Huffington Post broke news two weeks ago on the world’s first vertical forest, built in Milan. As one of the most polluted cities in the world, Milan could greatly benefit from an oxygen-producing building with a small footprint. By hosting hundreds of trees in a tall building that also houses humans, these vertical forests may change the way cities approach cleaning up pollution.
This innovation joins a growing list of new ways of bringing greenery into the city. In addition to helping control carbon emissions, urban planting can help pave the path for new methods of producing food. For many years now, we’ve been realizing that the modern method of farming is unsustainable. Farmers are forced to rely on pesticides and massive quantities of water to keep crops alive. And livestock are pumped full of antibiotics in order to increase their yield.
But hopefully, a wealth of new ideas such as the vertical forest will help city-dwellers find alternatives to buying supermarket food that is grown unsustainably, uses up increasingly finite resources, and is then shipped hundreds of miles.
Urban gardens, once rare, have recently exploded in popularity, sparking the imagination of city-dwellers as they repurpose old space for community farming, build raised beds on balconies, grow vegetables on rooftops, and create herb gardens on the walls of their apartments. In addition to saving time, money, and resources compared to conventional farming, urban farming can help people produce fresh air in their homes and get exercise as they plant and harvest crops.
As we continue to incorporate plants into our city lives, the future may even see us using bioluminescent plants and flowers to light our homes.
Aquaponics is another fast-growing trend, as scientists across the world work to build self-contained systems that grow fish and plants at the same time. An aquaponic system recycles water, oxygen, and carbon dioxide in a way that allows an exchange of nutrients between fish and plants. This means it uses 90% less fresh water than conventional farming, requires no pesticides, and can produce more food without the use of antibiotics.
One of the biggest problems with old methods of farming is that it often leaves land unusable. An estimated 25% of land across the world has been degraded to the point that it cannot help us grow food. However, an even older method of farming may be in order to remedy this. In the Amazon, tribes used to burn parts of the forest, creating a rich charcoal to mix into soil and revitalize the ground. The modern version of this is called biochar (made of waste instead of rainforests). When added to soil, biochar allows the ground to hold more water and attracts microorganisms that help plants take up nutrients. The biochar also has the bonus effect of being able to lock away carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
In addition to new methods of farming, genetically modified plants may also help us reduce the impact our farming has on the Earth. By creating plants that resist pests rather than pesticides, we can reduce the amount of chemicals used to grow them. And by modifying grains and vegetables so that they use light more efficiently, we can grow crops faster with larger yields. Not to mention food that can be modified to deliver medicine or cure health problems. Earlier this year, golden rice went into production, offering much needed vitamin A to a large population of children across the world that grow blind or die from vitamin A deficiency.
Learn more about scientific innovations that are in our near future.