The primary focus of this project was to address the growing concern of supplying urban populations with healthy, organic and locally sourced produce. A secondary objective was location specific to the area of New Orleans and South Louisiana, hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. The combination of these two wicked problems presented an interesting opportunity where any number of the possible solutions for either could help solve the other. The trick was designing a viable and sustainable business ecosystem where all players could firmly stand on their own, yet support the other players. The proposed ecosystem will be explained further down in this section.
There are currently a plethora of problems plaguing the farming industry in the United States. These include but are not limited to traditional farming being soil depleting, toxic, marred by politics and not local.
When farmers continuously use the same land for generations, it goes from being fertile to being depleted in terms of nutrients. This makes them less and less arable and more dependent on external nutrients. This causes a missing feedback loop. With current methods, nutrients that could be recycled back into the system are instead lost and run off to the sea, where they in turn cause devastation for the sea fauna.
The prevalent methods used by agribusiness are toxic. From pesticides to nutrients, what current farming adds is dangerous for people and planet. For people, the pesticides used to kill the bugs that affect crops today end up being ingested by the final consumer. Furthermore, pesticides loose their effectiveness since pests adapt to them, and have to be made even stronger and more toxic in order for them to make an impact at all. For the planet, both the nutrients and the pesticides sprayed on crops find their way into our natural ecosystems and destroys them. Nutrients wash off crops, flow through the rivers and into the seas. There they impact life systems by creating an overgrowth of algae. When this happens the algae consumes more oxygen, leaving too little left for fish to live. This phenomenon of lack of oxygen is called Hypoxia and manifests in coasts throughout the world in what are called “Dead zones.”
In terms of politics, the votes that are tied to the current farming business and the pressure that farming lobbyist exert on the US government creates some unintended consequences. The different lobbies have their interests centered around a few crops that get quite a bit of the subsidies. This creates incentives to prioritize their production. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the US food supply. The influence of lobbies can be felt in the changes to their regulations and specific nutritional recommendations, which in turn influences both consumers the public officials.
Identified advantages to New Orleans as the epicenter of our project include population density and geographic location. Contemporary urban development studies and environmental sciences argue for urbanization as the way of the future if we continue to embrace the health of our planet. However, for this to work agrarian activities must move closer to urban centers to reduce the environmental costs of transportation.
From a geographic perspective, New Orleans’ tropical biological ecosystem is positioned to have the most naturally fertile ground in the United States. Historically, the Mississippi River would flood the marshlands and change direction every so often, leaving behind nutrients it carried from its path through the center of the United States. After years of farming sugar cane and cotton, and due to the damming of the river to direct its path, these lands are no longer as fertile as they once were. However, the Mississippi River is contains more nutrients than ever as it carries the same nutrients it always has, but now with the addition of those from runoff for farming activities in the American Northwest. Let’s use the nutrients for farming activities and prevent them from entering the Gulf of Mexico watershed, where they cause hypoxia each summer, killing fish stocks and hampering recreational tourism.
Urban Farming technologies make a different use of nutrients and, done carefully, do not cause run-off to our seas and other environments. Aquaponics, for example, supplies nutrients directly to the roots of the plants, which means less nutrients are needed and are contained to a small area. Urban Farming can take care to not disperse these nutrients in the environment.
Urban farming does not add to the current crisis of Dead Zones around our costs. If done carefully, urban farmers can keep nutrients from reaching the sea and killing the sea fauna.Urban farming generates a much smaller Eco-footprint that traditional farming. The jobs it generates are also local. The activity becomes more economic for farmers, so the jobs are better paying.
With current technological advancements, we are seeing these technologies are becoming more accessible. They do not need pesticides and make a more rational use of nutrients and have higher yields. The fact that it is done locally means that there is a much lower transporting cost. In the balance, urban farming can be much cheaper and make healthy produce much more accessible to consumers.
This project was taken on as a part of the MFA Service Design program’s “Service, Innovation and Enterprise” course at the Savannah College of Art Design. During the beginning of the course, we read and reviewed Innovation Design, by Elke den Ouden. The purpose behind this was to learn the methodology and utilize it to design an ecosystem that would successfully provide value according to the Value Framework.
We began this project by exploring wicked problems where an ecosystem is a necessary solution. Our team compiled a list of wicked problems and systematically went through the list with a decision matrix to select the best option for an ecosystem based solution. After rounds of research and analysis, urban farming was selected as the best option.
Professor den Ouden’s Value Flow Model examines the flow of four types of value between actors and stakeholders in an ecosystem. This tool proved useful to examine the balance of an ecosystem in addition to check for reciprocity among members.
The value flow model can get quite complex and as Professor den Ouden describes, it becomes a “spaghetti mess” quite quickly. For this reason, we have simplified the complex flows of value to focus around seven stakeholders key to the functionality of the ecosystem. Though these actors are no more “important” than any others, an understanding of how value is transfered to and from them is paramount for the communication of the ecosystem concept. Professor den Ouden’s Value Framework was used to check the value propositions of various ecosystem scenarios against the value perspectives of different social sciences and perceived value for four levels of agents. After establishing the status quo in a value flow model, two others were developed: Scenario 1 & 2.
Scenario 1 focuses on the establishment of massive environmental controlled agricultural (ECA’s) centers. It was found to be highly unstable and established non-reciprocal relationships between ecosystem members because of dominance established by ECA urban farms. Scenario 2 was also low in reciprocity and stability but the main negative factor was eco-effectiveness. Scenario 2 failed to address a main concern of the region: hypoxia in the gulf.
The final scenario focused on establishing a balance between the two, establishing an ecosystem where actors of comparable size engage to create a long term sustainable urban farming eco system with closed loop systems for key resources and flows of value.
The New Orleans Urban Farming Ecosystem consists primarily of four distinctly new to the world services. These include an urban farming social platform, an urban farming food producer, a waste and water reclamation company and a delivery service. Please reference attached business model canvases as descriptions make mention of them.
Urban Farming Social Platform
As a digital social network, the urban farming platform is crucial in the ecosystem by building relationships between customers and service providers. In this business model canvas, the core value for the platform is to promote urban farming technology and to increase public participation, through community activities and economic assistance.
Urban Farming Food Producer
To imagine a full-blown re-frame to Urban Farming, we are creating an archetypal Urban Farming company. This does not mean there would be only one such company, but that the ones created and bore by the market would be likely to resemble the one we describe here. The Urban farming Business model we propose uses different technologies available where they are most advantageous and operates from the locations that make sense economically. It provides services to smaller scale farms and to food resellers.
Waste and Water Reclamation Company
Waste & Water is a crucial part of the New Orleans Urban Farming Ecosystem. Waste & Water is actually more of an ecosystem within the ecosystem rather than one massive company. Businesses in this ecosystem work to close the nutrient and hydration systems required to sustain life within the city. They also closely monitor the city’s output in efforts to mitigate hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico.
The role of the delivery service in this ecosystem is to provide the capability to deliver local produce and compost to customers. In this business model canvas, the value proposition highlights sharing the core values of the entire ecosystem by stating that the produce is local, sustainable, and affordable. A key component will be the central distribution system to make this solution cost effective for a local market.
Scalability, Desirability, Feasibility & Viability
In some locations, locals might be less willing to participate directly in Urban Farming. In others, a grass-roots approach, where bigger scale companies are not as central, might be stronger because of a culture of participation. Every city will have different “sensible” areas where an urban farming development might or might not be welcome. It is essential for the promoters of the ecosystem to create goodwill.
This ecosystem is heavily dependent on technology and know-how. There should be consideration to the value of the knowledge and how actors will transact with it. An Urban Farming ecosystem requires a high level of acceptance at the city government level. The permanence of its support is essential to the success of the ecosystem.
In certain climates, intense cold or high temperatures might make impede outdoor urban farming. In this case ECAs might be the solution. Resident urban farmers might not be able to participate, since ECA Urban Farms are more complex technologically. One of the benefits for Urban Farming is its being local. If, however, water has to be brought from outside because it is not readily available, it might make the growing of plants too expensive. Within the city itself, it makes sense to verify that affordable real estate that is suitable for farms is available in proximity to water sources.