The future of urban food: from consumers to producers of food
The future of urban food, the sixth session in the DSIPLAY series of digital social innovation experiences, has been part of the Smart City Week programme. The event was created jointly with Fab Lab Bcn, which has used one of its new spaces, the Fab City Hub, for the first time for the occasion.
The discussion revolved around the future of food, a very relevant topic just now in view of the ecological situation and the demographic pressure threatening the planet’s near future. It is estimated that by 2050, we will need 70% more food in order to feed everyone, with the ecological saturation that this may entail.
In addition, we currently throw away 1.3 million tonnes of food each year, while 10% of the population is malnourished and 30% of the energy used in the world is related to food production (from growing, production and manufacture to transport).
Proximity and circularity
In this session of DSIPLAY we learned that there are other new approaches to food production, and how technology can help. The main principles are proximity and circularity, sustainable land and energy use, empowering people, and low emissions.
In Barcelona and, in fact, in the European arena, there are many projects based on the belief that there is an urgent need for a paradigm shift in the food model. This is what the European Commission's Foodshift 2030 programme, of which Barcelona is one of the nine targets for acceleration, promotes: a change in our diet and habits in order to make the transition towards a more circular and sustainable energy model based on eating more vegetables and less meat.
Projects such as Nextfood are a good example of this: a kind of aeroponic greenhouse under which, instead of growing plants in soil, they are sprinkled with a "mist" containing the necessary nutrients for their proper growth. This means that plants grow in an optimal and precise manner, and it provides a solution for countries without many hours of sunlight. It can also be used for growing plants for use for the subsequent manufacture of food.
Robots for micro-farms
ROMI is a European research project dealing with robots for micro-farms. These properties, which can be found in rural areas as well as peri-urban and urban areas, grow a wide variety of crops in small surface areas using organic farming practices.
These farms have proved to be very productive, sustainable and financially viable. However, a lot of the work involved is done manually, resulting in difficult working conditions. ROMI develops a light and open robotics platform for these micro-farms, facilitating tasks such as the reduction of weeds or control of crops with detailed information on the condition of the plants and their level of moisture or ripeness, in order to increase the efficiency of the land and its farmers.
Examples of projects that are already being carried out were provided at the session. These include the case of Leka, which defines itself as an open source restaurant. What began as the refurbishment of a family restaurant by integrating digital manufacturing for the creation of new furniture has gradually turned into a restaurant that is 100% conscious in all its processes.
They first spent some time analysing the quantities of meat they used, the tonnes they generated, the number of times they received visits from carriers, etc. In other words, they measured everything that could be measured in their business. Their conclusions led them to change their processes and turn them into initiatives such as making their own soft drinks, planning their purchases better, buying whole animals and turning waste into new products (such as soap).
This provides a true example of the principle that, if there’s a will, there’s a way, and that being conscious does not necessarily mean spending more, as it is only about redirecting your efforts.
Producing wine and food with maker tools
The Winemakers, which educates the public on traditional wine production methods using maker tools, is also returning to traditional food production processes. The idea is to empower the general public by giving them food production techniques - not just for wine - that were common in our homes less than fifty years ago.
The event concluded with the following key ideas: circularity in food production, proximity and the need to stop being consumers and instead become producers of our own food.