- The average age of an American farmer is 57.5 years.
- Just under 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050.
- Square Roots is teaching young city farmers how to grow food sustainably.
Among the high-rise buildings and concrete sidewalks of Brooklyn, there’s a quiet green revolution taking place.
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In old shipping containers, the shoots of a new way of urban farming are starting to emerge, which could help meet the demand of a growing urban population.
Square Roots is an indoor urban farming company, which not only grows food sustainably without soil, but is teaching a new generation of farmers how to do it too.
“We realized there were tens of thousands of young people who were as passionate about changing the food system as we were, but just didn't know how to get started,” says Tobias Peggs, CEO of Square Roots.
Feeding the future
Square Roots is tackling several issues in one go: the need to use less water and other resources in agriculture, the ageing of farmers, the global population rise and, in particular, the growing urban population.
Farmers in the US aren’t getting any younger, with an average age at 57.5, according to census data, up 1.2 years from 2012.
And it’s a similar story in other places around the world. In Kenya, the average farmer is 60. In Japan, 67.
By 2050, 68% of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas, so that’s where much of the focus of food growing will need to be.
“Younger generations are really interested in making sure we’re all eating healthy food that’s nutritious and grown in sustainable ways, but they’re less interested in living in the middle of the country,” says Peggs.
The future of farming
The Next-Gen Farmer Training Program teaches would-be farmers how to grow leafy greens in a high-tech hydroponic system that it says uses up to 95% less water than traditional farms.
They study plant science, to find out what’s happening at a molecular level as the plant grows, they learn about the business side and engage with the local community and agriculture ecosystems.
What is the World Economic Forum doing to help ensure global food security?
Two billion people in the world currently suffer from malnutrition and according to some estimates, we need 60% more food to feed the global population by 2050. Yet the agricultural sector is ill-equipped to meet this demand: 700 million of its workers currently live in poverty, and it is already responsible for 70% of the world’s water consumption and 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
New technologies could help our food systems become more sustainable and efficient, but unfortunately the agricultural sector has fallen behind other sectors in terms of technology adoption.
Launched in 2018, the Forum’s Innovation with a Purpose Platform is a large-scale partnership that facilitates the adoption of new technologies and other innovations to transform the way we produce, distribute and consume our food.
With research, increasing investments in new agriculture technologies and the integration of local and regional initiatives aimed at enhancing food security, the platform is working with over 50 partner institutions and 1,000 leaders around the world to leverage emerging technologies to make our food systems more sustainable, inclusive and efficient.
Each shipping container at the company’s campus in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighbourhood can produce up to 45kg of fresh basil, chive or mint leaves per week, which is grown without pesticides, and uses data to optimize flavour and nutrition.
“Successful companies in the 21st century have to be doing well – and doing good at the same time,” says Peggs.
“We’re growing food and selling food, that’s how we make money. But we’re doing that in a sustainable way, which is better for the planet and we’re empowering the next generation of leaders in urban farming.”