The Italian National Science Foundation (CNR) is conducting a foresighting effort to advance a Smart Grid for food. Smart grid is a term used to describe a decentralized energy system where production and consumption can be matched by informatics, and the systems managed and optimized for efficiency and demand.
Food systems are as diverse as energy systems, with culturally and geographically different norms, standards and technologies. The CNR is building global partnerships to advance this concept of learning, food equality and supply advancement, a way to look forward toward a more sustainable approach to food, where efficiency and safer growing practices and technologies can be identified, tested, and matched to those situations where there are not adequate or beneficial calories, and to ensure food security and safety in our globalized world, where conflict and changing weather patterns might disrupt traditional food supplies.
In a recent workshop on the beautiful island of Capri, Italy, a small group of early adopters gathered to discuss what we need to do to build this network and how best to arrange the flow of information to and from the grid. I was so pleased to share a case study about urban agriculture in my home city of Boston, a description really of the challenges facing urban farmers and the possibilities for technologies, informational, physical and social, to make urban farming a viable and economically sustainable sector. In short, in my view we need to collocate food production with the intensive and expensive resources needed to produce and deliver high quality food locally.
In my work with entrepreneurs of bio based materials, the concept of a bio refinery is similar, the inputs for one production process come from the outputs of another, creating a circular and self-sustaining concept. For an urban food system, high quality soils can be derived from compost of food waste, while the anaerobic digestion producing methane gas can be a source of energy, and excess carbon dioxide used to provide a rich growing atmosphere. Waste water can be reused, according to closed system models. Post production aspects can be similarly addressed in a city full of biotechnology entrepreneurs, as well as a very strong grass roots community committed to growing local food, even as a social enterprise. I look forward to providing stewardship and building connections along this grid.