Greenhouses in the Arctic Circle. Underwater farms. Tomatoes growing on the moon.
It sounds like science fiction, but the fruits of these projects could soon be in your crisper drawer, or on the menu of that trendy gastropub you've been meaning to try.
Food demands on our planet will double by 2050, when the population is set to reach 9.7 billion. With the global dinner table getting crowded, and the planet running out of arable land, it's going to take some extreme gardening to keep everyone fed.
These breakthroughs could herald the future of food production.
Little greenhouse on the tundra
If you thought keeping oregano alive on your windowsill was hard, imagine growing kale north of the 66th parallel. Arctic soil is rocky, temperatures are frigid and some days offer only two to three hours of sunlight. As a result, the price tag on imported produce in Nunavut is routinely double to triple that in the rest of Canada, making fresh veggies unaffordable for many.
But not for long. Students from Toronto's Ryerson University have built an igloo-shaped greenhouse that grows crops with just a few hours of daily sunlight. Solar-power regulates temperature, and the igloo's dome shape can withstand high-speed winds and heavy snow.
After a successful test crop of kale, there are plans to provide fresh food for the entire town of Najuaat, Nunavut. The greenhouse could be the first prototype to supply local produce in the Arctic--big news for food production in the North.
Speaking of kale, algae is the new superfood. Rich in iron, protein and vitamins, algae have an edge over traditional crops: they grow in extreme temperatures, low-nutrient environments, and even total darkness. They can also grow in water--71 per cent of the planet's surface that's currently overlooked as farmland.
Industrial algae production is still being researched, but new advancements are dropping the cost of harvesting algae as both food and biofuel. According to one estimate, algae farming could be a competitive industry as early as 2020.
Craving algae today? You can order a home farming kit online for US$ 69. Or just forget to clean your fish tank for a week.
Houston, we're ready for harvest
Next time you order takeout, why not try Martian? University of Arizona scientists built a greenhouse designed to sprout veggies on the moon and Mars.
The underground enclosure uses sodium vapour lamps to grow crops in nutrient-rich water instead of soil. Thirty days later, you have tomatoes, potatoes, peanuts and peppers for stir fry night on the lunar base.
But we're excited by the potential applications of this technology on Earth.
The greenhouse can be collapsed to a four-foot disc and set up in 10 minutes, making it easy to ship to remote communities. Designed to withstand solar flares, meteorites and radiation, disaster areas in need of aid could easily be served.
The future of food
With the right technology, food-insecure communities could become tomorrow's agricultural centres.
Take Eor Ewuaso, a community where the charity we founded engages partners in arid rural Kenya, where local farmers adapt techniques to available resources. Volunteer agronomists and experts from Canadian-based PotashCorp introduced polythene sheeting (think big garbage bags) to lay under the topsoil. The plastic collects moisture, which creates a microclimate capable of growing nutrient-rich crops that would otherwise never survive the climate.
Imagine what these small-hold farmers could do with access to greenhouse tech designed for harsh environments.
We're optimistic that extreme gardening is more than a gimmick. Solutions for farming in challenging climates have exciting applications for emerging economies, where growing conditions are challenging and arable land is hard to find. Remove those barriers, and it's not just farms and families that flourish--the planet does.
Craig and Marc Kielburger are the co-founders of the WE movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.
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