The case for a localised, even home-based food growing system is being made by the Open Agriculture Lab (OAL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). They recently suggested that as much as 40% of an urban diet could eventually be produced in a domestic context, cutting down on transportation costs, while providing fresher and more nutritious food.

The Lab is actively working to develop domestic grow-boxes, which create controlled environments, where deliberate combinations of temperature, humidity and soil are created to grow specific types of food. It’s a new agricultural design that could then be utilised by families to create small home gardens, or even in the context of providing food for a local neighbourhood.

The Open Agriculture Lab’s director, Caleb Harper, argues for the idea that urban and peri-urban farming must have a significant role to play in the future diet, citing problems of freshness, storage and transport costs. He points out that the average age of an apple at a U.S. supermarket is 14 months. Significant amounts of nutrition are lost in a long period of treatment and storage.

Licensed under CC - credit Flickr user: Ajith Kumar
Licensed under CC – credit Flickr user: Ajith Kumar

The work of OAL also focuses on making information about food, where it has come from and how it has been made open source. Indeed, according to Harper, open-sourcing information about we consume is critical to the future of effective food systems.

There are a number of examples of innovators and startups that are embracing the concept of home-grown food. Circulate recently covered Hexagro, one of the finalists for this year’s Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, which proposes a mini-urban garden “tree-like structure”.

Another case  is the Urban Agriculture Company, a business that sells organic gardening kits. The ‘kit’ comprises a compostable container, a bag of soil and seeds to grow herbs or vegetables, equipping customers with a simple and effective set-up for growing fresh food in their own home.

Credit: The Urban Agricultural Company
Credit: The Urban Agricultural Company

Feeding the growing global population is unquestionably one of the most significant challenges of the 21st century. Whatever solutions are eventually found, there is clearly a growing momentum behind the idea that urban farming and localised food production could be at least part of the solution in the city context.

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