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By Laura Stec

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About this blog: I've been attracted to food for good and bad reasons for many years. From eating disorder to east coast culinary school, food has been my passion, profession & nemesis. I've been a sugar addict, a 17-year vegetarian, a food and en...  (More)

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Soil – A Thing of the Past?

Uploaded: Oct 6, 2017

I spent last year researching people
growing food in cities
without soil.

Urban Cuisine” was the assigned topic. But what did that mean? I googled it, found nothing, and proceeded to register the website. (!) Then spent 11 months uncovering an answer.

Stop #1 Discovering the Average Age of an Apple in a Grocery Store
Commercial apples are picked, waxed, and added to a chamber where the CO2 and O2 are drawn down so low they basically freeze. When finally shipped and eaten, (14 months later) the antioxidants are gone, and all that is left is sugar and fiber. Source MIT/Target.

The rest of the journey is a bit more inspiring. I learned urban eating is our future, and probably happening in a city near you. It’s eco (90% less water needed in some cases, less transport/greenhouse gases), it’s adaptive, diverse, attractive to youth, tax-incentive based, personalized, and creates employment EVERYWHERE with good paying, middle class jobs growing right in your backyard (literally).

Examples include aeroponics

USC - LA Urban Farms


Future Foods Farms, LA

vertical growing

container growing

hoop-house-all-weather growing

produce growing in Michigan in January and what a taste!

growing in vacant lots with soil sox

and growing on rooftops.

Other examples include a closed-loop, food production space where the waste of one business fuels another (EX: coffee maker’s bean chaff grows mushrooms, and a brewery’s leftover grain feeds tilapia, their waste grows greens, and an anerobic digester converts all remaining food waste into power for the building.

The only real hang-up in this futurist foodie fable is the whole lack-of-soil thing (carrots on concrete don’t commove) unless you talk to MIT, which proudly envisions and promotes soil in agriculture as a thing of past.

Crazy even more, urban cuisine also involves turning all food scraps (we’re talking 40% of our waste stream) into liquid soil in 3 hours,

building food computers that create the perfect growing environment for nutritionally superior food,

- photo by MIT

brewing real milk like beer (by fermentation, not cow)

and bypassing animal agriculture entirely by building “stomachs” that produce meat from cell cultures rather than animals.

Each of these topics is a story all their own; a rich tale manifesting coast to coast. Across the country, smart, inspired folks are figuring out how to feed us all more sustainably, and here’s some good news in the recent sea of bad, it’s working. Come learn about their efforts and much more at reThink Food, a project of the Culinary Institute of America and MIT, Nov 1-3 in Napa, CA. It’s an annual event that gathers innovators from across the food, design, technology, and media sectors to further aspirations toward a more sustainable food supply and tastier future. reThink Food helps leaders understand the intersection of food and technology, prepare for what’s next, and learn how to get involved.

I drank the kool-aid (or maybe more fitting to drink the Tang). I am really turned on by the future of food, technology, and the possibilities that lie ahead. Never-the-less support is constrained until someone answers my question. I asked it to MIT last year, never really got an answer, and if given the chance, will ask it again this year. The future of food is vast. We’ll be growing everywhere on everything, producing with all kinds of crazy technologies in unexpected ways. We’ll be eating a veritable technological super soup, unless of course the acceptance of soil antiquity gets in the way of humans understanding the most basic question we have yet to answer….

How can we replace the soil if we don’t even know what’s in it yet?

reThink Food
Nov 1-3, 2017
Napa, CA

Confirmed presenters include: Michiel Bakker, Google; Ali Bouzari, Pilot R+D; Kyle Connaughton, Singlethread Farm-Restaurant-Inn; Debra Dunn, FEED Collaborative/Stanford University d. school; Danielle Gould, Food+Tech Connect; Gerd Leonhardt, The Future Agency; and Chioma Ume, IDEO.

Visit re-thinkfood for a full list of presenters and program schedule.

About The Culinary Institute of America
Founded in 1946, The Culinary Institute of America is the world’s premier culinary college with locations in New York, California, Texas, and Singapore.

- photo by LSIC unless noted

What is it worth to you?


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Oct 8, 2017 at 4:10 am

Losing my appetite. Inevitable dystopian conclusion of a 1973 Charlton Heston film.

Posted by veggie-table, a resident of The Greenhouse,
on Oct 8, 2017 at 1:39 pm

Hate it ... this is the corporatocracy's answer to the back to real food movement ... industrial food. Too much technology in the hands of greedy power-mad elites ruins everything.

Lots of hype. No scientific studies to show that what is in a real plant grown in real soil is the same as these factories. Claims about water savings that are overstated. They mix up a batch of hydroponic solution and then dump it all a few days later and replace it. Where does it go? Who reality-tests this stuff?

Posted by Love it, a resident of another community,
on Oct 9, 2017 at 5:14 pm

Year round crops, increased profits for even the very small farmer compared to earlier days. The grow houses placed over soil on southern facing exposures are very productive in the right climates. The Humboldt boys and girls have been doing it with great success for years.

Posted by macbaldy, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 9, 2017 at 6:22 pm

The US has a huge population that's increasing food demand while arable land is decreasing. California is a huge source of responding supply but that source region is threatened by climate change and diminishing water supplies. Other agricultural regions in the US are variously threatened by climate change. Hurricanes and floods put serious crimps into crop futures. Alternatives to agriculture-as-usual are innovation a la carte. That's likely to be slow to sink-in to a pampered society though.

Posted by Jack Hickey, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on Oct 10, 2017 at 12:25 pm

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

Great article!

Posted by Anee, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Dec 25, 2017 at 9:21 pm

I personally like your post; you have shared good insights and experiences. Keep it up

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