“We as a human race don’t tend to solve our problems before millions of people suffer. And I think in the case of urban agriculture that is also the reality.”
In this podcast I speak with Henry Gordon-Smith, the founder and CEO of Agritecture an urban agriculture consulting firm. Henry has become the world’s go-to expert in urban agriculture: from community gardens to high-rise high-intensity hydroponic agriculture. I thought Henry would be a good person to talk with about the Twenty First Century Imperative, and specifically about the importance of developing local food supplies to counter the increasing impacts that climate change is having on our industrial food system.
In 2011, Henry started Agritecture.com, a media platform covering the news, business, and design of how agriculture integrates with the built environment. Following that, in 2013, Henry co-founded the Association for Vertical Farming, and then in 2014, he started Agritecture Consulting, an urban agriculture consultancy assisting 126 clients in 26 countries including entrepreneurs, multinational companies, architecture firms, municipalities, and educational institutions.
Most recently, in April 2020, Henry’s team launched Agritecture Designer, the world’s first online urban farm planning software. In all his pursuits, Henry says he is motivated by achieving triple bottom line success – success that is measured by its positive impact on people, the planet, and profitability.
In this podcast interview, I have a wide-ranging conversation with Henry about the challenges and opportunities for urbanizing food production; where aquaponics fits in; new techniques and technologies, and what gives Henry hope in the face of the enormous climate change challenges we face.
I hope you enjoy our conversation!
Henry giving a tour of Agritecture’s client Sky Vegetables, a 10,000 sqf rooftop greenhouse on an affordable housing building in the Bronx NY.
Henry’s Optimism About The Future:
Well, as I said earlier, I’m a realist. I don’t believe we can mitigate climate change. I think we are going to experience more scarcity, more storms, more suffering before we respond and adapt. But what gives me hope is that I see more and more entrepreneurs all around the world of all sexes and ages and races motivated to solve this problem. I think that they’re doing that even before it’s gotten to the critical point. So that gives me hope.
It gives me hope that there is a human nature to collaborate and not to be greedy that we can access and with the right opportunities and pathways from those who already have privilege whether it’s cities with money that can create incentives or investment funds, those people can really make a big difference because I found that whenever I open up and I say, “Hey, here’s an opportunity,” the response is overwhelming from people that want to get involved in help.
So, we just need to create those pathways. When you create more pathways for social entrepreneurship and response to climate change, and that’s how we can respond quicker, but overall, I think it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.
Hydroponic seedlings in Agritecture’s DIY vertical farming system, the “+Farm”. Learn more at www.plus.farm
Advice Henry Had for Listeners About Making a Difference:
For the past 10 years I’ve been very focused on urban agriculture and local food. So, my advice typically revolves around that. But I think you can take this advice and apply it to something else. So, there are really three things you need to do to break into the urban ag industry or let’s say the sustainability industry.
Number one, you need to get hands-on experience. You need to volunteer in the sector you’re interested in. For me urban farming. Until I volunteered in community gardens, until I helped a greenhouse become winter resilient, until I worked in a hydroponic farm, I couldn’t get past the job interviews and get a position in a company. Hands-on experience in the sector is so important. So, invest six months to 12 months if you can in volunteer opportunities. Put the extra time in on weekends and get hands-on experience to boost your confidence.
Number two, build your archive. Data is really important. You need to be able to talk about the numbers. How many farms? How much yield? What crops? Where is climate change going? What is the demographic of my city? If you’re interested in waste, what’s the data around that. What you can do is you can just build that into a Google Drive document and store that and look at it and review it and make that part of your practise. It’s going to make you really strong and confident at events and it’s going to help you be more analytical. I did that for urban farming and that became the foundation of our urban agriculture consulting methodology at Agritecture. So, it’s a huge asset to me.
Number three, you need to brand yourself. A lot of people really struggle to put a consistent brand out there and the fact is that humans have a very short attention span. So, if they don’t remember you, then they can’t recommend you. So, you need to create a brand that says that this is something you can communicate in under two minutes so that somebody can also regurgitate that to someone else and get you business.
Get that elevator pitch. My advice is to develop one. Observe the people you like. Think about your own values and stick to it for six months. Don’t change it. You need to come up with your strategy and stick to it. Too many people pivot early, and a brand is about pushing and repeating and being consistent. So, I would go to events and say, “Hey, I’m an urban agriculture blogger. I’d love to learn about your company and feature it.” That’s how I started getting consulting deals and that’s how I started getting my reputation out there. That was very effective for me and I hope it’ll be effective for you.
What Henry Asked of Listeners:
When you shop, whether it’s a restaurant, or whether it’s at a supermarket, your dollars, or your euros, or whatever you’re paying, that’s a vote. You’re voting. You are saying, “We value cheap. We value packaged. We value pesticides.” Or you’re saying, “We value organic. We value local. We value family-owned. We value pesticide free.” Try to take an extra minute when it comes to food to just vote with your dollars. That’s the biggest thing you could do to change your awareness and get involved in it. This is a reminder to me as well. I’m not perfect here either, but all of us, that’s what I want to ask you to do.
Henry’s Book Recommendations:
- Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives by Carolyn Steel
- The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century by Dickson D. Despommier
- The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century by George Friedman
How You Can Connect With Henry:
Please Support this Podcast:
The Twenty First Century Imperative podcast is ad-free and relies entirely on user support. If you find it valuable, please consider supporting us by becoming a patron at our TFCI Patreon Page. And we now have a new TFCI Online-shop, with all the proceeds going to cover our production costs! And It has some great products for you! We have organic, fair-trade t-shirts and hoodies, as well as non-toxic BPA-free coffee containers, with great graphics! So, if you like the podcast, please think about helping us out by buying a t-shirt, hoodie or mug for you (and one for each of your friends!)