I really love your vision of bringing nutrient-dense foods to Ladakh! I also wanted to add an additional point about maintaining grow temperatures in greenhouses that are located in areas with extreme temperatures (high or low). Using geothermal heating/cooling to keep the greenhouse a constant temperature is much more energy-efficient than using other HVAC systems (heaters/coolers). I'm sure you already know about geothermal temp control, but in Ladakh, you could make sure the greenhouses are facing the south, dig a deep (~2-3m deep) trench that runs east-west (facing the south), then run tubes along the ground that are capable of exchanging air. If you bury those tubes they will exchange the air temperature in the greenhouse with the temperature of the earth--keeping it a more stable temperature with only the energy use of one or two fans to move the air through the tubes (kind of like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVIj-p0Eqcg). Additionally, if you make sure the bottom part of the greenhouse is slightly underground (~1m underground), you should have even more of a temperature constant. Finally, if you add transparent slanted roofs, facing the south, you should really be able to keep the greenhouses at a constant-food growing temperature all year-round.
Very cool vision--and I wish you all the best of luck in implementing it. You have Ankur's email. Feel free to message us if you have any questions!
Yes, as an engineer, it’s definitely always enjoyable to “dig deeper” in these kinds of conversations! I do think we’re saying the same thing, but perhaps in different ways. I also love your plan to convert the traditional farm system into one that’s includes shared equipment, sustainable practices, and implementing agroforestry and layers to essentially create sustainable permaculture food forests. Have you read any books by Masanobu Fukuoka? He’s basically the father of permaculture and had some really amazing ideas for agroforestry; like emphasizing planting in multiple layers, as well as no-till practices (he said worms and bugs till the soil without killing the beneficial biome in the soil).
In terms of our vision above, I’m glad you mentioned the point about building and distributing these systems--as it was something we didn’t mention, but will make sure to add. We weren’t planning on going the route of the old industrial age, where these systems were built in large centralized toxic factories. I believe that with the advent of 3D printing and exponential growth over the next 30 years, people will be able to 3D print a majority of the components for the systems we’re designing--with much of the material used being plant-derived materials, like polylactic acid (PLA) or polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). The factories of the future can be decentralized using robotically-controlled tools like 3D Printing. The PLA or PHA material used to create the parts could be made from the inedible portions of the plants grown in this system (sequestering carbon in the process). Additionally, by utilizing aeroponic or aquaponic system design, they will require far fewer resources than traditional soil farming.
The designs themselves will be open source, so entire communities can be set up around their development. An example of this kind of model is used by farm.bot ( https://farm.bot/ ). In the case of open-source distribution, coupled with 3D Printing, the physical footprint of transporting digital files around the world is fairly low compared to storing and shipping large pieces of farming equipment--not to mention, it’s also instantaneous. A new design or upgrade can be deployed, and within minutes, thousands of people around the world can begin making them at home if they own a 3D printer. If something breaks, there will be all of the documentation for the system, an online community of people to help troubleshoot, and digital models for replacement parts that are available to 3D print and replace the broken parts at any time.
Thanks again for all these great comments and shared ideas! I hope one day to be able to visit Italy and see the system you are implementing (and drink some wine ;) ).
We definitely appreciate your points! Food is absolutely an integral part of our health, so it’s worth discussing the various means of producing that food. I agree that it’s also important to explore the boundaries at which technology is integrated into human-essential areas, like health. I also think we’re in agreement that food that’s organically grown at home (or locally) is probably the ideal way to maximize nutrition in that food.
That being said, from the perspective of nutritional output of the plant, I’m not sure it matters whether it’s a robotic tool that maintains the health of the plant or a person. In fact, I would argue that a system that continuously monitors every variable of the plants health, including the chemical profile of the plant, and fungal/bacterial network of the soil--and adjusts the input variables like water and fertilizer accordingly--would likely be better at maximizing the nutritional output of the plant compared with the traditional farmer. It’s impractical to assume a person could monitor all of those variables without technology, or to expect a farmer to sit and watch each plant for 24 hours a day. We have the tools that can do the work, which frees up time to focus on other things. This wouldn’t be chemicals assembled by robots into food, it would be robots maintaining ecosystems that produce food (for example, see Farmbot: https://farm.bot/).
Regarding the use of robots to create regenerative or resilient food systems, as we mentioned in our vision, the same systems that can help people grow their own food at home--and deliver produce, seeds, compost between systems--can also deliver nutrients and seeds to barren land to plant permaculture food forests that regenerate the landscape. In fact, the system we propose could financially incentivize the regeneration of land by reincorporating the output back into the food network we’re proposing. Utilizing technology like drones to regenerate landscapes is not a new concept and there are companies that believe they can use drones to automatically seed 100,000 trees per day ( https://flashforest.ca/ ), which is beyond our capabilities as humans (at least without a lot of people and funding).
So in terms of technological tools used for food production, how big of a difference is there in using drones to drop seeds/compost, and tractors that till (kill) soil and drop seeds? Where do we draw the line for how many technological tools we want to use in our food production systems? Historically, which systems of technology have been unsustainable, and which systems can potentially be regenerative?