Bringing together diverse stakeholders is what we do best at AgTech X—we believe that the success of our food system is dependent upon collaboration between farmers, designers, academics, city planners, activists, urban consumers, investors, and more. But how frequently do all of these actors come together to share ideas and co-create solutions? How can we ensure that the sustainable food and agriculture movement is collectively built upon the goals and values of everyone involved?
During Agritecture Xchange—our weeklong event series connecting Agriculture to the Sustainable City movement— we united over 500 leaders dedicated to holistic approaches to food and agriculture to answer these exact questions. With attendees from 5 continents, 30 distinguished panelists, 15 partner organizations, and 14 events in just one week, our attendees generated solutions and partnerships at the crux of some of our most pressing food and agriculture challenges. Ranging from food waste to circular economies to investment in a local food economy, we were inspired, driven, and motivated by the ideas that sprouted out of our workshops, pitch contests, and panel discussions.
Here are some of our biggest takeaways from the Xchange.
1. Diversity—in all areas—is key, and urban agriculture is only one part of the solution.
We started off the week with a panel of urban ag leaders hosted by the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center. Our very own Henry Gordon-Smith joined the conversation with NYC Council Member Rafael Espinal and representatives from GrowNYC, NYC Dept of City Planning, and NYU Law to explore the opportunities and challenges for agriculture in our local urban landscape—a landscape characterized by unequal access to food, green space, and housing. Tensions between tech-based and community-driven agriculture rose to the surface during this conversation, which also characterized our “Investing in a Local Food Economy & Bridging the Urban-Rural Divide” event the same night. How do we create an agricultural system that simultaneously meets the needs of food-insecure urban residents, but also incentivizes farmers and entrepreneurs to create positive change, and investors to support them?
The answer: we welcome diverse models of ag—hydroponic, soil-based, vertical, and beyond—that address the local climate and the needs of a community. After touring 5 urban farms (Oko Farms, Denizen Rooftop Farm, Smallhold, Brooklyn Grange, The Heckscher Foundation Children’s Garden) and hearing from a handful of rural farmers, we learned that a resilient and sustainable food system is built on varied agricultural models, in and out of urban contexts.
2. Nature is our teacher and lead designer.
Regardless of the model of agriculture at hand, our speakers and attendees confirmed that biomimetic design is crucial to the actualization of closed-loop systems and regenerative farming. We saw biomimicry in practice in the aquaponic system at Oko Farms and we learned about design strategies like agroforestry and geospatial planning from TK Design Lab, Terra Genesis International, and Biomimicry NYC. Through workshops, site visits, and panel discussions, we saw first-hand how our agricultural incongruencies can be mitigated by mimicking nature’s patterns and cycles. Even within the world of controlled environment agriculture (CEA), which is often viewed as oppositional to natural ecosystems, Dr. Peter Wootton-Beard of Aberystwyth University illustrated how CEA farms can be co-located amongst waste treatment facilities and clean energy production systems to create symbiotic relationships.
3. Take a systems approach.
We so frequently use the phrase food system, but what does the system actually entail? How does comprehension of this term manifest itself amongst sustainable food & agriculture innovations? Understanding the systems approach was a pillar throughout Agritecture Xchange. Each day, we addressed the food system from a different vantage point—as policy makers, farmers, entrepreneurs, investors, and consumers—to best understand the holistic impact of our actions and the potential leverage points where change is still needed. Two of our panels, “How Can the Future Food System Fit Into a Circular Economy” and “The Tech Spectrum of Food Waste,” revealed the myriad ways in which waste streams can transform into value-added products, close the loop, and actually save money for taxpayers and cities. By appreciating the cycles behind food and agriculture, we learned that we can minimize our environmental impact while increasing our social and economic productivity.
Where do we go from here?
Overall, the week was overflowing with collaboration, new ideas, and cross-disciplinary partnerships. We are so grateful for everyone who joined us as attendees, speakers, hosts, and sponsors. In addition to leaving Agritecture Xchange with real-world solutions and collaborators, our All-Access Pass Holders are now part of our digital community built to share content, opportunities, and unite leaders in sustainable food & agriculture.
Talk to us about organizing an Agritecture Xchange in your city next.