We eat every day. But, what are we putting into our bodies? How does that food differ from what was commonly eaten one hundred years ago? Is it better? If it’s better, why are we so unhealthy as a society? And, what is the cost of our food production approach today beyond our health? What is the cost to our planet? Is our current food supply model sustainable?
The answers to these questions are not encouraging. Simply following the status quo is clearly leading us in the wrong direction. At Gardyn, we have optimism about a more hopeful future. It’s time we let you in on that secret.
New technologies now make it possible to have your own indoor vertical garden, fully autonomous, in your home, to feed your family with the freshest, most nutritious organic food you can dream of. Technology makes it possible to finally have access to what everybody had a few centuries ago: your own garden to provide you with essential produce and sustain a healthy life!
The fruits of industrial food production
To be fair, the industrialization of agriculture and the development of the agro-industry brought some benefits, particularly in terms of quantity. Starvation and hunger have been significantly reduced in most corners of the world. The quantity of food produced every day is incomparably more than was the case just 50 years ago. Per capita food production rose 45% between 1966 and 2016 according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
This is a very significant accomplishment and everyone agreed in the beginning that it was an incredible revolution. After several decades though, it is pretty obvious the early successes have led us to a dead end. Quantity is the guiding principle and most people can have access to large amounts of food at far lower prices than in the past. But at what cost? What cost for people? What cost for the planet? What cost for our lives?
Food that kills us, slowly…faster and faster
In the past, getting access to enough food was a matter of survival. It looks like we are now entering an era where having access to food that is healthy is the more difficult challenge. We killed hunger and replaced it with malnutrition.
Most fresh produce is actually grown in industrial farms and harvested very early in the growth cycle, way before peak ripeness. The produce can travel for thousands of miles and be stored for months. The average time for an apple between harvest and consumption is in the range of 10 months. Nearly all nutrients are gone by that time. Most of them disappear a few days after harvest.
In addition, most of the food people consume today is heavily processed. One study showed that in 2012, nearly 60% of all calories consumed in an average American diet consisted of “ultra processed” foods. Ingredients are broken down and re-assembled, artificial preservatives and flavors added along with hydrogenated or trans-fats and sugars. All studies point towards the negative effects of such diets. The statistics cannot be clearer:
- In the world, one death out of five is now due to poor nutrition.
- In the U.S., the number of people with type II diabetes has been multiplied by 20 between 1950 and 2020.
- Close to three-quarters of Americans are medically classified as overweight or obese.
Food-borne illnesses also reoccur on a regular basis. Every year bursts of E.Coli kill people and the time it takes to find out the contamination origin highlights the lack of traceability in the food supply chain. Our food supply today may be providing sustenance, but data show it is increasingly undermining our health.
We are killing the planet, faster than ever before
Agro-industrial practices have been developed and improved in order to generate always larger quantities of produce. Standardization, genetic engineering, and other practices have led to a few standardized crops optimized for yield and transportation along with resistance to pests and drought.
Pesticides have been reformulated to be as efficient (i.e. destructive) as possible and millions of tons of them are poured on crops and end up in the environment, destroying the ecosystem and polluting water tables and rivers. In the 25 years leading up to 2018, U.N. FAO data show that the tonnage of pesticides used annually rose 77%. Crops are also harvested before they are fully ripe and trucked or flown over long distances, generating large quantities of CO2 emissions. A few examples that are striking:
- Ecosystems have been heavily impacted by pesticides and the destruction of habitats over the past decades. It is estimated the US lost 3 billion birds over the past three decades because of it.
- Overall, agriculture and forestry account for 23% of greenhouse gas emissions in the world.
- Unfortunately for us, it turns out that a lot of the food we produce–with significant impact on the planet–has been in vain. Forty percent of the produce actually ends up as waste, most of it even before it reaches our plate!
And, obviously, a lot of the pesticides poured on produce while they are growing end up in our plate. Research shows, even after thorough washing, a lot of produce (strawberries, kale, etc.) exhibit high concentrations of toxic pesticides.
This snowball we created is growing fast out of control
The various issues described above are unfortunately not isolated. They have common grounds and causes and actually reinforce each other. This creates dynamics that are not linear but exponential. Like in any exponential changes, they are limited in the beginning but start compounding, reinforcing each other. This leads to a snowball effect that becomes clearly visible when it is actually too late to stop. We are currently in this phase of acceleration where we have a few years to actually make a difference and course-correct before it is too late.
The reinforcement mechanisms at stake are very visible for those who pay attention to what’s happening. More extreme weather, droughts, and floods, are significantly impacting our ability to sustainably grow crops in the field. The activity will become riskier and more expensive. Banks and Insurance may start avoiding this sector altogether.
The destruction of ecosystems will also have a significant impact on agriculture. A large part of crop production is actually dependent upon pollinators such as bees. They pollinate the plants and make it possible for them to reproduce and develop as well as grow fruits we harvest. This is already visible in California which is the largest producer of almonds in the world. Most of the bees have been decimated there by pesticides. As a result, 95% of all commercial bees available on the continent are trucked over the U.S. to California every Spring to pollinate the almond trees and maintain the activity. This is definitely not sustainable.
And, there is the impact on our health. We are spending more and more as a society on health, not just to make people healthier, but simply to cope with and mitigate the deep unbalance we have created. The U.S. is the richest country in the world per capita but our life expectancy has actually stopped improving and has now been shrinking! These are the symptoms of unsustainable mechanisms at work in our society.
When was the last time you felt connected to nature?
The industrialization of food, globalization, and other processes have also created a huge gap between who we are, what we eat, and where it comes from. Most people today have no clue about the origin or lifecycle of their food before it lands on their plates. They don’t even realize what’s bad for them, and what’s bad for the planet. This is a cycle we need to make more transparent: reconnect to the food we eat, understand what it is, where it comes from, what’s actually good for us and for the planet…and eventually reconnect with nature.
This issue is actually a challenge much deeper than food alone. It relates to the crisis of relationships we can witness in our modern societies. So many people and still so much loneliness. Solitude in the multitude. Social media have definitely amplified this issue by distorting reality. Not only are our friends becoming more and more virtual and remote, they are also seemingly living a life that is so incredibly better than ours, continuously unrolling on our tiny screens. Everything then tends to become virtual and we find it harder and harder to relate to real, concrete elements that may still be a reference for our lives.
This translates into more or more cases of mental unbalance or even health issues, not just for adults but also for kids. Undue stress, anxiety, and depression are the seemingly inevitable outcome of this deep lack of reference and lost relation to reality. Unfortunately, medication is very often the path taken to try to remediate these issues, but it does not resolve the primary cause of it. There is hope. Food can help us become healthier. The act of growing food can reconnect us all with nature and eating together can forge new bonds with family and friends.
We need to reimagine our paradigm for the better
Our belief at Gardyn is that if technology is to play a key role in our lives, it should be for the better. We are at crossroads when it comes to how we want to feed mankind going forward and how we make it possible on the one unique planet we have available. Will we keep betting on the quantity of food production through our industrial agriculture sector as we have done to date or are we open to reinventing our systems for the better?
Some other industries have shown us the way forward. Utilities are shifting from large, bulky industrial sites, such as coal plants, to much more distributed, nimble solutions based on wind or solar energies. Computers have moved from Mainframes in the 60s to Personal Computers in the 80s and 90s, and nowadays iPhones, tablets and fully dematerialized clouds. These revolutions have made it possible to create new solutions that operate much closer to end-consumers and in turn better address our needs and evolve rapidly with society.
The same holds true for agriculture. The large industrial exploitations thousand miles away from the end-consumers that make up the current food production sources are the mainframes of agriculture. It is becoming quite urgent we move away from this model and create the distributed solutions that will truly address our food needs, both in quantity and quality. We can bring nature back into our lives and healthier foods while reducing the destruction of our planet at the same time.
Three revolutions in technology can spur a revolution in food
We, at Gardyn, have been working on technologies to actually reimagine our food paradigm and food supply chain, for the better. This revolution relies on significant breakthroughs in three different technology areas that had grown in isolation to date: hydroponics, LEDs and Artificial Intelligence.
Hydroponic solutions have been around for a long time now but have always been quite bulky. Gardyn has developed new hydroponic solutions, in partnership with McGill University in Montreal, that can grow a large variety of plants in a fully vertical manner. We call it HybriponicsTM. As a result, very large quantities of food can be grown on a very small footprint, making it possible to feed a family of four on 2 sqft. No soil, no mess, and plants can be moved around without actually being harvested. They can be cut literally a few seconds before being consumed. There is no way to be fresher or more nutritious!
LEDs are bringing the second part of the revolution. Unlike lamps, these are chips, the elementary part of computers. Like any chip, they follow Moore’s Law that predicts power doubles every couple of years while costs fall. As a result, it is now possible to provide all the light the plants need to grow at a fraction of the cost and without any excessive power consumption.
Last but not least, Artificial Intelligence and the pervasive IT cloud we can leverage today makes it possible to actually fully manage and optimize the growth of plants remotely without any need for specific skills or investing any of your personal time. This means you can now enjoy amazingly fresh, nutritious and pure produce grown in your home without sacrificing space or time. It is about reconnecting nature with your home life in a beautiful way and having access to healthy food for you and your family, with no negative impact on the environment or use of pesticides.
At Gardyn, we believe it is high time to rebuild our bonds with nature, taste, health and each other for a better, sustainable future. Technology is enabling us to reimagine our food supply chain and that can make a big difference for us all.