continued from previous
The lights had begun to dim for the evening inside the 25-storey vertical farm. A former office building for banking and insurance before the pandemic, upon its conversion to a farm it had been hailed as one of the city’s rare economic success stories. As humans sheltered inside from the approaching climate change inferno, their food had to follow suit. The planet was no place for a delicate arugula or parsley anymore. Open-air farming was continuing its decline as investors rushed towards the stability and return of investment that vertical farms offered. The arugula would never see real sunlight again. It would never get to flower. It would never feel the kiss of a bee as it pollinated its flowers. As humans quarantined themselves from pandemics and the ferocity of climate change weather events, they forced their food to join them.
The building had no windows, for obvious reasons. It was meant to be a self-containing world on its own, where even the length of day and night could be managed and adjusted independently of outside conditions. Busy robotic arms constantly went up and down the former escalator shaft of the building, managing smaller rovers that checked every floor, every planted row, every single plant for infections, weeds, applying the occasional fertilizer and changing a light bulb here and there as they saw fit. The new arugula was the happiest arugula that ever existed: growing in captivity under ideal conditions that optimized its growth rate, taste, appearance. If a silent, recessive gene was ever expressed that altered the arugula’s color or appearance beyond the main product specifications, the robots’ visual algorithm would immediately pick it up. The dissident plant was immediately terminated and removed forever from the farm’s genetic pool. This was only a place for happy plants, and plants that looked identical to each other. A bad day for a plant would usually be its last day, as cameras analyzed the plants around the clock, hour by hour and minute by minute, literally as they grew. This was an approach that biologists had warned would spell disaster in the end, as plant populations were stripped off their “back-up” genes. Their genetic diversity would suffer a Hitler-type eugenics deterioration that would eventually weaken them and all the other species undergoing this type of cultivation. But more importantly, eventually the arugula would never be able to grow outside, even if the planet’s climate, by some miracle, returned to normal. The domesticated arugula would not be able to synchronize itself with the bees, and with the rest of nature. Its EoT would have been permanently disabled, similarly to what had happened to humans.
The top 5 floors of the building were reserved for experimental cultures. Here, there were difficult plants like certain olive trees and slow-growing bushes that had consistently resisted hydroponic culture in an enclosed environment. There was something missing in their growth conditions that no one had managed to figure out. Whoever would eventually manage to grow them commercially in captivity would have a monopoly overnight. There was a race between vertical farming companies to move all edible parts of the plant kingdom indoors, just as it had happened with animals over the past century.
The next 17 floors down were the main farm: lettuce, tomatoes, onions, broccoli, peppers, cucumbers, aubergines and yes, arugula, grown all year round. Time from seed to harvest was closely controlled and yields were optimized and maximized.
The bottom 3 floors were for admin and packaging. The company only had 14 employees in total, of which only about 8 needed to be on the premises: two data scientists constantly working on improving the algorithm, two plant biologists, one robot engineer and two to three temporary workers supervising the robots and overseeing packaging and distribution, also done mostly by robots and drones.
from the upcoming novel A New Earth
to read from the beginning, go here
George is an author, researcher, podcast host, chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons , listen to his Spotify podcast George reads George, sign up for blog alerts below, or enjoy his books