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Social Research for Sustainable Agriculture


The project’s focus is to investigation agriculture and its regard among urban societies, particularly the one of New York. Practices such as urban farming have become active social countermeasures to exploitive industrial farm practices. It is important to investigate whether these social motivations have the ability to solve the ecological problems of the grander scheme. Some solutions might have to inevitably be considered outside of our urban environments. Just as functional solutions are important, the aesthetics are not to be disregarded. This subject of research will explore the lacking regard for natural ecosystems from an aesthetic and psychological standpoint as well.

Agriculture as a Civilization Practice

Agriculture is one of the most important human culture practices on which our economies rely on. Without agriculture, humans would have never managed to form settlements with consistent food supplies and evolve beyond a migrating species. It is a practice without which a human society cannot be defined. Nevertheless, geologic history demonstrates that every human society who’s diet consisted of annual crops (wheat, maize, and rice) — eventually collapsed 1. Our post-industrialized society has yet to witness an existentially threatening food crisis but as overpopulation and soil degradation become a problem, maintaining a constant food supply using our outdated farming practices; will become no longer feasible.

The majority of the carbohydrates, proteins and oils used to feed our societies are derived from annual plants; plants that grow for one season and then die. Exploitive agricultural practices such as tilling, monoculture farming, herbicides, and pesticides; demonstrate that our cultures have failed to engineer critical solutions to our most vital problems. As humans continue to rely on staple foods, soil erosion will continue and vast areas of land would no longer be suitable for farming. Land degradation and soil erosion covers more than 30% of the total global land area that effects more than 3 billion people 2. These statistics combined with our increasing global population do not suggest utopian outcomes.

Agriculture as a Cultural Practice

The technologies that most societies can economically afford, can be used to develop a form of agriculture that imitates natural ecosystems while providing for our human needs. We have the ability to engineer our society in a way that will allow us to give a direct regard to natural ecosystems that solve our social and collective problems. Our societies must therefore realize this potential and support incentives that manifest these social practices. The technologies that are exhaustively implemented in urban infrastructures, consumer products, and services; should be directed towards the sources we existentially rely on. Our farm practices have evolved insignificantly since the industrialization era, yet, we develop technologies in other areas at an unprecedented pace.

Among the problems that urban environments face, agriculture is not regarded among our societies to the extents that it should be. This is explained by the fact that the demographics of the farming population have changed drastically. Our societies used to have the majority of the population growing crops and raising animals. In modern-day societies however, it is a demographic that is represented by a fraction of a percent. Most importantly, these demographics are non-existent in urban environments where farming barley exists as a practice (although urban farming is expanding the scope of this practice). However, rural areas where farming is a popular practice, are physically and culturally detached from their demanding urban societies. Agricultural detachment is a crisis of our urban societies.

It is important however to not discredit the attempts made by some urban societies that aim at fixing our lacking connection with agriculture. City farms, hydroponic farms, and farmer markets are perfect examples of solutions that tackle food transportation emissions and the unreasonable price and quality of our food. Despite these attempts, it is important to realize that even if our cities had an abundance of such farms, they wouldn’t solve the most important problem that we face thus far; our reliance on staple crops — a problem that is essentially unsolvable without the help of natural environments. Staple crops require vast amounts of land and are the most common crop targeted by unsustainable farm practices. The only way our urban societies can influence these practices, is to start coming up with solutions that solve external problems as effectively as we manage to solve our internal ones.

Research Initiative

The project will investigate the connection between urban cultures and agriculture. Various communities would be explored around New York that emphasize on confronting the industry’s exploitive agricultural practices. Farmer markets in various New York neighborhoods like Brooklyn are known for having a community that embraces sustainable urban farming 3. Hydroponic farms, aquaponic farms, and vertical farms will be explored and even visited. Part of the project is going to investigate urban farming as a solution to the problems of the grander scheme. Reasons for why urban farming may or may not be an effective solution will be subject to critical investigation and research.

Another area of research that the project would not omit, are the aesthetics that aid humanities’s appreciation of its natural ecosystems. For every functional solution there is an aesthetic counterpart that needs an adjacent solution. Research subjects will include artistic interpretations of agriculture and ways of raising awareness about our ecosystems by eccentric means. Such examples include Tega Brain’s conception of Eccentric Engineering 4 which doesn’t regard the human agenda as the end solution to an engineering problem. Project’s such as Coin Operated Wetland 5 are examples of several installations by Tega Brain that illustrate how compromisingly benefiting our ecosystems is just as important as satisfying our human agendas. Other aesthetic solutions that relate to the subject of agriculture include Swale 6, a floating farm on the Hudson river.

  1. Shepard, Mark. Restoration Agriculture: Real-World Permaculture for Farmers. p.64 

  2. Nkonya, Ephraim. Economics of Land Degradation and Improvement: a Global Assessment for Sustainable Development, p.1 

  3. http://www.grownyc.org/greenmarket/brooklyn-grand-army-plaza 

  4. http://eccentric.engineering/about/ 

  5. http://tegabrain.com/Coin-Operated-Wetland 

  6. http://untappedcities.com/2016/04/13/swale-a-floating-edible-forest-farm-will-be-at-brooklyn-bridge-park-governors-island-this-summer/