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Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil.To feed the world, to clean the air and water, we need to change what we do with our soils.This podcast looks at the many variants of regenerative food growing. How? Why? When?We must be the ChangeUnderground!


55 #worldorganicnews 2017 03 13


WORLD ORGANIC NEWS in the Australian Podcast Awards Click here

Why Vertical Farms Fail | The Urban Vertical Farming Project

Orchard understory – Mortal Tree


This is the World Organic News for the week ending 13th of March 2017.

Jon Moore reporting!

This week we begin with some soul searching and self analysis from the blog The Urban Vertical Farming Project and their post: Why Vertical Farms Fail. This is an unusual post as it is brutally honest. It is therefore, extremely useful. It is a summary of a panel discussion which you can find by following the link in the show notes.


There are three main points the post brings to light: 1) If you can’t sell it, don’t grow it! 2) Focus on trying to do one thing well and 3) scissor lifts and why they don’t work.


Let’s look at these one at a time. If you can’t sell it don’t grow it! This is certainly the case when the growing system is seeds in one end and food out the other. Knowing your market is essential given the higher costs of land in urban settings which is where we find most vertical farms. This is generally a good idea anyway but there will be times when produce cannot be sold for whatever reason. A plan “B: is essential. In a traditional smallholding unsaleable produce is generally turned into pigmeat of some sort. Depending upon the produce it can also go to feed dairy cows, dairy goats beef cattle, sheep and or rabbits. Clearly this is not an option for most vertical farms so correct market analysis is essential.


Item 2) Focus on trying to do one thing well. Seems obvious but if you got step one wrong, being good a growing something nobody wants, whilst personally gratifying is not a long term sustainability option for the enterprise! The blog points out that they are producing half a dozen income streams themselves at present but are looking to specialise in just one. Be that providing seedlings for others, servicing restaurants or something else the final goal is to specialise. I can see the sense in this and also the dangers. Growing vertically, indoors removes the weather variations inherent in other farming systems. It does not remove the market fluctuations and food fashions. So I guess you makes your choice and lives with the outcome! Now, and I know you’ve all been waiting for point 3: scissor lifts and why they don’t work. I’m afraid you’re going to have to click through to discover why this is the case. Links, as ever, in the show notes.


Now we move from a production method which attempts to control as many variables as possible to one which attempts to work with variables and create a surplus through them. I’m talking about Permaculture and a post from Mortal Tree entitled: Orchard understory. It provides a list of companion plants for orchards. In permaculture, the idea is for each plant or animal in the system to provide at least two services. Bees, pollinate and provide honey, apple trees provide apples and blossoms for bees and windfalls to feed pigs and so on. This interlocking of species, services and returns is one of the keys to the philosophy. The more of these supporting, interlocking combinations we can engineer into our food systems the more stable they become and just as importantly, the more productive they become.


Now this philosophy can be employed in a backyard, a sheep station or, as in this case, an orchard. To further explain the interlocking and companion nature of the orchard understory I think a quote is helpful.



Here are 5 important roles companion plants can play in the orchard: Living Mulches produce large quantities of organic matter that can be cut back to decompose around tree bases, enriching the soil. Dynamic Accumulators have long taproots that bring up minerals from deep subsoil. Cut foliage throughout the season to break down around trees, creating dark nutrient-dense soil. Nitrogen-Fixers transform nitrogen from the air to the soil where it can be absorbed by tree roots. Beneficial Insect Accumulators contain nectar sought by predatory insects (aka beneficial insects, including braconid wasps, syrphid flies, and lacewings) that feed on fruit-tree pests. BIAs also attract orchard pollinators. Pest Confusers have bitter aromas that deter and confuse insect pests from eating fruit.

End Quote.


They level of detail is impressive. The outcomes are too. Remember the word Permaculture is blending of Permanent and Agriculture and also that counter intuitively, the more complex the system, the more stable it becomes.


So we have seen two different approaches to food production this week. One attempts to control for as many variables as possible and the other tries to create as many variables and fall back systems within each system that it can handle change. I lean more towards the latter but I can see the place for urban vertical farming. Maybe we need both!


And that brings us to the end of this week’s podcast.


If you’ve liked what you heard, could please follow the link in the show notes and vote for World Organic News in the Australian Podcast Awards Click here Thanks in advance.


Any suggestions, feedback or criticisms of the podcast or blog are most welcome. email me at


Thank you for listening and I'll be back in a week.




WORLD ORGANIC NEWS in the Australian Podcast Awards Click here

Why Vertical Farms Fail | The Urban Vertical Farming Project


Orchard understory – Mortal Tree

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