Farming is something so banal in our modern, highly urbanised world, it’s easy to forget it even exists if you don’t come into contact with it often enough. But it has been a major factor in human civilisation since the beginning of what can even be called “civilisation”: with agriculture, humans were able to settle to tend to their crops instead of hunting for food, and soon enough, the farmers found themselves with a lot of free time between planting, taking care of, and harvesting crops. This free time coming from a settled existence birthed the earliest forms of art, crafts and perhaps even religion. Settlements grew to become cities, which traded and communicated with each other, causing either alliances or war if they were too close together; soon, campaigns were fought against other cities, kingdoms and empires, and the ancient world was born. Literature, philosophy, science, engineering, everything we associate with the civilised world was only possible because our ancestors decided it was better to plant wheat and wait around for a while than to go hunting for some juicy gazelle meat right now.
So, what is the next step? We conquered almost all land on the planet, but our population is still growing. Is there going to be a point where humanity grows to such high numbers that Earth simply won’t have enough farming space to provide us with food? The solution to this problem is vertical farming, the next step in food production technology. The process used in Belgian startup Urban Crops, for example, is but an application of what we know about growing crops to an enclosed, compact environment: an automated system is set up so that the crops are planted in a substrate that imitates soil (to eliminate the issue of diseases and whatnot), rotated through one of dozens of shelves in a room blasted with LED lights and fed with a hydroponic system providing the plants with mineral rich water. When ready, the plants are rotated out and ready to be consumed, similarly to a factory production line and independent of season or climate conditions.
This system is tremendously efficient when compared with traditional farming, as it requires a smaller area, has higher yields and consumes only a small fraction of the water currently used in fields. While Europeans are still sceptic about the prospect, since their populations are small and their fields are close to their cities, this system could be revolutionary in densely populated and highly urbanised areas such as NYC, Beijing and Delhi. This means that transport rates will go down as cities’ demands can be fulfilled by themselves, fresh produce will be available to people even in the middle of Manhattan, and most important of all, traditional farms will gradually disappear as we have no need for them anymore. And with the advent of lab-grown meat, we can do away with outdoors food production altogether, leaving nature to reclaim the land we no longer have any use for.
This will change the dynamic of human existence forever. We will finally become a truly urban civilisation, harvesting what we need from our own technology instead of nature. While a world of cities dotted around immaculate natural landscapes is hard to imagine, it is possibly where we are headed to with this technology. As indoors farming becomes more widespread, it will be massively more successful than old farms due to its low costs and high yields, eventually causing traditional farmers to either abandon their farms and come to the cities or migrate to vertical farming as well. This may be the next – and last – agricultural exodus, making humankind, at long last, be the city-dwelling species it has always longed to be.