While COVID-19 has placed an emphasis on supply chains and strengthening local food systems, the self-sustainability of the global agricultural system is still threatened by insufficient profits, according to Daryl Gibson.
Daryl currently works as a consultant for “Innovation from the Ground Up.” consulting on topics of innovation, organizational culture, leadership and change management. He spoke with Vertical Farming Daily about the potential of controlled environment agriculture to drive economic development.
“When I began investigating controlled environment agriculture, I spoke to many people and realized something startling;: I couldn’t find anyone that was profitable. Many of the small-mid size farms struggle to make enough to cover expenses, and even many of the large-scale farms are living on investment funding. For the most part, these larger farms are still growing and reinvesting the money back into the business so there are no profits. But ultimately, if a business is not profitable, then it cannot survive forever on investment funds.”
After studying different operations, Daryl believes the main reason farms struggled to be profitable was because there was not enough value added to the products being delivered. “When growing lettuce, I’m selling it and making a bit of profit. When I make it into a salad, that would be value-added and I can charge more for it.”
The question Daryl asks, then, is how to build value in agriculture so that consumers are comfortable paying a higher price. One strategy mentioned by Daryl is the formation of symbiosis, or collaborations between different farms and businesses to promote closed-loop agriculture. Enter the Eden Fusion Center, Daryl’s brainchild which would use agriculture as the basis for the transformation of abandoned real estate into a hub of businesses, jobs and innovation.
“We could convert an abandoned and blighted vacant commercial building located in a cold climate and consisting of at least 50,000-100,000 square feet and 2-3 stories high, into a fully productive tropical forest.
The tropical farm concept
The roughly 25,000 square foot farm would be the centerpiece of the space with approximately 125 coconut, mango, papaya, star fruit, guava and other assorted, high profit, and non-indigenous to the local area, fruit-bearing trees. The focus would be on wellness and exploring closed loop symbiosis with other co-located businesses.”
According to Daryl, the hub would be a working farm and every element would serve a purpose. For example, he suggests placing a waterfall in the middle whose purpose would be to aerate. The water would then flow into streams, which could house a fish stock for aquaculture and whose manure would act as fertilizer for the trees. The forest would be surrounded by glass and in that surrounding area, there would be businesses and office space with unobstructed views into the forest. “I’ve also looked at bringing in a data center or companies that use digital equipment as this produces a lot of heat which could be used to heat the forest during the winter,” says Daryl.
The Eden Fusion Center, as Daryl envisions it, would address the four challenges previously mentioned: job creation, use of abandoned real estate, fostering business development and community development. As the Eden Fusion Center is currently still a concept, Daryl emphasized that it while some similar projects might target non-profit models, the Eden Fusion Center would be run as a for profit in order to demonstrate economic viability and provide jobs.
Looking ahead to post-pandemic life, Daryl expects that many people will value a place of wellness where they can learn about the possibilities of agricultural and expose themselves to new opportunities and experiences. It is his hope that the Eden Fusion Center will be that place!
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