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We're part of the indoor farm revolution

Dear 22nd Century,

For all the pain, grief and economic hardship the 2020 coronavirus pandemic has sown, a handful of green shoots seem to have taken root in its blighted soil. Green being the operative word, because many of these developments could be a net positive for the planet. In lockdown, many of us are seeing what our cities look like without smog. Office workers are experiencing office life without the office; just last week, Twitter announced that most of its employees could work from home forever, while much of Manhattan is reportedly freaking out about what could happen to commercial real estate. Thousands of companies just discovered they can still function, and maybe even function better, when they don’t chain employees to desks or force them to make a soul-crushing, carbon-spewing commute 10 times a week.

And what do more people do when they’re spending more time at home? Well, if you’re like my wife, you start literally planting green shoots. Our house is filling up with them as I write this: lettuce, chard, tomatoes, basil, strawberries, to name the first five shoots poking out of dozens of mason jars now taking up residence on every windowsill. She’s hardly alone; garden centers and seed delivery services are reporting as much as 10 times more sales since the pandemic began. Even the mighty Wal-Mart has sold out of seeds. If viral Facebook posts and Instagram hashtags are any guide, pandemic hipsters have moved on from once-fashionable sourdough starters to growing fresh fruit and veg. Another one of our cyclical “back to the land” movements seems to be underway, just like during the 1960s and the Great Depression before that. Only this time, we don’t need land. We don’t need soil. We don’t need pesticide of any kind. We don’t even need natural light. Thanks to giant leaps forward in the science of hydroponics and LED lighting, even people in windowless, gardenless apartments can participate in the revolution. With a number of high-tech consumer products on the way, the process can be automated for those of us without green thumbs. 

In previous letters I’ve discussed the inevitable rise of alternative meat, a process that has been accelerated by the pandemic. I talked about the smaller, more nutritious plant-based meals we're going to need for life extension; I assumed such meals would be delivered by drone. But now I see a future with no food deserts, in which every home is filled with rotating space-station-like hydroponics run by artificial intelligence — a cornucopia of push-button farming providing the side salad to your plant-based meat. Even if you don’t grow your own, robot-run vertical farms and community “agrihoods,” now springing up everywhere, will make amazing-tasting produce abundant and cheap. The “locavores” of our era like to boast about their 100-mile diet. Yours will look more like a 100-yard diet. 

Read more at Mashable India (Chris Taylor) 

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