There are already nearly 2 billion people living in cities. The swarm has become the natural habitat of a large part of the planet’s population. And the trend will continue. It is estimated that by 2050, 66% of the 9,000 million inhabitants of the planet will live in urban centers.
The metropolises serve as a refuge but in return, they charge their price: although they only account for 5% of the land surface, they are responsible for 70% of the electricity bill and a similar percentage of greenhouse gas emissions greenhouse every year. Modern man needs the swarm, some even love him, but his consumption of resources is, for a long time, uncontrolled and obviously unsustainable.
In the predatory whirlwind of any city same in Chicago as in Casablanca, in Barcelona as in Bombay food supply takes the cake as far as environmental degradation is concerned. Until not long ago, the human being was fed on the vegetables and animals that were produced in their immediate environment.
Today, practically nothing that a citizen takes to his mouth has its origin in a piece of land or sea next to him. The modern system of food production and distribution means that tomatoes that are displayed on the shelves of a neighborhood supermarket have had to travel 2,000 km by truck to get there. Or that avocados have been harvested before reaching maturity to put them in cold storage rooms on the other side of the Atlantic, where they end up in a salad.
Huge distances and a huge energy expenditure, to which we must add the consumption of water, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, storage, processing, packaging and distribution. And so we arrive at data as alarming as a quarter of the emissions produced by humans in industrialized countries is derived from what they eat. Is this business sustainable? It does not seem. Efficient? For citizens, of course not.
How this will work in 2050 – or in 10 years, without going any further – is a disturbing question, with answers that may tend toward prudent optimism or absolute despair. History teaches that man ends up inventing solutions to get out of his own wrongs, but who knows. In any case, scientific innovation usually has the key.
In a world vertebrate by overpopulated metropolis, where it is increasingly evident that the current system of food production contributes to climate change, the loss of species and the worsening of water and air quality, technology and changes in habits They must come to the rescue.
In Tokyo (Japan) largest city on the planet with 38 million inhabitants consulting and human resources company Pasona Group has been working for more than a decade to find solutions for the agricultural sector.
Its headquarters are located in the heart of the financial district of Chiyoda, in a nine-story building lined with vegetation and inside which employees live with orchards of all kinds. From rice fields to hanging tomato plants, from traditional quinoa plantations to lettuce fields that do not need land.
In its nearly 20,000 square meters of offices, the Urban Farm – from the English “urban farm”, which is how the company has named the building – dedicates 3,995 square meters (20% of the facilities) to green spaces.
But it is not a decorative resource. Here the crops share meeting rooms, corridors and work tables with employees. More than 200 species of plants, fruit trees, vegetables and vegetables that the workers of the Pasona Group take care of with the help of a team of experts and that sprout in a green oasis between asphalt, steel and glass in the financial district of the city more biggest of the world.
A symbol, a gesture, which nevertheless marks the possible lines to follow to build the sustainable cities of the future. Obviously, in the company’s cafeteria, salads can not be fresher.
Head of the company’s urban agriculture division. Receive the journalist at the main desk of the Urban Farm, on the ground floor. Everything is covered with unpolished wood, pumpkins hang from the ceiling, the lighting is artificial, the temperature pleasant and a piano melody sounds through the music.
A humanoid robot slips silently and releases out loud what appears to be a welcome message. “This is Pepper, ” Sato says as he gives the robot a smile. “Works as a guide for visitors”. Group has a track record of decades of work with human resources and consulting, but since 2003 it is also committed to finding solutions for Japanese agriculture, a sector that hardly arouses interest among young people.
The Urban Farm, its headquarters, was designed with the objective, precisely, that it became a symbol of the most experimental agriculture. “The company tries to find solutions that improve the lives of people,” explains the manager. “We wanted nature and workers to cohabit in a perfect symbiosis in an environment designed on three concepts: agriculture, a healthy work space and an ecological office.”
To that end, the company bought an old office building in 2010 and commissioned the firm Kono Designs to devise a way to transform the 9-storey block into a modern cube with a vertical garden on the outside, a green area on the roof and different interior gardens integrated into the structure of the building.
The vegetation could not be something accessory, but rather the link between people, the building and nature. The result is a work space in which up to 200 different species of plants grow, with a sophisticated system of control of irrigation, temperature and lighting, in which office workers live with tomatoes, eggplant, melons, parsley, roses and even rice .
According to Sato, the three concepts on which the project was cemented are perfectly fulfilled. Agriculture is present – “we experience the latest systems for the care of the products” – in a healthy work space – “the green environment fosters a more relaxed environment and workers can eat fresh products from the building” and ecological “the exterior green curtain reduces energy expenditure and, in addition, we use energy-efficient lighting for the growth of plants ” explains the person in charge.
Urban Farm also has an intelligent climate control system that monitors the humidity of the rooms, its temperature and even the breeze are crops, such as rice, that need some movement between the ears for proper growth.
Wherever the visitor looks, he always sees something growing. The main hall, a space of 90 square meters, is used to grow Aomori rice. Each year it is harvested three times, with a yield of 50 kg per harvest. Not far from there in a guest room with sofas and plasma, the roof is covered by a grate from which the tomatoes hang. To the side, another space lined with wood and illuminated by powerful lamps has a quinoa orchard in the center.
Through a corridor you reach a glass room that reveals what looks like a lettuce culture laboratory. A multitude of special fluorescents illuminate these hydroponic plantations 24 hours a day, where lettuce shoots grow only with the help of water, without the need for land. “Thanks to the lighting and the way of nourishing the plant, we get lettuce in 45 days, when it takes between 50 and 60 days outside”, explains Sato.
On the upper floor there are several tables along a diaphanous space that the different teams take advantage of to meet. When they do, their heads hang tomatoes and pumpkins, and on one of the sides an extensive wall of wood has become an orchard of aromatic herbs. “Some workers collect products and take them to consume at home. It is something habitual “, assures the person in charge of the division of urban agriculture. The employees themselves – guided by experts take care of certain crops, and in the cafeteria the menu of the day always includes fresh products from the Urban Farm.
From the company explained that the building is a symbol of the work they do in the Japanese agricultural sector. A project that aims to connect younger generations with agriculture, raise awareness about the possibilities of the agriculture-technology binomial and help local farmers’ communities.
As in many industrialized countries, in Japan, the rural world dies slowly without the inhabitants of the cities hardly noticing. While there is food in the supermarket, everything is fine. Few wonders who has produced that food and how it got there. The cities live with their backs to the rural world. The Urban Farm intends to turn it around: it wants to bring the countryside to the city.
The human being has been domesticating plants for 10,000 years with 100 centuries of experience that, however, have not served to improve the efficiency of crops in the face of the challenges posed by today’s world. The production is highly inefficient.
Therefore, urban agriculture projects such as the Urban Farm of Pasona Group – and others such as the Japanese Shigeharu Shimamura or the Swiss Urban Farmers – can serve to upset traditional farming methods and open the way to a model alternative.