Abundance Food—foods grown with plentiful, non-fossil resources
by Dr. Mark Edwards
Industrial agriculture produces fossil foods that break the nutrient cycle and force farmers to apply a new set of chemical fertilizers each year. The break wastes roughly half of the expensive fossil nutrients applied, while severely polluting our ecosystems and poisoning our water. Fossil agriculture has destroyed our magnificent fisheries and replaced them with massive dead zones. Modern agriculture wastes millions of tons of fossil resources growing genetically engineered monocultures that deliver empty calories to consumers.
A food production system built on an eroding foundation of fossil resources will supply our food only as long as all 24 vital natural resources are available and affordable locally—at precisely the time when crops need them. When the first of these non-renewable resources runs out or becomes too expensive, our food supply will crash. When our children desperately need food, those vital resources will be extinct. What will our children do for food?
The root problem is that genetic modification has pushed yields up at the expense of the plant’s foundation—its roots. Plants have only so much energy and redirecting this energy to increase produce weight (which blimps water weight but not nutrients) has come at the expense of long roots. Plants robbed of a deep reach for soil moisture and nutrients require far more fresh water, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and fungicides. Unfortunately, most of these resources miss the shallow roots and runoff or erode where they poison our wetlands and groundwater. The break in the nutrient cycle not only wastes valuable natural resources but degrades ecosystems and creates health havoc for aquatic plants, fish, birds and human societies.
Modern food production also depends on stable weather. Global climate chaos destabilizes weather and brings temperature spikes, droughts, fierce storms, dry winds, wildfires, rising sea levels, salt invasion and amplifies pest and disease vectors. The powerful tandem of resource extinction and climate chaos puts our food supply in severe jeopardy.
Abundance farming offers a supplemental food production system that recovers nutrients from the farm waste stream and delivers them back to the animals or the field, which closes the nutrient cycle. Abundance growers mimic nature and use the oldest, simplest, yet most efficient growing system on Earth—photosynthetic microorganisms at the bottom of the food web—algae.
Growers use no, or minimal, non-renewable inputs including fertile soil, freshwater, fossil fuels, inorganic fertilizers or agricultural chemicals or poisons. Abundance growers cultivate algae microfarms that grow colorful, tasty and nutritious foods, 30 times faster than modern agriculture. Abundance growers produce food, feed and other forms of energy using primarily abundant resources that are surplus and will not run out—sunshine, CO2 and wastewater.
Microfarms enable growers to produce locally, independent of climate, altitude, geography or politics. Microfarms are non-pollutive and can regenerate degraded air, water and soil. Abundance microfarms are not only non-extractive, but regenerative. Microfarms enable growers to leave every field and garden better than they found it.
If one way be better than another, that you may be sure is nature’s way. —Aristotle
Microfarms cultivate communities of micro-organisms similar to the algae that feed plants in the fields and the microflora that provide us nutrients in our stomachs. Microfarmers train naturally occurring algae, often from local soil or wetlands, to rapidly produce proteins, oils, carbohydrates and other valuable coproducts. Microfarms grow food, nutrients, feed, fodder, fertilizer, biofuels, nutraceuticals, medicines and advanced compounds in small, medium and large growing systems.
The typical microfarm may serve a family or community and operate in a backyard, rooftop, balcony, vacant lot, barn, barren field or on other non-crop land. Growers practicing abundance:
- Use primarily abundant resources for growing food, other forms of energy and coproducts that are affordable and will not run out—sunshine, CO2 and waste, brine or ocean water.
- Produce delicious, high-protein foods with all the essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals, trace elements and antioxidants needed for health and vitality.
- Avoid competition with field crops for natural resources.
- Grow food that moderates or eliminates nutritional deficiencies that cause growth and development disorders, obesity, diabetes, blindness, stunting, mental retardation, heart, respiratory and brain problems, as well as chronic fatigue.
- Remove pollutants from air and water while adding only one element to our ecosystem—pure oxygen.
- Produce local to consumers in inner-cities, barrios, slums, urban landscapes, rural areas or remote villages.
Abundance gives growers a substantial cost advantage over industrial agriculture due to the cheap inputs and high productivity. Modern farmers may use abundance methods to recover, recycle and reuse the energy and nutrients in the farm waste stream to reduce production costs while improving soil fertility, crop yields and produce taste, nutrition and quality. Urban gardeners may source nutrients from municipal and industrial waste streams to grow rich algae biofertilizers that speed plant growth and development as well as increase produce size, weight, taste, texture, color, nutrition and quality.
Abundance growers of field crops can use 80 to 100% fewer agricultural chemicals because algae biofertilizers provide growth hormones that make plants stronger and able to produce natural pest and disease defenses. Abundance growers can reduce soil compaction 500%, enabling significantly longer and stronger root structure. Stronger roots give plants a deeper reach for nutrients and soil moisture. Healthier plants on a stronger foundation need less water and are less vulnerable to weather, winds, weeds, disease and pests.
Abundance democratizes access to food because those with the most need—the poor, working mothers, elderly and disabled—can have access to food or the plentiful and cheap inputs for growing food. Abundance knowledge and capability diffused globally will enable all people to produce for the needs of their family and community locally.
A few microfarms have produced foods for over 40 years but no one noticed because fossil foods were so cheap. Fossil food prices are low because we have a failure to communicate the true cost. Governments lavishly subsidize industrial farming and the fossil resources on which food production depends. Over 99% of US subsidies go to industrial farming, while less than 1% to organic production and currently zero to abundance microfarms. A full lifecycle accounting of all the fossil food subsidies, economic impacts of destroying our fisheries with dead zones, degrading our ecosystems and damaging human and animal health, would show fossil foods are more expensive than abundance production.
Abundance food model
Phyco Biosciences, led by Ben Cloud, CEO has created a working model for abundance food; production with minimal fossil inputs. The Phyco Bioscience Super Trough growing system uses lined troughs to produce algae with nutrients sourced from a dairy waste stream. The surplus nutrients flowing from the dairy further reduce operational costs.
The Super Trough system provides a low cost example for scalable technology in algae production. The cost advantages of the Super Trough are derived from the ability to install 1,250 feet of Phyco’s liner system in a single pass using a tractor, dramatically reducing installation time and cost while enabling rapid scalability. The trough liner material contains an integrated liquid and gas emitter system capable of distributing crop inputs uniformly over 40 acres in a matter of minutes.
The ability to manage nutrients enabled by the integrated air-driven distribution system can provide significantly higher yields than other production technologies, as well as improved culture control and operator versatility. Economical fabrication, mechanical installation, and optimal operating conditions created by the “V” shaped trough and uniform distribution of CO2 gases and nutrients assure rapid culture growth and stability. From an operator perspective, large-scale production is achievable due to effective control of the algae culture over large areas.
The trough surface area is 60″ wide and 18″ deep. The algae fields are leveled with common agricultural leveling equipment. A tractor creates the furrows and then lays the liner. Dirt holds the liner in place. A 40-acre system can be laid out in a few days. The liners are designed to last 10 years. The troughs can be mechanically covered with a disposable solar cover to retain heat in colder climates or to extend the production season.
The trough design uses 60% less energy compared with paddle wheel systems. The aeration emitter continually rolls the culture giving all the cells regular access to light. (Aeration bubbles are visible in the picture above.)
Abundance food offers a supplemental food production system different from our current fossil food supply. Industrial farmers are over-consuming fossil resources and they will become unaffordable or unavailable within the next generation. When the first of the 24 fossil resources on which our modern fossil food production system depends becomes unavailable, our food supply will crash. A food supply crash in any of the major crop growing regions of the world would be catastrophic politically, socially and economically.
I feel an urgency to begin developing our non-fossil food supply for the sake of our children. We know how to grow great food far more productively than fossil agriculture and with substantially higher resource efficiency. Let’s begin producing food with primarily resources that are plentiful, surplus, affordable and will never run out. Let’s give our children an amazing legacy—abundance.
Adapted from: Abundance: A Green Algae Strategy for Sustainable Food, Mark Edwards, 2010.