by Mark Edwards
ur society needs a free new, supplementary method for food production built on a sustainable foundation that frees growers from the risk of crop failure and increasing costs for fossil food inputs. Food production should consume minimal or no fossil resources and produce excellent food without ecological pollution. The new food system should grow affordable food consistently, independent of climate, weather, geography or politics and require minimal transportation energy and cost.
The new food system should be inclusive of all people by enabling access to good food or the inputs for growing food. The food system should provide solutions for hunger and malnutrition in inner cities, barrios, slums, suburbs, rural areas and villages. The food produced should offer excellent color, texture and taste and include the full set of the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants essential for healthy growth and development.
Freedom microfarms mimic nature and use the oldest, simplest, yet most efficient growing system on Earth – photosynthetic microorganisms called algae. Growers practice abundant agriculture as they use no or minimal non-renewable inputs including fertile soil, freshwater, fossil fuels, inorganic fertilizers or agricultural chemicals or poisons.
Microfarms cultivate communities of algae and other microorganisms similar to those that feed plants in the fields and the microflora that provide us nutrients in our gut. Microfarmers train indigenous, local algae to produce proteins, oils, carbohydrates and other valuable coproducts rapidly. Microfarms grow food, nutrients, feed, fodder, fertilizer, biofuels, nutraceuticals, medicines and advanced compounds in cultivated algae production systems, (CAPS) scaled to any size. A microfarm may serve a family or community and operate in a backyard, rooftop, balcony, vacant lot, barn, barren field or on other non-crop land.
Microfarms are geography and weather independent and grow colorful and tasty foods with superior nutritional profiles 30 times faster than modern agriculture. Microforms are non-pollutive and can regenerate degraded air, water and soil. Microfarms enable growers to leave every field or garden better than they found it.
Nature is not cheap but smart in designing her production system with recycled natural resources that replenish nutrients from each growing cycle, while also regenerating the ecosystem. Nature’s frugal yet effective design has demonstrated sustained production success over 3.7 billion years in recovering, recycling and reusing waste stream inputs.
Algae use solar energy efficiently to transform wastewater, surplus CO2 and possibly some additional nutrients into a green biomass rich in lipids, sugars, proteins, carbohydrates and other valuable organic compounds. Algae convert inorganic substances such as carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, iron and trace elements into organic matter such as green, blue-green, red, brown or other color biomass.
Freedom from hunger
When microforms are available for global distribution, people everywhere on Earth can grow sufficient food for their family and community. Some algae species such as spirulina have twice the protein per kilogram compared with meat or food grains. Compared with traditional foods, algae provide a superior set of essential micronutrients, trace elements, vitamins and antioxidants. A single tablespoon, about 10 grams, of dried algae provides the same amount of:
- Calcium as ½-cup milk, 1½-cup soybeans, 8 carrots, or 22 tomatoes.
- Magnesium as 2½ cups milk, ½-cup soybeans, 9 carrots, or 6 tomatoes.
- Iron as 32 cups milk, ⅓-cup soybeans, 11 carrots, or 5 tomatoes.
Some growers may shy from eating the microorganisms directly and grow the culture to feed shell or finfish that they harvest for food. Other growers may grow and flow their culture to provide rich organic fertilizer for vegetables and fruits grown in water or soil. Microfarmers may concentrate the algae culture and provide it as a food supplement for dairy, fowl or meat animals in their drinking water.
A recent UN World Health Organization, (WHO) report shows the three most prevalent deficiency diseases globally are anemia (iron and B12 deficiency), xerophthalmia (vitamin A deficiency) and endemic goiter (iodine deficiency). Roughly, 60% of all deaths on Earth occur from malnutrition. Malnourished mothers give birth to low birth weight babies who are stunted and exhibit mental and physical impairments. Currently in India and Bangladesh, one in three babies are cursed with severely low birth weight. Undernourishment and stunting frequently overlap with the vitamin and mineral deficiencies that adversely affect nearly two billion people.
Anemia typically occurs from insufficient dietary iron. The WHO reports that iron deficiency currently affects the health and vitality of 3.5 billion people around the world. Algae are a demonstrated source of bioavailable iron, and the introduction of algae into a low iron diet increases iron absorption 3-6 fold.
Nearly half the children in the world today are vitamin A deficient, which can cause blindness. The WHO estimates 13.8 million children to have some degree of visual loss related to vitamin A deficiency. Approximately 500,000 children in the developing world go blind each year from insufficient vitamin A and approximately half of those children die within a year of becoming blind. Night blindness and color blindness are markers of vitamin A deficiency, which also can lead to impaired immune function, cancer, birth defects and maternal mortality. The Kanembu tribe in Chad has been using a few grams of algae per day for centuries to avoid anemia and Vitamin A deficiencies that plague their neighbors.
In 2007, WHO estimated over 2 billion people ingest insufficient iodine, making iodine deficiency the single largest preventable cause of mental retardation. Even moderate iodine deficiency, especially in pregnant women and infants, lowers intelligence by 10 to 15 I.Q. points. The most visible and severe effects include disabling goiters, cretinism and dwarfism. About 16% of the world’s people today have at least mild goiter, a swollen thyroid gland in the neck. The high iodine content in algae contributes to the low rates of goiter observed in countries where people frequently eat algae.
Freedom microfarms enable growers to produce their own cosmetics and skin creams. Algae oil protects skin from the sun, adds skin moisture and speeds recovery from wounds, burns and bruises. The high antioxidant activity of algae protects skin from inflammatory reactions and sun damage. Other algal nutrients, vitamins and minerals enhanced physiological systems including the cardiovascular, respiratory and the nervous systems. Algal components also activate the cellular immune system including T-cells, macrophages, B-cells and anti-cancer natural killer cells. Algal polysaccharides inhibit replication of herpes simplex, influenza, measles, mumps, human cytomegalovirus and HIV-1. Pacific Rim societies have been using algae for these and other natural remedies for centuries because they are effective.
Freedom from political control
Local and federal governments control access to food and food inputs in many parts of the world. Hungry families in rural areas often must pay high prices for very poor food. Distributors tend to skim the best foods early in the food supply chain, leaving undesirable food for the rural poor. Inner cities and slums may be food deserts because retail stores with wholesome foods do not serve them.
Microfarms free growers from political control, as well as food supply and price challenges. Growers can produce good food in nearly any setting, including balconies, rooftops and vertical farms in cities, towns or rural areas.
Freedom from climate chaos
A litany of climate-related occurrences decimates food supplies such as severe heat, drought, dry winds, fierce storms, floods and salt invasion. A single temperature spike during the 120-day growing season can cause crop failure, which causes the farmer to forfeit the entire year’s money and labor investment.
Closed or partially closed microforms are climate independent and can produce anywhere on Earth with sunshine. Growers experience very little yield risk because they harvest half of the biomass each day. Culture growth slows or halts during cloudy or stormy days but begins again when the sun reappears. In geographies with little sun or long winters, grow lights can provide the photons for photosynthesis. Other growers may produce algae biomass in closed containers and feed the algae sugar instead of solar energy.
Freedom from agricultural pollution
Industrial agricultural erodes and degrades our precious croplands while polluting our ecosystems and waterways. Erosion and soil pollution from industrial agricultural cost the US over $43 billion annually, which leaves our children with a very expensive legacy. Some states already have over 75% of their waterways unfit for human recreation. Modern agricultural has created dead zones in nearly all our estuaries and oceans due to entrophication from chemical fertilizers.
Microfarms help free communities from pollution, since the only thing that exits is pure oxygen. Growers can clean wastewater with algae while using no fossil resources. Producers can flue CO2 plumes through their microfarms to sequester the CO2 and other greenhouse gasses. Other growers may use smartcultures where they grow and flow the farm waste stream back to their fields to improve yields while regenerating their fields.
Freedom from smoke death
Tonight, one out of two people on Earth will cook their supper with biomass fuels; wood, dung, agricultural residues or coal over an open fire. These biofuels used in cooking stoves emit substantial pollutants in the black smoke, including carbon particles 2.5 microns and smaller which damage the lungs as well as CO2, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and benzene. Many people also depend on solid fuels for heating in their tiny enclosed huts.
Inhaled cooking smoke is one of the leading causes of disability and death globally for women and children who are the most exposed. Each year, indoor air pollution is responsible for more than 1.6 million deaths and over 10 million disabilities. Cooking smoke causes acute respiratory infections, asthma, high blood pressure, emphysema, heart disease, pneumonia, tuberculosis, low birth weights, cataracts, kidney disease, muscular fatigue, and multiple types of cancer.
Freedom from nutritional deficiencies
Microfarms can free people from the pain of black smoke. Growers can squeeze oil from their algae for cooking and burning for cooking fires and heating. The algae oil burns with no black soot particulates because algae oil is essentially vegetable oil and did not undergo fossilization.
Freedom microfarms globally
Freedom microfarms will enable people globally to grow sustainable and affordable food and energy (SAFE) production locally for their family and community. Please join the www.AlgaeCompetition.com initiative designed to share your ideas for microfarm design and operation. Your contributions can make a substantial contribution to the freedom of millions of people from malnutrition, nutritional deficiencies, political control, agricultural pollution and smoke disability or death. Please post your ideas today!
From Freedom Microfarms: Our Future Sustainable, Superior Food Grown Locally, under construction for 2011, with Robert Henrikson.