Future Farm Lab Travels Vol. 1: Phoebe ‘One Year On: the adventures continue with Future Farm Lab’
One year ago today I was walking on La Jolla beach, invited to visit the Craig Venter Institute in San Diego, to scope out the future site of my PhD. September would mark the start of a five year journey through academia, countless days and nights in the lab, researching the genetic networks of marine microalgae.
That future never materialised. I did not arrive in La Jolla in September. Instead, I decided it was time to act on my impulse that my place was not to be sitting at a lab bench and watching the world burn. I was to have a stab at seeing what could be done if my energy, time and intellect could instead be applied to serve the urgent needs of humanity - not with technology, but how we use it, and the *human* systems of collaboration and innovation that I believe have the potential to rewire our operating system.
It’s only been a year out of the academic world, and it’s been quite the ride. The world outside of the lab is messy - and complex! - and actually my early training in understanding complexity, systems, biological networks and emergence have come in more useful than I could have predicted. I had run multiple projects and even a company on the side of my research during my two years at Imperial College London, but leaning into this messy human world full time has been fascinating, challenging, and rewarding.
Within Future Farm Lab, we have found ourselves more and more at the intersection of humans and technology, and being asked to advise on, what is the right amount of technology needed to solve our current problems? And what we are observing is this:
There is something really exciting that happens when we look beyond the technology vs. permaculture dualism, and start imagining farms of the future where holistic management, soil regeneration, no-till and organic sit alongside cutting edge robotics, sensors, UAV, cultured meat, insect, algae and fermentation bioreactors. We like to refer to this new age of farming and food production with new terms such as “permaculture 2.0”, “beyond organic” and “new-fashioned farming” - all of which are being circulated today by pioneering farmers, scientists and citizens of a different kind - who look to the future and see that it is bright. What’s more these fields are converging, farmers are scientists, scientists are chefs, chefs are farmers. The lines are blurring and it’s rather fantastic.
All too often the “what is the future of food?” debate collapses into old and tired dualistic paradigms: organic vs non-organic, no-till vs till, small-scale vs industrial farming, techno-fixes vs old-fashioned farms. Our prevailing view is that the future is holistic, and diverse in its solutions. Different solutions are needed for different contexts: the urban farm of the future will look very different to the rural projects that have a role in conservation and regenerative agriculture.
We think that as well as innovative technologies being part of our food future, novel and intelligent ways of connecting humans to this field is central to a holistic food system. Our focus at Future Farm Lab is to create and weave together collaborative networks of innovation. We believe this is vital to re-imagining a vibrant food and farming ecosystem, that both embraces new technology and innovation, and respects traditional practise and historical context.
It is our unique approach in understanding and appreciating the power of ‘high’ and ‘low’ technologies, understanding the science of what will be necessary to regenerate our land and ecosystems, and integrating the human aspect of what it means to be a farmer today, that gives us the edge we have in discernment, holistic understanding and creative, win-win solutions.
Though we are fully aware each practise has pros and cons, we hope that by sharing knowledge, collaboration and learning we can move to a place where we unite in our diversity and move towards our common goals of a thriving food future together.
Our work involves a fusion of realistic, appropriate use of technology with the intelligence of Nature, scientific understanding of the land, water and soil, and knowledge of farmers.
A question we ask ourselves a lot is: How do we balance and combine the priorities of:
- Land, soil and water regeneration, protection and conservation,
Efficient, productive, affordable and local food production and food sovereignty
Community connection to food, land and farmers
The result? An organisation that creates opportunities for learning, connection and experimentation from the emerging future of farming. We connect farmers to citizens, retailers and technology by designing systems of collaboration and learning.
There are some exciting projects in the pipeline, and we urge you to watch this space!
Phoebe Tickell | @phoebetickell | firstname.lastname@example.org