An Accountant, A Farmer and A Teacher
An accountant, a farmer and a teacher walk into a train depot...
Sounds like the beginning of a great joke doesn’t it? Funny enough, I met people in each of those professions as well as many others at the AgLanta Conference 2018. At this year’s conference, we focused on the role of agriculture in ‘smart cities’. To start the conference off, Henry Gordon-Smith, Founder of Agritecture, so eloquently asked the audience: “can a city really be smart without agriculture?”
The answer is no, absolutely not. At the conference, we focused on several components of “smart” agriculture that are explained more in depth here, and we strove to create a discussion around integrating agriculture into the future of our cities.
I can only imagine what my grandparents thought the future would look like, and through my research and experience I now have my own dreams of what a smart city will be. Back in 2013, as an undergraduate student at the University of Florida (Go Gators) I became involved in the Challenge 2050 Project. This program addressed the question of how do we feed a predicted population of 9 billion people by the year 2050? It’s a statistic we all know well.
Through that program, I became passionate about vertical farming, controlled environmental agriculture and food security because I felt that with our changing climate, growing population and limited resources, optimizing everything was critical to produce enough food.
After my graduate degree I found myself looking for a job and was approached by BrightFarms about their apprentice grower position. This position allows me to train to become a head grower of my own greenhouse as the company expands. I have been very fortunate to find a job and an industry that I am passionate about and wake up everyday wanting to go to work.
Through this process, from undergrad to now, I have grown so much in my self-awareness, leadership skills, and building a community of people around me that provide great insight, challenge my norms and are my champions as I progress in my career. Because Florida can grow many crops year round, it took a while of searching to find hydroponic greenhouses there.
Meanwhile, I found Agritecture, and as soon as I discovered the AgLanta Conference last year, I knew I had to jump at the opportunity to go. Keep in mind, I tore my ACL February 2017, so I hobbled with crutches on a plane, then to the conference location, then back to Florida, all in one day. I wanted to go that badly and it was well worth the effort.
Then, this year the Agritecture team, Southern Company, and the City of Atlanta’s Office of Resilience exceeded my expectations again. AgLanta 2018 had a well organized theme that touched many different pillars of the smart city, featured a fantastic group of panelists and speakers, and combined all of that with purposeful networking opportunities to build my community and refresh connections with old friends.
In 2 days we discussed 7 ‘smart topics’ with over 30 different speakers. Day 1 Keynote speaker Otis Rolley talked about the strategic actions that Atlanta is taking to combat overcrowding, traffic, pollution and food/water. He also talked about Atlanta’s ambitious goal of every Atlantan living within ½ mile of fresh food by 2025.
Then, in each of the 7 smart topics, a short talk was first given to provide us with a base knowledge and different perspective about the issue at hand. From there, each topic was discussed by a diverse panel of industry experts with questions from the dynamic moderators as well as members of the audience.
Lunches were amazing with everything you would expect at an urban agriculture conference. A buffet with many healthy options on Tuesday and the wonderful surprise of food trucks of different cuisines on Wednesday. Personally, I had a bacon grilled cheese sandwich from the Low-Co Motion food truck that sources all of their food from the state of Georgia in the spring and summer and in the winter only goes to states that touch Georgia. The only thing they can’t get from that definition of local is lemons, which they have to buy from California. (Potential solutions anyone?)
Because of my background in business, marketing and leadership, the two biggest points that stood out to me were discussions on distribution and labor. Consumers want food that is local, high quality and they want it now - demands that are hard to meet in our current distribution system.
Speaker James Coffman with Tower Farms talked about how their system can be integrated into smart cities by using abandoned buildings and vacant lots to grow food. The best part of this talk was when he showed us a rendering (seen below) of a new apartment building in Brooklyn, NYC that has integrated Tower Farms into the rooftop where residents can be apart of a CSA system with produce that grows on their roof.
Secondly, speaker Darryn Keiller with Autogrow gave us an international perspective of our use of resources. He went through several countries and explained how each has a different set of issues. For example, Singapore has a readily available workforce to go into agriculture and is a very energy efficient country. Unfortunately, they don’t have as much space as other countries and they rely on Malaysia as their source of water.
On the other side, the United States is fairly good with energy production and we have a large amount of land. Unfortunately for the U.S., part of the country is struggling with water, namely the continued droughts in California and recent water wars between Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Additionally, the average age of a farmer is 58 and Darryn challenged us to think about how we recruit the next generation of farmers. This caused me to think about my passions, how I have been influenced to be where I am today and how I can advocate to others about why agriculture is the best industry to go into.
In the end, I learned so much about things I never would have thought about regarding smart cities, and I networked with the current and future leaders and changemakers in our world - all in one of the most forward thinking cities in the United States for urban agriculture.
This year’s conference blew my mind and made me more confident that the agtech industry is poised to make a huge impact on our future. These issues affect everyone and we could find a place for you at AgLanta. If you don’t think so, shoot me a message on LinkedIn or Twitter so I can help you find a way that you can make an impact. Si Se Puede, yes we can.
P.S. Didn’t get enough and want more? Check out the gallery below featuring the graphic recordings of every panel (by Groundworks Studio)
Kayla Waldorff graduated from the University of Florida with a B.S. in Food and Resource Economics and a M.S. in Agriculture Education and Communication with a specialization in Leadership Development. She is now an apprentice grower at BrightFarms, a hydroponic greenhouse grower of lettuce and amazing people. She is currently looking for people who want to connect and talk urban agriculture and opportunities to travel abroad. Feel free to connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn!