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Farming the High Seas: The Future of Floating Gardens

Currently, agriculture consumes 11 percent of the world’s entire landmass, using a mere third of the potential space available to grow crops for food and…

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Gardens have been essential to human civilization throughout history. From the Garden of Eden to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to Mother Earth herself, gardens have been part of how we survive and flourish as a species. Since man first planted crops more than 10,000 years ago, agriculture and horticulture have been in our blood, both figuratively and literally.

Today, the world’s population has reached 7.5 billion, according to the 2017 UN Worldometer estimates, growing at an incremental rate of 1.11 percent each year since 1955, putting global projections at a milestone of 10 billion by 2056.

Currently, agriculture consumes 11 percent of the world’s entire landmass, using a mere third of the potential space available to grow crops for food and medicine. The remaining two thirds fluctuates between being ‘usable,’ based on flooding, natural conditions and climate change. From these numbers, the demand for production in usable areas would increase by 70 percent over the next few decades, a seemingly impossible task, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization.

Included in those crops is one of the largest world-trend cultivations, cannabis. Cannabis is used by 147 million people worldwide, or about 2.5 percent of the population, according to the World Health Organization; that number will only increase as time progresses as more people become exposed to cannabis and additional medical advances are made in the cannabis industry. In fact, there have already been reports in the US of dispensary shortages as demand grows with the influx of new patients, reaching more than 1.2 million in 2016, according to medicalmarijuana.org.

On a certain level, the future is an equation unfolding before us, with numbers acting as clues, giving evidence to the shape of things to come. But science isn’t always about the evidence—it’s about how you interpret the evidence. What’s being revealed is that we have all the natural resources we need at our fingertips, with the ability to produce enough food and medication for future generations to come.

Analysts, architects and agriculturists around the world are looking to use practical applications and time-tested tactics to ensure a future for us all, and have arrived at the idea of ‘floating gardens.’ No stranger to the chapters of our planet’s history, floating gardens have been utilized around the world, mainly in inhabited areas plagued by flooding or struck by natural disasters, or simply to protect them from animals. Examples can be seen in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Thailand. These versions are essentially floating rafts, constructed from buoyant plant-life, bamboo, compost and manure, lasting only a single season before needing to be recycled.

What can modern technology tell us?

With advances in modern technology, these single-season floating crops have the potential to become more—much more. Current prototypes visualize the gardens as three-story floating platforms that range from trailer-sized to football field-sized, each with the ability to dock with one another. Each level consists of an integral layer of the engineered ecosystem. The top layer would generate clean energy, consisting of solar panels and rain catchers, while the middle section will produce hydroponic crops. The lower level would maintain aquaculture and house sea life.

As many hydroponic growers know, using less area to grow produces a higher yield per square foot, eliminates weeding, diminishes pests/disease and reduces a crop’s grow cycle, making more product available faster, all in a highly-controlled environment. Coupled with sustainable water practices and self-digesting pollutants, floating gardens may effectively curb foreseeable production issues for any number of cultivators worldwide, especially cannabis growers.

For now, these first-generation gardens are only concept prototypes. They are being tested by companies like Smart Floating Farms and Forward Thinking Architecture in still water environments like marinas, estuaries, rivers and lakes, tethered to an adjoining dock, allowing people to visit the vessel and even make purchases. Effectively turning the structure in to a self-sustaining farmers market, these gardens could produce as much as eight tons of produce annually in a 22,500 square foot space. This concept could someday be turned into a fully operational grow, complete with a kitchen, laboratory, dispensary and product floor—in states where cannabis is legal, of course.

Gardens in international waters

Future generations will undoubtedly be tested in open waters, left to survive at sea for extended periods of time. These off-shore garden editions will be of a larger variety, able to provide food and medicine to entire towns, cities, states or even countries. Instead of being tethered to a dock, however, they will be anchored in the open ocean or a vast body of water.

But what if these gardens were stationed in international waters? To date, no product has ever been produced in these ‘trans-boundary waters.’ Mankind has only hunted, studied and explored, but never harnessed the sea as farmland. The ‘high seas,’ as they are ironically called, make up an area that exists 12 nautical miles (13.8mi) off the coast of every country. Here, there is no sovereign state, no taxes, no tariffs, no maritime law; only open waters and endless possibilities.

North American cannabis sales reached 6.7 billion dollars in 2016, with projections hitting the 20 billion mark by 2021, according to Forbes. Additionally, the Agricultural Act of 2014 authorized 956 billion in nutrition and agricultural programs through 2024 (USDA). With numbers like these, it’s impossible to imagine floating gardens not playing a significant role on a worldwide scale.

As far as the cannabis industry is concerned, there are still some questions about floating gardens that need answering. But an old-world remedy may be just the ticket for a new world problem as demand continues to blossom in the world’s fastest growing market. Although this concept might not solve all our agricultural issues, it will certainly play a vital role in the development of our future.

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