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Growing Insights Module 4: Technology


We live and world in which technology is ubiquitous. On what seems like a daily basis we are seeing new ideas, possibilities and opportunities to apply technologies in new ways. Along with this sense of optimism and possibility lies a dark side. We know that technologies change existing practices, not always for the better and that we often see unanticipated side effects. The take away for any professional is that we cannot ignore technology. It is important to be constantly scanning the horizon to identify possible technologies that can impact your work as well as to be able to assess the impacts of these changes.

Agriculture has always used technology. The pace of technological change continues to grow more rapidly. Urban agriculture and local food use technologies as well. However, in most cases they are distinctly different from those developed and used in mainstream or traditional agriculture.

In this module one of our goals is to examine two key questions:

  1. What technologies could planners recommend our municipalities allow and encourage (as well as those that we discourage?)
  2. What technologies can be put in place that might support the municipalities role in enhancing urban agriculture?

To allow you to explore technology and innovation in urban agriculture and local farming, the following units have been created:  

  • examining innovation and technology in urban agriculture and local food, including creating an organizing framework
  • exploring emerging enablers that can help us develop new innovations and technologies
  • examining emerging drivers that can help us develop new innovations and technologies
  • exploring what alternative growing environments can  help us develop viable urban agriculture businesses (in an Alberta climate)
  • examine the question, if we wanted to create an integrated, sustainable local food system, what might it look like?

Unit 1

During this module we will be exploring a number of innovation ideas. These ideas are intended to spark interest and encourage you to ask the question: “how might we apply these or similar ideas to support our own urban agriculture and local food activities?”

Read the introduction here: Tech&Innovation.pdf

Thinking about Innovation and Technology in Urban Agriculture and Local Food - Creating an organizing framework
When you think about innovation and technology in urban agriculture and local food it is easy to become a bit overwhelmed. The terms Urban Agriculture and Local Food mean different things to different people. For example, is it about helping me grow a better garden or expanding the distribution of local food beyond weekly farmer’s markets, or developing urban farms that can generate both economic and social value or operating larger-scale greenhouses and production facilities or something else? Each of these can, in their own way, be considered to fall under the expansive banner of urban agriculture and local food.

Find out more about the framework here: ThinkingAboutInnovation.pdf

Case Study — How do we encourage people to become more involved in producing their own food?

The success and impact of urban agriculture and local food depends on the engagement of citizens. It begins with an awareness of the value of good food grown locally. Consuming good food is a starting point to building a more integrated, comprehensive approach to urban agriculture and local food. One view is that true behaviour change really begins to occur when we start to grow our own food.

But how do we help those who may be interested in gardening actually become gardeners?  Explore the case study here: Case Study1.pdf

Unit 2

We use tools and technologies - many of them recent inventions themselves - to develop innovations and new ideas. They serve as innovation enablers. For example:

  • The ability for to operate as the world’s largest book seller, and increasingly, provider of all types of retail items was not possible without the development of the internet and world wide web.
  • Many of the hand tools we use in our gardens, the items we longingly review at Lee Valley Tools, require advanced machining and extrusion tools to be able to create.

When we think about innovation and technology in urban agriculture and local food, often the real skill lies in being able to build on these innovation enablers to create the products, services and strategies that can help us be better food producers and distributors.

Read more:EmergingEnablers.pdf

Case Study: How do we develop innovative and effective ways to better connect consumers with local food producers?

Explore here: CaseStudy.pdf

Unit 3

How do we use emerging technologies to support some of the interesting work that we are already doing? Look into these ideas regarding the use of remote sensing and affordable technologies to work in urban agriculture.

Details & links: EmergingDrivers.pdf

Unit 4

In this unit we expand our exploration of innovation and technology to focus on some of the business activities within urban agriculture and local food. One of the challenges facing urban agriculture in many areas is the difficulty of finding access to suitable land and developing growing areas that offer higher yield potentials.

Among the many interesting approaches to using space in different ways and increasing yields in concentrated spaces, we have seen - particularly, in other cities - a growing interest in rooftop gardening as well as the use of small spaces, such as refurbished shipping containers, as alternative production locations.

Explore more here: AltGrowingEnv.pdf

Watch this video about Gotham Greens, a rooftop garden project from New York.

Unit 5

Our final unit expands our horizons a bit more. If we want to move the bar on urban agriculture and local food towards creating an integrated and sustainable system, what might that look like? How do we envision a future where urban agriculture and local food producers were able to supply a significant portion of our food needs, if we wanted to build a local food ecosystem, what might some of the innovation and technology applications look like?

There is a growing interest in two - often interconnected - innovations. They include the integration of aquaponics into the food production system and the design and operation of vertical gardening.

Explore more about aquaponics & vertical gardening here: FoodSystem.pdf

Watch this video about vertical gardening.


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