January 30, 2018 - Comments Off on CEO Eric Amyot on Smart Cities through the Lens of a Farmer
Credit: Sidewalk Labs
As Modular Farms gears up for a new year of innovation, we caught up with CEO Eric Amyot to gain perspective on Smart Cities, the advancing urban farming industry and what Modular Farms has in store for 2018. Find out what Eric has to say in this in-depth interview on the future of farming and living.
Eric Amyot, CEO of Modular Farms Co.
What was your first introduction to the idea of a Smart City?
In all honesty, the idea of a Smart City was introduced to me as a child watching the cartoon show The Jetsons. Although the program seemed like science fiction when I was young, it was my first opportunity to explore and imagine life with AI. Fast-forward a couple years and I’m realistically thinking about how advancements in robotics, autonomous transport and automatic technology might shape a family's lifestyle and individuals' work habits. Imagine only having to work three days a week and having an AI enhanced robot as a maid!? Cool, right?
Who is a thinker or leader that inspires you?
There are a few agricultural and technological leaders who give me inspiration. First I’d like to shout-out Ron Finley for knowing how to get his hands dirty, putting in work and getting shit done in urban agriculture. Second, Stephan Ritz is inspiring for just being so damn passionate and genuine. Finally, Elon Musk (sorry, had to) for reminding me there's simply too much stuff to get done in a single lifetime to focus on just one thing.
What are the key advantages of vertical farming? How do these advantages align with the goals of Smart Cities and the future of agriculture?
The key advantage I'd like to point out, though there are many, is the ability to make growing and sharing food accessible in any scale, at any location. The potential genius of the Smart City really is its inclusivity. Citizens of a Smart City have inclusive access to essentials like transit, waste reclamation, lifestyle services and, of course, healthy and safe food year-round. The fact is the possibilities are overwhelmingly positive, particularly for those who are typically or historically at risk of marginalization.
Vertical Farming will play a significant role in the success of Smart Cities, however it is alarming to often hear many planners misunderstanding or altogether discrediting the food production model. The current thought process of feeding people in densely populated city centres still invokes the ideas of raised soil beds, courtyard gardens and rooftop greenhouses. It is unrealistic to expect to feed large populations, (worldwide and all year long) without the adoption of controlled-environment vertical farming. Having said that, there will always be a need for hands-in-the-dirt gardening. In the case of Smart Cities, I believe traditional gardening will play more of a spiritually nourishing role for cities of the future than actually feeding a population.
What are some of the logistical challenges of integrating Vertical Farming solutions, and how can Smart Cities overcome those challenges?
There are a few primary hurdles vertical farming must overcome before it can be expected to be integrated into Smart Cities.
A large portion of society still lacks an accurate and positive perception of what vertical farming is. Space-age technologies are popularly regarded as a cumbersome mashing of nostalgia and futurism; both are perceived as time consuming and ineffective. Unfortunately, many of today's solutions are just that, well, at least for most individuals and families. While the vertical farming industry is getting closer in defining itself as an appealing option for some people, it must do a better job at communicating the honest benefits and challenges it’s facing before becoming a universal, trusted and commoditized solution.
Catering strictly to the needs and whims of venture capitalists inhibits the true potential of feeding people within Smart Cities. The individual consumer needs to begin accepting and trusting vertical farming as a means for sustainability, transparency and safety in nutrition. Broad acceptance will only happen when individuals can have unfiltered access to the food they consume.
The vertical farming industry is certainly producing more and more prolific food production. Unfortunately, as we race to produce more and more lettuce and kale, we are temporarily neglecting the fact we’re consuming more and more energy. The net-zero farm isn't very far in the future, in my opinion, but it isn't the focus it needs to be. Simply put, vertical farms consume too much energy to be implemented as a mandatory fixture and amenity in our cities. Another form of energy often overlooked are calories. The labor involved in owning and maintaining a vertical farm, particularly one producing enough food to truly feed a family, is far too labor intensive and time consuming to operate. Society barely has time to make kids' lunches, walk the dog, go to work, get to cheerleading practice, and do the laundry, let alone operate a vertical farm. Until vertical farms consume less energy (from the grid and from the people who operate them) they will have issues with broad adoption in Smart Cities. The only strategy for adoption of vertical farming as a commoditized solution is to make it a mandatory amenity for new developments. Otherwise, as we see now, people will most often opt out.