Most perspectives shared in this article have been extracted from a panel hosted by Re-Nuble - Circular City Week New York: How To Incorporate Closed-Loop Practices Into Agriculture?
For centuries, soil-based farming has sustained the entire global population. While commercial farming in recent years has shifted many agriculture practices, it would be remiss to ignore the fact that soil-based farmers have influenced the paths taken by many indoor farmers.
During this panel, we asked Maya Kutz from Brooklyn Grange to share her thoughts on lessons that we can take from soil-based farms about closed-loop agriculture. This is a summary of her perspectives, along with some of our own findings:
While there exist many different indoor farming styles, and it’s possible to replicate methods by being shown the ropes, remember that being self-taught is a completely valid route as well. That being said, to ensure that you stay on course, we cannot discount the benefit of having a farming mentor. Finding one for the indoor farming world may be challenging, but it is do-able. Either way, don’t stop looking – even if it means working with a soil-based farming mentor first.
Often, many of these soil-based farmers have built a repertoire of knowledge, with a very solid understanding of operations and systems. They are able to advise on the basics of farm planning and seeding and harvest plans, which is foundational for the success of a farm, irrespective of whether it’s indoors or soil-based. (Insert and hyperlink NYC Farm School as an example here and briefly provide 1-2 sentences explaning what they do and have graduated new farmers). If an indoor farm isn’t able to find a mentor to help with the initial set up of operations, Kutz suggested the book, The Lean Farm. In it, indoor farmers that are just starting out will get a good overview to get the ball rolling.
Soil-based Mentorship Examples and Tips:
Matshidiso Mooketsi, South Africa’s Agricultural Research Council (ARC) National Mentor 2020 has been passing on her knowledge and expertise to mentees for more than ten years. According to Mooketsi, “Farming is not a one-man or one-woman show, like in my case I farm and provide mentorship with my husband. It needs collaboration, sharing of ideas and experiences. There are ups and downs in farming and those people in your corner can pull you up when down and can also cheer with you when up.”
British Columbian organic farmer and mentor, Chris Bodnar, says that for mentorship, “The first step to ensuring that neither party is looking to recreate an existing farm business is to match the right mentor with the right mentee. Then create a list of agreed-upon goals.”
Ultimately, it’s important to realize that there isn’t a conflict between indoor and soil-based growers, despite what some ideological perspectives may attest to. Instead, view this mentorship as a way to explore technologies and techniques that can be used to grow the communities that are being supported through farming. Take the example shared by Kutz regarding Brooklyn Grange’s exercise to seek synergy between biodegradable grow media and how it can contribute to soil carbon health through nitrogen-rich compost.
1. Actively seek mentorship, even if it’s with soil-based farms
2. Soil-based farmers can share
3. Innovative closed-loop agriculture solutions such as fully compostable grow media could be one of the biggest hidden gems from mentorship with soil-based farmers
As a team, we’ve been studying closed-loop agriculture solutions for close to a decade now, pulling on lessons from both indoor and soil-based farmers. This has led to the creation of our fully compostable grow media, organic hydroponic nutrient, and offsite food waste management system. If we can be of any help to point you in the right direction, let us know here.