A Trip to the Systems Farm

Urban Farm, Urban Epicenter (Jung Min Nam) (via verticalfarm.com)

Response to Donella H. Meadows, Thinking in Systems (Ch. 1 and 2), Development of Idea for Research Project

It is my intention, as best as that can be determined at an early date, to address aspects of the vertical farm in the research component of the course.  Because farming in buildings – and, inherently, the creation of new farmland – seems to be increasingly important to food security, availability of water and other resources, and environmental stability, the utilization of such an agricultural system may become more likely.  However, while the vertical farm as a system would mirror in essence that of traditional farming, the restrictions and requirements placed on farming in buildings wholly shifts the way in which plants are grown.  And in an era in which resources are becoming increasingly limited, resource-intensive agricultural technologies commonly used in indoor farms and greenhouses question the viability of the vertical farm and demand reinvestigation.

With this future task in mind, I have included below diagrams that investigate the systems of traditional and indoor farming to begin to better understand the advantages, disadvantages, and interrelations of each method.  Based upon the principles of systems described by Meadows, the diagrams investigate the various components of each system, how the systems perpetuate or balance themselves, and where potential problems and successes might be found to avoid/use in vertical farming.

Each diagram begins with grown food as its “stock,” with problematic relationships shown in red.  These diagrams also attempt to avoid the “clouds” in Meadows’ diagrams and thereby have the potential of demonstrating a zero-waste system – but only if the system enables it.

Diagram of Conventional Farming System

Diagram of Hydroponic Farming System

Although these diagrams are by no means complete, they begin to express the fundamental differences between traditional and indoor farming.  Many of the essential components remain the same, as a plant needs nutrients, sunlight, and water to grow.  However, these become highly dependent – even more so than outdoor farming has become – on petroleum or other energy generation means in indoor farming.  Sunlight is replaced by electrical lighting, and nutrients and water are provided consistently through pumps in hydroponics.  Petroleum becomes the initial source here, while in traditional farming it has become one of many components.  Means to improve the indoor growing system need to be developed, and a potential means of intervention – namely, to reduce dependence on input energy – would be to reintroduce natural components into the indoor system, such as through natural ventilation, arrangement of floorplates to maximize sunlight, and recycling and filtration of water.

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