Saturday, October 12, 2013

Goal number 3: Innovate

It has been a productive first week here, starting the work of establishing what I've come to think of as the "pilot farm". Sure, I've been growing here on my little eighteen one hundredths of an acre literally since before I actually owned it. We planted our artichoke, squash, and broccoli the week before we closed on the house. But now we're starting the process of ramping it up. We want to be ready to grow as much as we can in the spring. We're also welcoming three hard-working hens into our family, and so I've been shoring up the fencing and clearing space.

Working in the yard with my assistants.

But that's not the extent of my vision. I really want to be able to grow food for as much of the year as possible. This could mean hydroponic growing, greenhouses, growing with electric lights, or something we haven't even thought of. I'd love to be able to grow a beautiful organic tomato in December. It's easy to get discouraged, though. There's a lot of information out there and I've barely scratched the surface. But I keep getting the impression that there's not many people out there doing truly local-baed organic hydroponic gardening. Some people seem to be doing pretty well with aquaponics -- hydroponic gardening using fish -- but most of them only seem to be growing lettuce. And of those, I'm not convinced that it's any better to import fish food than to just import fertilizer.

As I go through these thought processes I keep coming back to goal number 3, "innovate". I'm not going to solve these problems overnight. I also might not do them by doing exactly what other people are doing. Certainly not in exactly the same way as someone in California or Florida. But I'm not going to assume that just because I haven't yet found someone with a magic solution right here in my town just yet, that it doesn't exist. Food growing is nowhere near theoretical maximum of efficiency in any form. I am confident that I can explore the state of the art and maybe even push it out a little bit.

An important first step, of course, is to state my problem. My original statement of goals is actually a pretty good starting point. But I need a much more clear statement of what the problem is before I can start to think about where to innovate.

I have a lot of ideas, of course. Since a very young age I've read a lot of science fiction which includes various authors' takes on how humans can exist in exceedingly smaller worlds. One of my favorite examples of this is in the breathtakingly epic novel by Neal Stephenson, Anathem. In Anathem (no spoilers!) some of the characters live in a rather isolated way and grow much of their food using a type of cultivation called tangles. Tangles are a collection of different food plants that have been genetically engineered to grow together in harmony, providing a natural vertical structure, with built-in nitrogen fixation, and multiple food crops all in one small space. I lent out my copy to a certain newly-minted attorney so I can't look up the exact quote, but the idea was something like that a one-square meter tangle with enough could provide enough food to meet most of a person's nutritional requirement.

I'm not going to try to become a genetic engineer, though. What I am going to do, though, is try out solutions that might be a little bit closer to that theoretical ideal. One of them is bound to stick. I think in a hundred years we're going to have something even cooler than a tangle. Where I'm headed is just a tiny step in that direction.

1 comment:

  1. Here's another idea too: sometimes, you come up with ideas that no one else has thought of. I have often looked for solutions to problems only to discover that it seems that there isn't an answer. That makes my solutions a whole lot more satisfying. Don't give up!

    (BTW, I have the instructional materials from a mini course on raising sheep that I never finished years ago. If you want it....)