Get to know AgTech X Co-Founder, Henry Gordon-Smith, and his viewpoints on the future of cities and food production in this interview with Thought For Food in advance of their Summit in Rio on July 23-27, 2018.
The struggles of freeing the inner entrepreneur
Growing up in the cities around the world, including Hong Kong, Tokyo, Frankfurt, Prague, Moscow, and Vancouver, Henry took on the opportunity of exploring and developing creative solutions to both local and global problems.
Being a natural-born visionary with a strong entrepreneurial mindset, he soon felt limited in his creative spirit during his political sciences studies. Thus, he started searching for opportunities around environmental security, where he then got directly in touch with local farmers who would share their challenges and successes with him. By getting access to these insights and comparing them to what he could foresee in the still traditional sector of agriculture, Henry sensed a great potential to develop disruptive business models that would enable a different approach in solving problems then, and often still exist today.
So, Henry started with his blog Agritecture.com, where he openly discussed his vision of the future of agriculture and why it interlinked well with the megatrends of urbanization and climate change. In 2013, Henry bought a one-way ticket to New York City for a job interview with Bright Farms, a hydroponic greenhouse company. Despite getting rejected from that job opportunity where hard skills mattered more than his passion and purpose, he wouldn’t get overwhelmed by frustration and give up. Instead, he volunteered at greenhouses, and urban farms, while searching desperately for a job in the emerging field of urban agriculture.
Eventually, this led him back to school and he completed a MSc in Sustainability Management at Columbia University, from which point he received a few job offers. During all this time, Henry continued to build his audience on his blog, and, without really forcing it, became one of the most popular blogs on the topic of urban agriculture and vertical farming. It’s like the saying: good things need to take time to ripen – and in Henry’s case, his perhaps ‘unusual’ path eventually led him to become one of the leading Urban Ag Consultants and thought leaders. That is how it came about that he eventually turned his blog into a business.
How urbanization might leverage vertical farming
Currently, most traditional agriculture happens occurs outside of the city – however, as Henry states, over 800 million people are already involved in urban farming globally. The recent shift to farming in cities is a new version of the same trend to provide self-reliance through cultivation food on vacant lots, rooftops, and with technology even indoors.
I believe, that urban farming as a movement enables more creative solutions and inspires motivation and inventiveness. So far, this hasn’t really existed and I do see constant innovation happening in this space, which is quite exciting to see, as it’s ultimately a driving force of how we want to build more resilient cities and a more sustainable food system.
That being said, Henry clarifies, that urban farming alone doesn’t solve all problems, yet it is a valuable and relevant contribution in moving forward. At the moment, the high energy use of the LED lights, as well as the limitation of the crop diversity and high capital costs are some of the issues that need to be solved, in his point of view. For example, high tech greenhouses could be a potential option, as they’re able to maximize natural light. “Greenhouses might not be as sexy as vertical farms, but with a lower capital cost and plenty of room for innovation and improvement, they should be more appealing to entrepreneurs interested in supplying food to the cities of the future”, Henry says.
A change for closing the gap to the next generation of farmers
On the side of untapped potentials, Henry shared how the role of urban farming goes beyond being an alternative farming method, but could just as well inspire especially young people to enter the broader landscape of farming. Equally, developing and rural areas might profit from systems like hydroponics and DIY vertical farms, which enables a new source of food on the democratized space of knowledge. It’s about time, says Henry, to face the challenges of future farming after the present generation retires – and shift the outlook towards the space in urban cities.
Connect with Henry on LinkedIn.