What can a new food, energy and resource system look like?

Food, energy, materials and production system around cities and communities

This is a proposal to be discussed

The most radical change that has the greatest consequences for sustainability and resilience is if Sweden decided to become completely or almost self-sufficient in food, energy and materials. Tomorrow's food and resource systems are being built in and around cities and communities. All forms of cultivation are designed according to permaculture principles.

Synergy effects

Food waste from homes, schools, restaurants, wholesalers and retailers is used in biogas production, and digestate are returned to the farms. The mixture between trees, shrubs and plants and its different root depths means that water and nutrients are bound in the soil and can be distributed between the plants. The city has natural protection from wind and can collect rainwater in ponds for irrigation during dry periods. Trees from agroforestry and forestry are used for materials such as building materials, tools, furniture, wood plastic, clothing, textiles, paper, toys, and so on.

Further processing

Since primary production is very close to cities and communities, the rest of the food and resource system will also be located there to reduce transport, CO2 emissions, energy needs, packaging and to be able to return composted food waste or digestate to the farms. This means that small-scale processing increases the number of local food and industrial companies. Energy-efficient small-scale storage, for example in underground storage facilities, solar and biofuel-powered dryers, solar and wind-powered cooling, nitrogen and carbon dioxide as storage media, and reusable packaging become standard. As the growing season is limited, the need for preservation, drying, freezing, lactic acidification, salting and cold storage increases. Local primary production provides great opportunities for the consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables, root vegetables, fish and meat, which will result in a larger share of raw materials in ordinary people's consumption and cooking. With an increased insight into how the food system works and through local primary production, food waste will be reduced at the production, further processing, retail and consumption stages. Because the transport distances are short, they can be performed by smaller electric vehicles.

Different future cultivation systems

Urban cultivation
Urban cultivation according to this proposal involves a combination of intensive cultivation, forest gardens and greenhouse cultivation. Edible trees, shrubs, soil and root plants are combined in the same cultivation system, even though they are small in area and some plants are annuals. This can apply to the cultivation of, for example, yellow onions, lettuce, leeks together with berry bushes and fruit trees. Preferably also nitrogen-fixing trees and plants. Plantations are found in flower beds, parks, villa gardens, school areas, avenues and on roofs and house facades. To the extent that forest garden systems are possible, self-fertilization can be achieved and biodiversity takes care of pest control and pollination. Food waste from homes, schools, restaurants, wholesalers and retailers is used in biogas production and digestate remains returned to the farms. The city has natural protection from wind and can collect rainwater in ponds for irrigation during dry periods.

Greenhouse cultivation
Greenhouses are used for plant cultivation, propagation of trees and shrubs and cultivation of heat-demanding plants such as chili, basil, peppers, melons, cucumbers and tomatoes. The greenhouses are located both outside the city in the forest garden belt and inside the city. Some greenhouses are above ground and some submerged, so-called Walipini greenhouses, and some are cold greenhouses while others are warm greenhouses. Warm greenhouses retain some heat even in winter and can be heated with wood chips, biogas and solar panels, and submerged greenhouses receive heat from lower soil layers. Through these types of greenhouses, you can grow a large variety of fruits and vegetables all year round. During the winter, the plants can be illuminated with LED plant lighting lamps.

Forest gardens (agroforestry)
A forest garden contains edible perennial nut and fruit trees, berry bushes, herbs, climbing plants, roots and vegetables. Cultivation takes place in different height layers, which optimizes nutrient uptake, yield and biological protection. The forest garden is high-yielding and can give 2-3 kg / sqm in comparison with grain production which gives 0.4-0.6 kg / sqm (Guerra, Fukuoka). There are about 50,000 edible plants on the planet, and many are possible for the Swedish climate. Ponds are built in the belt for heat accumulation, reflection of light and fish farming. The sun heats the water during the day and the heat is given off at night. The diversity of plants in the forest garden attracts various insects, bacteria, fungi and worms that protect the plants against pests and diseases. Therefore, no pesticides are needed. Dynamic accumulators are among the key plants for creating self-generating fertility and absorb minerals and nutrients from deeper soil layers that accumulate in leaves, branches and roots.

Forest farming (agroforestry)
In forest farming, edible plants and shrubs are grown under the protection of tree crowns. The shade level is adjusted in relation to the crops. They primarily grow things that thrive in a shady and moist forest environment, such as shiitake, oyster chips, chard, radishes, mint, birch sap, medicinal plants and berries.

Silvoarable (agroforestry)
Silvoarable or alley cropping means that trees and shrubs are planted in rows with wide corridors in between where different crops grow. The rows are placed 10-15 meters apart in a north-south direction to provide enough space and hours of sunshine for crops. You can have single, double or triple rows of trees and shrubs. Some trees, shrubs and plants fix nitrogen, such as sticky bale, and the leaves in autumn become nutrients in the soil. The trees absorb nutrients from deeper levels and protect the crops from wind, erosion and drought. Biodiversity promotes pollination and natural pest control. The crop crops can be perennial wheat, field cress, sunflower or corn but also annual organic cereals, potatoes, beets, peas, oilseeds and so on. The trees can be used as nitrogen fixers, wood, nut and fruit production, wind protection, feed or bioenergy.

Silvopasture (agroforestry)
Silvopasture means that animals such as cows, sheep, goats or pigs graze in tree plantations. Pasture forestry is a form of forestry that is deliberately planned to optimize the production of wood products, forage, fruit / nuts, and meat and dairy products, while creating environmental benefits and ecosystem services. The trees create a favorable microclimate for pasture crops and at the same time provide shade for grazing animals. The grazing animals return nutrients via the animals' faeces and urine to the soil. They have access to indoor sleeping areas in buildings for loose animals and choose when they want to go in and out. Animals that are allowed to live in a good environment where they can exercise their natural behavior are more likely to resist infections and stay healthy than animals that are exposed to a bad and stressful environment.

Benefits of future food, energy, materials and production system

All in all, tomorrow's food and resource system will be able to bind significant amounts of CO2, partly during the growing up period in trees, shrubs and plants but also in the future through storage of digestate in the soil from biogas production as well as in various wood products. With local production, very short transports and low energy requirements for operation, it is quite easy to generate the need for electricity and biofuel locally. The food and resource system is robust and can withstand more drought, larger amounts of rain, more wind and higher temperatures.

Tomorrow's food system is flourishing through a high biodiversity without monocultures, pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, growth hormones, concentrates, fish feed, unhealthy additives, long-distance transports, unethical animal factories, sea fishing, etcetera. The regenerative resource system avoids or greatly reduces clear-cutting, long-distance material transport, energy-intensive metal production, mining, recycling activities, hazardous chemicals, industrial machinery, factory premises, and so on.

In the event of a more serious scenario such as a solar storm with Carrington strength (EMP) or an EMP bomb that destroys all electricity and all transport for many months or years, food and resource supply is still secured.

Ecosystem services
Tomorrow's food and resource systems based on biodiversity effectively contribute to the rebuilding of many ecosystem services that have degenerated today. It includes food supply, pollination, air and water purification, climate stabilization, protection of animals and plants, erosion control, water supply, disease and pest control, water regulation, biofuels, timber, recreation, aesthetics and so on. With tomorrow's food and resource system, it is possible to meet almost all national environmental goals in Sweden.

A rough estimate is that tomorrow's food and resource system will create at least 1,000,000 new jobs in primary production in Sweden. With increased local processing, there can be many more. Given the high unemployment and underemployment, especially among young people and immigrants, integration problems, and the forthcoming robotisation of certain occupations, tomorrow's food and resource systems may solve or mitigate more major challenges simultaneously.

Population and migration
The Earth's increasing number of climate refugees can be strongly counteracted if Tomorrow's food and resource systems are implemented on the planet. Many political conflicts and wars start with food and resource shortages. Tomorrow's food and resource system is expandable and can deliver significantly more food and resources in the future than current demand.

Energy and transport
Instead of increasing global energy demand by 37 percent and CO2 emissions by 25 percent, forecast for 2035, Tomorrow's food and resource system can lower this figure significantly by producing food and resources with much less energy and sharply reducing transportation. In addition, investments in infrastructure, vehicles and fuel production are reduced. Large amounts of CO2 can be sequestered in forest gardens, forestry, tree farming, pasture forestry and forestry. By producing biogas from organic material from all cultivation systems, not only energy is obtained for vehicles, heat and electricity production, but also large volumes of digestate, which by returning to soil bind large quantities of CO2

Instead of non-renewable metals and plastic products, society can switch to wood products as much as possible. Being able to have access to local raw materials that are regenerative offers many advantages. There are many types of tree species that are suitable for different applications. Wood is very durable if it is maintained properly, and yet aesthetically and durable. If society prioritizes high quality, the products can be attractive and functional for many decades or longer.

Infrastructure and business
Through local production of food, energy and materials, the need for both long-distance and medium-term transport is reduced, which reduces the need for new investments and maintenance of infrastructure. Seen from a global perspective, when many billions of people rise from poverty and can consume more food, the climate benefits are enormous with local production. Vigorous urbanization in all countries means that many rural communities are slowly dying and accelerating an even faster influx into cities. Through a new food and resource system based on local production, smaller communities would have greater opportunities to flourish both through primary production but also in further processing, storage, biofuels, tourism, food technology, industry, crafts, and so on. For Sweden, tomorrow's food system with many hundreds or thousands of new possible food ingredients would mean a culinary explosion of new exciting dishes for the benefit of citizens, tourists and business.

Health and quality of life
Tomorrow's food and resource system can provide the population with healthy and good food, regular exercise and wonderful recreation. Urban farming, greenhouse cultivation, forest gardens and various forms of forestry such as forestry, arboriculture and grazing forestry can offer meaningful employment to the unemployed, those on sick leave (who can and want to work), the underemployed and part-time work to white-collar workers and workers. Perhaps it is the case that most of us would both like and feel good about working in nature, and possibly this is how we greatly reduce ill health in society.

One way to reduce inequality is to ensure a local, qualitative and adequate supply of food and resources for all people. Local production that is owned collectively by the citizens or local entrepreneurs means that large companies get a smaller share of the pie.

When the "consumption class" increases from 1.7 billion people to almost 10 billion by 2050 (forecast), it will mean significantly greater food needs and increased greenhouse gas emissions. Through local food and resource production, one can greatly reduce resource needs, environmental degradation, energy needs, fertilizers and transport, and thereby reduce greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time be long-term sustainable.

Tomorrow's food and resource system does not mean "high-tech" as we usually perceive it. But if we think about it, nature actually offers the highest "high-tech" we know. We only need to imitate how it works to create our own food and resource systems. There is no reason for man to invent a substitute for things that nature already does many times better. However, there is reason to use new technology for, among other things, storage, further processing, packaging, distribution and biofuel. Tomorrow's food and resource systems will be optimized in many ways, and research and development is still in its infancy.

Smart society

  • Local production of food, energy, materials through generative systems
  • Reduced consumption through collaborative economy
  • Working hours depending on life situation
  • Advanced IT for sharing economy and digital work and education
  • Mixture of municipally owned, cooperative and private enterprise
  • Rural area with the same conditions as a city
  • Reduced living space per person
  • More share of crafts
  • Mixture of theoretical and practical work
  • High-tech when really needed
  • Local or regional holiday without long flights
  • Mostly local transport
  • Low proportion of societal problems
  • Low share of real investments
  • Governance through high individual and collective wisdom, insight and knowledge
  • Interest-based job for everyone
  • Nothing is considered waste
  • Only high quality products
  • Reusable packaging material
  • Guaranteed well-functioning welfare
  • Direct democracy
  • Beautiful and clean local environment
  • High resilience to disturbances
  • Stimulating free education system
  • System sustainable for many generations

For more information read "Morgondagens livsmedels-, energi-, material och produktionssystem, in Swedish)

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