This is a an interview I have looked forward to for a long time. Both due to Frederik being a friend of mine, but also because he is really driven towards making change happen, not just talk about, but building stuff, as he would put it. In this interview we are focusing on Vertical Farming, and how that will lead us to create a more sustainable agricultural system. But lets hear from the man himself.
Can you start with telling us a little about yourself?
Sure. I’m basically an altruistic hippie caught inside a the body of a super capitalist startup dude out for vengeance on the food system while wearing round design-thinking glasses. Also, I grow plants indoor using all sorts of fancy equipment and try to build a productive community around food technology in Copenhagen. Background within economics, technology and open-source projects.
What are your current work in relation to foodtech?
1 year ago, I co-initiated CPH Foodtech Community (connecting food & technology people on hands-on development projects), Growstack Cooperative (enabling and kickstarting vertical farming) & Reffen Greens (growing microgreens and herbs in a 20’ shipping container), and have all sorts of ambitious projects associated with these initiatives. CPH Foodtech Community is essentially the platform that spun-out the Growstack project (which is now becoming a cooperative), which again is the reason why the opportunity to establish Reffen Greens as a local micro-scale vertical farm came about.
What is vertical farming? And why is it important?
Vertical farming is basically the use of technology like LED lights, automated irrigation, sensors, dispensers and data science to grow plants in multiple levels on top of each other in highly controlled environments and usually without soil. And why is it an important thing? First of all, it’s no secret that our current agricultural system has a few very serious issues in terms of things like pollution, deforestation, lack of arable land and limited biodiversity, meaning that scaling up our current way of producing plants simply just isn’t a viable option in the future. Secondly, the biggest risk factor within agriculture is really the weather. And since we have very little certainty about the state of our climate even in the coming 10-15 years, removing that risk seems like a pretty good idea. At the same time, people’s food habits are actually getting worse in terms of climate impact. And if we want people to eat less meat and other environmentally unfriendly foods, we better start making plants the far superior alternative. With vertical farming we can actually attain higher quality, pesticide free and non-pollutant plant production year round and grow all kinds of varieties that would otherwise be difficult, because we have full climate control and can use enriched sensor-data to find out exactly how to optimise for not only yield and size, but also taste and nutritional value at the same time. Apart from this, vertical farming has the potential to really decentralise part of food production as we know it, which has some pretty valuable socioeconomic benefits and other cool stuff within achievable range.
Building on that, from your knowledge, how can Vertical Farming help create greater traceability and transparency of food products?
Well, given how digital the production is, it’s a lot easier to know exactly what inputs the plants have received and track the journey all the way from seed production to your plate. Kristoffer, you are probably fishing for a recommendation to develop some kind of fancy blockchain application here – but I’m Just (pun intended) not gonna give it to you.
Kristoffer: I honestly wasn’t, but I think that Vertical Farming in itself is going to create transparency. By looking at farms which is based in the same buildings as supermarkets, people could go by where their lettuce, basil is grown, thereby minimising both the physical and psychological distance between us, and the food we eat. And hopefully inspiring people to ask questions about the foods origin and cultivation.
If someone was interested to learn more, where could they read more on this topic?
There’s always www.growstack.org – but honestly simple Google and youtube searches will bring you an abundance of good introductions to the topic. Then there are different kinds of scientific articles, documentaries and books written on the topic as well – again google is your friend. Another quick reference could be www.agritecture.com which usually features a few interesting developments from the global scene. And no – if you google Growstack Marketplace and find links to anabolic steroid products available for purchase, it is not us. I promise.
Food fraud is the act of purposely altering, misrepresenting, mislabeling, substituting or tampering with any food product at any point along the farm–to–table food supply–chain. Fraud can occur in the raw material, in an ingredient, in the final product or in the food’s packaging.
Food fraud is the deception of consumers through intentional adulteration of food:
by substituting one product for another
using unapproved enhancements or additives
misrepresenting something (e.g., country of origin)
misbranding or counterfeiting
stolen food shipments and/or
intentional contamination with a variety of chemicals, biological agents or other substances harmful to private– or public–health.
So when there is talk about food fraud, that can entail many different aspects, but the most ghastly is the intentional contamination with our food. Just within the last 15 years, there has been many issues with food fraud:
China (2008) melamine in baby food; (2015) ‘zombie’ frozen meat
Russia (2015) palm oil in milk
Italy (2011) illegal organic produce; (2014) hydrogen peroxide on seafood
England (2013) beef burgers containing pork and horsemeat
Australia (2013) free–range eggs from caged hens
Mexico (2005–present) meat from undeclared species
USA (2009–present) Salmonella in peanuts, honey–laundering, meat from undeclared species
While many of the cases that arise from from investigations usually are harmless, some food–fraud incidents have resulted in serious public health consequences. This do illustrate vulnerabilities in the current regulatory and quality assurance systems.
That is why knowing the source and history of the food we eat is all important. Fraudsters are able to perpetuate their crimes through vulnerabilities in the current food supply chains. End-to-end traceability and supply chain transparency are critical management tools for food brand owners, farmers, etc. Track-and-trace combined with market monitoring and testing, are key tactics for proactively mitigating food fraud risks.
So even though consumers are doing hard work to seek out foods that will promote their health, by buying food that are a mean to a healthy life, they are fighting a losing battle.