soils.

Putting the ‘pest’ in ‘pesticide’

A duo of scientists participating in the Diverfarming project at the University of Wageningen, Netherlands, report finding traces of pesticide compounds in European agricultural soil samples. Researchers Violette Geissen and Coen J. Ritsema retrieved and analyzed 317 samples of surface agricultural soils from 11 countries in Europe. The soils used in this study belonged to 6 different cropping systems.

All in all, 83% of the samples contained traces of pesticides; the range of such compounds was also pretty impressive — 76 different types of pesticides were identified in the samples. Roughly 58% of that percentage were mixes of pesticides, while the rest (25%) came from a single type of substance. Glyphosate, DDT (banned since the 1970s,) and broad-spectrum fungicides were the main compounds detected.

The discussion around pesticide use revolves roughly around two key themes: the surprising persistence of such compounds in the soil (which this study indicates) and their toxicity to non-objective (non-target) species. Considering that the team worked with surface soil samples specifically, the results point to the ease with which such compounds can become airborne due to air currents.

The Diverfarming project proposes a more rational use of land and other elements of agriculture — water, energy, fertilisers, machinery, and pesticides — to address this issue. Diverfarming is a project financed by the Horizon 2020 Programme of the European Commission, within the challenge of “Food Security, Sustainable Agriculture and Forestry, Marine, Maritime and Inland Water Research and the Bioeconomy,” which draws expertise from members in virtually every country in the Union.

The paper proposes a series of alternatives to current practices in agriculture to help preserve the soil microorganism balance and, by extension, its biodiversity and overall health. These range from the use of new non-persistent pesticides, bio-stimulants, organic composts, or crop diversification — which contributes to balanced insect communities and thus to the absence of pests.

According to the study, the presence of mixes of pesticide residues in the soil is more the rule than the exception, which illustrates the need to evaluate environmental risks in the case of these combined compounds to minimise their impact. The effects of such mixes on the soil need to be investigated further, the team reports.

The paper “Pesticide residues in European agricultural soils – A hidden reality unfolded” has been published in the journal Science of The Total Environment.

Farmer pesticide.

Researchers call for ban on a widely-used pesticide: it impairs brain development

Organophosphates can impair our children’s neurological development — it’s time to ban them, new research says.

Farmer pesticide.

Image via Pixabay.

A team of researchers from the University of California (UC) Davis says there’s enough evidence available to warrant a ban on organophosphates, a widely-used class of pesticides. Prenatal exposure to the compounds put children at risk for neurodevelopmental disorders, they explain, calling for immediate government intervention to phase out these products.


“There is compelling evidence that exposure of pregnant women to very low levels of organophosphate pesticides is associated with lower IQs and difficulties with learning, memory or attention in their children,” said lead author Irva Hertz-Picciotto, professor of public health sciences, director of the UC Davis Environmental Health Sciences Center and researcher with the UC Davis MIND Institute.

“Although a single organophosphate — chlorpyrifos — has been in the national spotlight, our review implicates the entire class of these compounds.”

Organophosphates are very, very good at killing pests. The compounds work by blocking nerve signaling. Essentially, they bind to and inactivate the chemical compound that neurons use to send signals to one another. Today, this pesticide class is used to control insects in a variety of settings — farms, golf courses, even shopping malls and schools.

Given their popularity, environmental levels of organophosphates are quite significant. They’ve been detected in the vast majority of U.S. residents, according to Hertz-Picciotto, who come into contact with the pesticides through food, water, and the air they breathe.

This is a problem, the team explains. There are limits set in place to reduce exposure to organophosphates but it’s not nearly enough. Drawing on over 30 epidemiologic studies, scores of experimental studies with animal models, and cell cultures, they report that prenatal exposure to the chemicals — even at ‘safe’ levels — is associated with poorer cognitive, behavioral and social development.

“It should be no surprise that studies confirm that these chemicals alter brain development, since they were originally designed to adversely affect the central nervous system,” Hertz-Picciotto said.

Part of why these chemicals remain in use — despite recommendations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — may be because low-level, ongoing exposures typically don’t cause visible, short-term clinical symptoms, the team explains. Since people can’t see a definite effect from interacting with these substances, many simply assume they aren’t dangerous, says Hertz-Picciotto.

“Acute poisoning is tragic, of course, however the studies we reviewed suggest that the effects of chronic, low-level exposures on brain functioning persist through childhood and into adolescence and may be lifelong, which also is tragic,” Hertz-Picciotto explained.

Beyond the findings, the team also offers a few recommendations that should help dramatically reduce organophosphate exposure:

  • Removing organophosphates from agricultural and non-agricultural uses and products.
  • Proactively monitoring sources of drinking water for organophosphate levels.
  • Establishing a system for reporting pesticide use and illnesses.

Until a ban is set in place, the team recommends offering medical staff more in-depth education regarding the substance, to help them improve treatment for and patient education on avoiding exposures. They also believe that teaching agricultural workers how to properly handle and apply organophosphate pesticides would help limit exposure — such courses should be held in the workers’ native language, they add. Finally, increasing use of other, less-toxic alternatives should help prepare farmers for an eventual ban.

The paper “Organophosphate exposures during pregnancy and child neurodevelopment: Recommendations for essential policy reforms” has been published in the journal PLOS Medicine.


Massachusetts and Rhode Island to build new offshore wind farms totaling 1.2GW

The US is set to build two new — and significant — offshore wind farms.


Middelgrunden offshore wind farm, Denmark.
Image credits Kim Hansen / Flickr.

The states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island have both awarded major offshore wind contracts this Wednesday, a testament to the economic shifts that are making this renewable source of energy too attractive to ignore any longer. The two farms will have capacities of 800MW and 400MW, respectively.

Energy from thin air

The Massachusetts installation — christened “Vineyard Wind” — will be constructed in state waters some 14 miles (22.5 km) off of Martha’s Vineyard and is planned to be ready surprisingly fast: the farm is earmarked to start feeding the grid as soon as 2021, reports Green Tech Media. The two companies who won the contract — Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, both based in Europe — will share ownership of the project equally. The two will begin negotiations for transmission services and power purchase agreements shortly, according to a joint press release.

Vineyard Wind comes as part of Massachusetts’ recently-approved goal of building 1.6GW of wind energy by 2027 — and should cover half of that pledged capacity. Overall, it’s expected to reduce the state’s carbon emissions by over 1.6 million tons per year, roughly equivalent to the exhaust of 325,000 cars.

The project is likely to propel further offshore wind development in the area, similarly to what we’ve seen happen in Europe. The port of New Bedford has already been retrofitted to handle the immense load of traffic and infrastructure that development of Vineyard Wind will require, notes the New York Times — which is likely to make further development even more attractive and convenient.

The second contract, awarded by Rhode Island to Deepwater Wind, aims to provide 400MW capacity — although not on such short notice. Construction on the farm, called Revolution Wind, could begin “as soon as 2020” writes Megan Geuss of ArsTechnica, citing a company spokesperson. Deepwater Wind is an US-based firm that has previously collaborated with the state of Rhode Island to built the first offshore wind in the US: the 30MW unit off the coast of Block Island.

The added capacity from this farm will help Rhode Island to reach 1GW of renewable energy by 2020, a goal that state Gov. Gina Raimondo recently called for. Deepwater Wind will also need to start power purchase negotiations and get federal regulatory approval before construction can begin. Revolution Wind, like Vineyard Wind, will be built in state waters.

What’s next?

Block Island offshore.

Aerial view of the Block Island offshore wind farm.
Image credits Ionna22 / Wikimedia.

Judging by what happened in Europe, however, both Massachusetts and Rhode Island stand a lot to gain in the long term from these offshore wind developments. Europe currently hosts roughly 15.7GW of offshore wind, and the experienced energy companies have gleaned here has consistently knocked down installation costs — which made the tech is so attractive even in the US.

Similarly, the early experience and logistical base these two states will gain could provide them with a decisive edge in further offshore developments in the US — which are bound to pop up as installation costs drop. For example, the Department of the Interior recently opened 390,000 acres of federally-controlled waters off the coast of Massachusetts for offshore wind. New Bedford is ideally suited to provide shipping and support for developments here without any further investments — so Massachusetts will surely stand to benefit as more actors join the US offshore wind market.

And more are joining already — the state of New Jersey is also eager to plug its grind into offshore wind farms, with Governor Phil Murphy signing into law a commitment to 3,500 MW, the largest state offshore wind policy to date, on Wednesday, as well. The Union of Concerned Scientists applauds the developments-to-be, writing that these will likely spur states such as Connecticut, New York, Maryland, or Virginia into dipping their toes in offshore wind.

But it’s not just about what states gain. We’ve written before about the benefits renewables bring to local communities. These range from jobs (here and here), air quality improvements, reductions in carbon emissions, and a lower energy bill once the projects are up and running. All good things, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Burh Becc.

Incredible farm in Michigan becomes the world’s second ‘Living Building’

A beautiful, 15-acre farmhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan has been officially recognized as the world’s second Living Building by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI).

Burh Becc.

Burh Becc at Beacon Springs.
Image via ILFI.

The owners, Tom and Marti Burbeck, worked with a team of over 20 designers, engineers, architects, and sustainability experts over the last five years to transform their home from a consumer to a net producer.

The design of Burh Becc, as the building has been christened, was inspired by traditional Tuscan farmsteads, and sports a 2,200 sq ft (204.4 sq m) living space, alongside a 2,400 sq ft barn and workshop. The arable land on the property had been depleted after years of commodity farming and was revamped following the criteria set out by Living Building — using permaculture farming methods and an integrated system of agriculture, horticulture, and ecology.

The approach should create a system that will keep regenerating the soil for decades, maybe even centuries to come. The Burbecks use the farmland to grow their own food and provide produce for the local community.

A building’s life

So, what is a Living Building? Well, according to the ILFI’s website,

Living Buildings are:

• Regenerative buildings that connect occupants to light, air, food, nature, and community.

• Self-sufficient and remain within the resource limits of their site.

• Create a positive impact on the human and natural systems that interact with them.

Burth Becc is a net-zero energy design. It’s equipped with a 16.9-kilowatt solar array which can provide for all the farm’s energy needs and still have some extra to feed back into the grid. Heating is handled by a passive solar system, supported by a tight thermal envelope and a cooling tower, both of which help limit energy expenditure on heating and cooling. During the winter, the home is kept toasty warm through floor heating, supplied by a closed-loop geothermal system.

The Burbecks can also call on a rainwater and snow harvesting system, which makes their home, for all intents and purposes, water net-positive. A rainwater collector feeds non-potable water to huge, 7,500-gallon underground cisterns. Potable water is drawn from an on-site well (necessary to comply with local building codes), but the home is equipped with a potable rainwater filtration system that can be switched on at a moment’s notice.

After more than three and a half years spent on designing their home, 18 months to construct it, and a year of performance auditing, Burh Becc at Beacon Springs Farm became the second building to ever be awarded the Living Building Challenge certification in December 2017. Additionally, the home has been awarded a Platinum LEED Certification.

The Burbecks say the project made sense, considering their lifestyle.

“As we looked at the criteria for LBC certification we thought, why not go for it,” says Marti Burbeck.

“If our goals include helping to change peoples’ relationship with the environment and to change building philosophies, we should start with our own project, and then become advocates.”

The couple now plans to host educational workshops and house tours for members of the community, building industry, officials, and pretty much anyone who’s interested in sustainable living.

New farm in the middle of the desert will use only sunlight and seawater – no pesticides, fossil fuels, or even soil

A new farm will produce 17,000 tonnes of tomatoes every year, in the Australian desert, using only water from the ocean and sunlight.

No fossil fuels, no pesticides, no soil – just seawater and sun. Image via Sundrop

If you want to build a farm, you first need two things: good soil and good water. The Australian desert has neither – but it does have a lot of sun and it’s close to the ocean. An international team of scientists wanted to take advantage of this scenario and spent the last six years designing a system which would thrive under these conditions.

It all started with a small greenhouse in 2010. Then in 2014, they started building the full-scale farm and now the whole thing’s up and running. They pipe draws seawater from two kilometers away without using any fossil fuels, to a 20-hectare site in the arid Port Augusta region. There, a solar-powered desalination plant removes the salt, creating enough freshwater to irrigate the 180,000 tomato plants inside the greenhouse. The farm already has contracts with supermarkets in Australia to sell tomatoes.

As if not having water and soil wasn’t enough, the climate is also unfavorable for tomatoes. The summer is too hot and the winter is too cold for the plants to thrive. Yet with technology and careful planning, this can also be overcome. During the summer, seawater-soaked cardboard keeps the greenhouse cool and during the winter, solar energy heats it up. There is also no need for any pesticides or soil, as the plants grow in coconut husks instead of soil. Seawater cleans the air and kills off unwanted germs and pests.

All of this is powered by 23,000 mirrors reflecting sunlight to a 115-metre high receiver tower. The system produces 39 megawatts of energy on a good day, more than enough for the farm.

“These closed production systems are very clever,” says Robert Park at the University of Sydney, Australia. “I believe that systems using renewable energy sources will become better and better and increase in the future, contributing even more of some of our foods.”

Without a doubt, this is an innovative system, but is it truly needed? Paul Kristiansen at the University of New England, Australia, questions this need.

“It’s a bit like crushing a garlic clove with a sledgehammer,” he says. “We don’t have problems growing tomatoes in Australia.”

But he does add that in the future, under the huge stress created by climate change, farms like this might become extremely useful in some parts of the world. “Then it will be good to have back-up plans,” he concludes.

Is the impact of climate change on agriculture underestimated?

A new study looking into the dynamics between climate change and agricultural output found that only a third of production loss seen in Mato Grosso, Brazil over the last few years can be attributed to lower crop yields. The paper, written by Brown and Tufts university researchers suggests that we’ve been overlooking how two key human responses to climate — the total area farmed and the number of crops planted — will impact food production in the future.

Image via pexels.com

The paper, published in Nature Climate Change, focused on the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, an emerging agricultural region that produced 10% of the global supply of soybeans as of 2013. By analyzing temperature and precipitation data from this area over an eight-year time period, the team calculated how sensitive the agricultural industry of the region is to climate change. Basing on these estimates, they projected that an increase of 1 degree Celsius will cause a 9 to 13 percent reduction in soy and corn output in Mato Grosso.

“This is worrisome given that the temperature in the study region is predicted to rise by as much as 2 degrees by midcentury under the range of plausible greenhouse gas emissions scenarios,” said Avery Cohn, aassistant professor of environment and resource policy at Tufts, who led the work while he was a visiting researcher at Brown.

The accuracy of these figures hinges of course on the assumption that patterns observed in the past will hold true in the future. But study’s most alarming find however doesn’t come from crop yields alone, but from the mechanisms that drive changes in agricultural output.

Most similar studies only look at how changes in a region’s climate influence crop yield, i.e. how much food is harvested from a unit of agricultural land. But if you only focus on this single variable you’ll miss the critical dynamics that affect overall output says Leah VanWey, professor of sociology at Brown and senior deputy director of the Institute at Brown for the Study of Environment and Society (IBES).

“If you look at yields alone, you’re not looking at all of the information because there are economic and social changes going on as well,” VanWay, one of the study’s senior authors, said.

“You’re not taking into account farmers’ reactions to climate shocks.”

If yields decrease, farmers may be less inclined to farm the same area as it’s just not profitable anymore — a decrease in production per square meter means lower profits at harvest, but the farmer’s cost while growing the crop stays the same.

Another factor that plays a part in decreasing overall production is be the reduction of number of crops per season. The planting of two successive crops on the same land in a growing season — known as double-cropping — is a common practice in Mato Grosso. If climate takes a shift for the worse and crops don’t grow, farmers may be inclined to save their money and effort for better times by not planting a second crop.

For this study the team analyzed not only crop yield figures in the region, but also the yearly variation in field area and double cropping. Cohn and VanWey worked with Brown University Professor of earth, environmental and planetary sciences Jack Mustard and graduate student Stephanie Spera, who gathered satellite images of the Mato Grosso region from NASA’s MODIS satellite — which is used to monitor land cover and use around the world. They were able to identify cropland on these images as they turn green during the growing season but then quickly become brown as the plants are harvested. Two green stages in the same growing season was indicative of double-cropping.

“The changes in cropping that we quantified with remotely sensed data were stunning,” Mustard said.

“We can use those satellite data to better understand what’s happening from a climate, economic, and sociological standpoint.”

Satellite map showing variations in crop area and incidence of double cropping.
Image credits NASA/Brown University.

The team found that an increase of 1 degree Celsius led to substantial decreases in total farmed area and in double cropping incidence. In fact, more than 70 percent of the overall loss in production can be attributed to these two factors, the paper concludes. Only the remaining 30 percent is attributable to lower crop yields.

“Had we looked at yield alone, as most studies do, we would have missed the production losses associated with these other variables,” VanWey said.

Cohn believes that the results suggest more traditional studies “may be underestimating the magnitude of the link between climate and agricultural production.”

This hold true especially in countries that invest little in agricultural subsidies, such as Brazil. Here farmers are more dependent on the profitability of their crops and if yields drop, they just don’t have the money to farm the same area of land.

“This is an agricultural frontier in the tropics in a middle-income country,” VanWey said. “This is where the vast majority of agricultural development is going to happen in the next 30 to 50 years. So understanding how people respond in this kind of environment is going to be really important.”

VanWey said the next step might be to repeat this study it in the U.S. to see if increased subsidies or insurance help to guard against climate shocks. If so, it might inform policy decisions in emerging agricultural regions like Mato Grosso.

“We may need to figure out a way to create incentives — credit products or insurance — that can reduce farmers’ responses to climate shocks,” VanWey said.

A futuristic garden that lets you grow food at home just raised $230,000 on Kickstarter in 4 days

Imagine you could grow your own vegetables at home! Well wait, you can always do that, just plant them in pots and take care of them… Let’s try again: Imagine you could grow your food at home, year-round, using a futuristic aquarium/garden system! Well, that’s something else, isn’t it?

Image via Grove

Grove Labs, a startup based in Sommerville, Massachusetts, was founded by two MIT students who wanted to give people the opportunity to grow veggies all year round, regardless of their location and the local temperature, with minimum effort. The startup raised $4 million in seed funding, according to the Boston Globe, but it also went big on Kickstarter, raising more than $230,000 in additional funding. At $2,700, their product isn’t exactly cheap, so is it really worth it? Let’s see how it works.

The key component is an aquarium, where fish eat fish food and turn it into waste. The incorporated bacteria then take the waste and turns it into nitrates, which are an excellent fertilizer for plants; this fertilizer is pumped through a pumping system to the plant beds, thus encapsulating a functional ecosystem. You don’t need to water it, you don’t need to weed it, and there’s no waste.

This induced symbiosis between fish, bacteria and plants is called aquaponics. Here’s how Grove describe it:

“The Ecosystem harnesses beneficial bacteria, fish, and plants in a natural cycle to reliably grow delicious produce in a space the size of a bookshelf. This cycle is called aquaponics, and it’s used in the most sustainable, resilient, and productive commercial greenhouses around the world. Now this beautiful cycle can fit in your home.”

That sounds quite creative and seems like a big innovation… except it’s not. Aquaponics has been used, in one form or another, for years – a simple search revealing several examples (1, 2, 3). There’s an entire sub-reddit dedicated to aquaponics, where people describe how they built similar systems for 10 times less money. Sure the MIT version has more advanced sensors and you can control it through wi-fi, but let’s be honest here – $2,700 is a lot of money, especially considering the amount of vegetables you can actually grow with it. It’s pretty obvious that this will not be a cost-effective way of growing veggies. So is it actually worth it, all things considered?

I’m not convinced. I’m definitely a fan of growing food or herbs inside your own apartment or office, and aquaponics is an extremely interesting concept, but I haven’t seen anything here to justify the price. As it stands, for the money, it’s just not efficient enough – you can build your own for way less, or, depending on where you live, purchase similar systems much cheaper.