Urban Food Systems Workshop Report

In June 2016, Georgia Tech and the Georgia Tech Research Institute released a report entitled “Urban Food Systems: Workshop Report on the Potential for Growth and Innovation in Commercial Scale Urban Agriculture at the Nexus of Food, Energy, Water, and Transportation Systems.”  Sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the report summarizes the findings of two workshops and makes recommendations for funding research within NSF’s new Innovations in Food, Energy, and Water Systems research initiative. 

More than conventional agriculture, urban agriculture presents the greatest and most immediate opportunity to fully integrate food, energy, and water systems owing to the proximity of human, industrial, water, power, and transportation resources in cities. But while small scale urban agriculture is growing as a practice, progress at the commercial scale is hampered by many technological and knowledge barriers. The workshops surfaced, and the report conveys, 25 research topics that address barriers to commercial scale urban agriculture and the integration of food, energy, and water systems. Included among the 25 are:

  • Urban planning models that include commercial scale urban agriculture;
  • Effective data and knowledge sharing methods and tools that bridge the linguistic, social, economic, and technological gaps that exist between the Food, Energy, and Water domains;
  • A means for identifying the appropriate balance of technology, affordability, and maintainability for agricultural technologies;
  • A research program that focuses on the ideal engineered characteristics of plant biology, environment and lighting, resource flows, and feedback/control;
  • Planning tools for integrating systems across boundaries rather than focusing on self-sustained systems;
  • Life cycle assessment models that balance food, water, and energy; and  
  • Models that integrate food production, energy and water use, and transport with nutrition and diet

The first workshop was held in Atlanta, Georgia on December 8, 2015.  A diverse group of urban agriculture practitioners, entrepreneurs, researchers, local government officials, and representatives from utilities and non-profit organizations were asked to share their vision for the future of urban agriculture, and the barriers that might prevent movement from the present state to a future state where urban agriculture can compete with conventional rural agriculture at a commercial scale. In a second workshop held in Washington, D.C. on February 11, 2016, an expanded group was asked to shape the challenges identified in the first workshop into research questions and programs of research through which the NSF could channel research funding.  The report captures, organizes, and conveys all the ideas expressed at the workshops, and channels the findings into 25 recommendations that the NSF can use to inform its plans for future investments in its new (as of FY17) Innovations in Food, Energy, and Water Systems (INFEWS) research initiative.

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Brent Verrill, Communications Manager, BBISS