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Urban Farming, Insects Emerging as Cornerstones of Sustainable Food Future

With the world population projected to reach 10 billion by 2050, 70 percent more food will be needed, making sustainable food and agricultural solutions an imperative. Urban farming and alternative proteins are emerging as viable and intelligent approaches to meet growing nutritional demands with minimal environmental impacts.

Urban farming is poised to play a significant role in the future of food production, at least if Unilever has anything to say about it. The consumer brands giant is throwing its weight behind the movement with the launch of a new organic, plant-based food brand, Growing Roots.

The brand builds on Unilever’s multiyear commitment to urban farming initiatives, which establishes and funds partnerships to unlock access to fresh foods and nutrition education in communities across the country. Fifty percent of the profits from the Growing Roots brand will be directed to urban farming initiatives, allowing Unilever to help build a sustainable model for long-term community impact.

In 2015, Unilever teamed up with the city of New York’s Building Health Communities initiative and Green City Force to create six urban farms, which together have already generated an estimated 32,000 pounds of organic produce. In addition to providing funds, Unilever also donates its time — each year, employees volunteer thousands of hours to these efforts. As a result of the program’s success, the company has replicated the work in Los Angeles, Houston, Miami and Chicago.

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Unilever isn’t the only one working to bring urban agriculture to scale. Indoor vertical farming startup Bowery is harnessing the power of tech to create the world’s most sophisticated indoor farm.

Building on the success of its first indoor farm in Kearny, New Jersey, the new project will grow over 100 different types of herbs and leafy greens and is expected to generate 30 times more produce than its predecessor.

Using technologies such as machine learning, robotics and predictive analysis, Bowery has created a highly efficient system that operates entirely without the use of pesticides. This is largely due to what Bowery has dubbed ‘precision farming.’ Through its fully-integrated technology system, BoweryOS, and the farm’s controlled environment, the company is able to carefully monitor growth and provide plants with the exact inputs needed (light, nutrients and water) to promote growth. High precision monitoring also enables Bowery to grow produce using 95 percent less water and up to two times faster than traditional agriculture. What’s more, the company is able to use its operating system’s sophisticated analytic capabilities to harvest crops when their flavor is at its peak.

The new farm is expected to open its doors this summer when it will begin supplying produce to retailers such as Whole Foods in the tri-state area.

Meanwhile, Canadian brand President’s Choice is making moves into insect protein market, adding cricket powder to its extensive product portfolio. In an increasingly resource-constrained world, insect-based products could help meet growing demand for protein produced in a sustainable manner.

Crickets need 12 times less feed than cattle, four times less feed than sheep and half as much feed as pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein. They also require significantly less water than cattle rearing.

“With our President’s Choice brand, we’re always looking to bring the new and the next to Canadians,” said Kathlyne Ross, VP of product development and innovation at Loblaw. “By making products like Cricket Powder widely available in our grocery stores, we are giving Canadians the option to not only try something new but to also make a conscious decision on what they eat and how it impacts the environment.”

The cricket powder can easily be added to baked goods, smoothies or meals to provide high levels of protein, B12, calcium and fiber. According to the brand, crickets are a versatile ingredient that bring a subtle earthy flavor to food, or if used in small amounts, no taste at all.

“We are honored to be working with the President’s Choice team to bring sustainable food solutions to consumers,” said Jarrod Goldin, President of Entomo Farms. “We are striving to take the next step to ensure innovative, inspiring and, most importantly, conscious food options are available for Canadians and we believe cricket powder is just scratching the surface.”


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