The problem -- why we’re here
Agriculture is the second largest contributor to greenhouse gases--more than transportation or manufacturing, and second only to power generation. Interestingly, most of the carbon costs related to agriculture are not in growing the produce, but in related industrial processes, like fertilizer and pesticide manufacturing, transportation, and packaging food for sale. The thoughtlessness of this paradigm is made all the worse by the fact that 30-50% of fertilizer (and other chemicals) will not be absorbed by the plants but will instead run off into aquifers and water bodies, causing widespread ecological damage. Despite the health, environmental, and dollar costs, more than 40% of food in the US will ultimately be thrown away.
But all is not lost. Demand is at an all-time high for food that eschews this detrimental system, with consumers opting instead for local, organic, sustainably grown produce. There are, however, some challenges to disrupting the present food model. First, such produce is expensive and in limited supply; while an individual may be able to shop at his local farmer’s market, foodservice and retail operations--like schools, universities, restaurants, grocers, and wholesalers--have trouble sourcing and affording these higher quality products. Second, it is difficult for urban farms to use traditional horizontal farming techniques in the unique vertical environment of cities and achieve the economies of scale foodservice operations require.
The solution -- what we do differently
A number of alternative farming techniques, namely, hydroponics, aeroponics, and aquaponics, are being explored to respond to consumer demand for high quality, sustainable, local produce. Among these options, aquaponics--a fusion of hydroponics (growing plants in nutrient-enhanced water) and aquaculture (fish farming)--is by far the most promising.
Aquaponics is an extremely sustainable, high yield, closed loop technique: fish produce waste; as they do, bacteria break down the waste into fertilizer; the fertilized water is then pumped into hydroponic growing beds, where plants absorb the nutrients, filtering the water. Aquaponics can yield 500-800% more than traditional farming in the same space, while using 90-95% less water and energy. Our solution is to take advantage of our “air rights” and build farms like cities: up. By stacking aquaponic farms vertically, we can further multiply the power of aquaponic technology, potentially yielding orders of magnitude more produce than traditional farming using a fraction of the space and energy.
There are just two little problems: aquaponic farms are very expensive to build and require significant expertise to operate, especially at commercial scale. At EdenWorks, we have designed a modular system that snaps together like Legos, allowing for the construction of innumerable custom farms using a few basic building blocks. Modular construction also allows us to fabricate our farms extremely efficiently: our farms will cost less, have a higher ROI, and will capture a larger market segment than traditional urban farms or other alternative farming systems. To reduce the time and expertise required to run an aquaponics farm, our system is fully instrumented--with sensors for pH, water temperature, air temperature and humidity, sun exposure, dissolved solids, and more--and is controlled via a web-connected microcontroller. As we collect data from our farms, we will implement machine learning techniques to constantly improve the quality of our produce and the efficiency of the system.
“This sounds awesome -- how can I get involved?”
We will be hosting workshops on aquaponics and sustainable urban living over the coming months, plus farm-to-table meals when the crops from our flagship farm are ready.
As we construct more farms and more tech, we’ll also need volunteers to help us build a better world. Feel free to email us if you’d like to swing a hammer, write some code, or plant some seeds.
Jason Green is a Civil Engineering Junior at NYU-Poly and Founder + Mastermind at EdenWorks. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To meet the whole EdenWorks team and find out the most up-to-date info, check out our site, www.edenworks.org, or follow us on Twitter @EdenWorksNYC.