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Meet Our Optimism Instigators
A collection of people we admire for what they do to initiate small things that spur positivity in a contagious way around the world.
Meet Henry, our latest optimism instigator. Henry has lived and traveled all over the world, but currently runs his business, Agritecture, out of Bushwick, Brooklyn. Agritecture is a thought leader in urban agriculture—which is basically teaching people how to grow food in cities. Him and his small team help people and businesses figure out how best to farm in urban environments—from vertical gardens to hydroponic solutions. In addition, they curate an amazing blog, offer consulting services and created an online tool that helps you figure out how to build your own urban farm.
Where did you grow up?
Haha. Whenever I get this question, the audience is never prepared for the long reply! I was born in Hong Kong and grew up there and Tokyo, Japan until I was 10. From the ages of 10-18 I lived in Germany, the Czech Republic, and Russia. My Dad is an engineer so we moved around a lot.
How did you get interested in urban farming?
When I was studying Political Science at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada I investigated the ways that city policies could respond to climate change. I discovered that urban agriculture was an untapped opportunity to make an impact by growing food closer to the consumer and many other benefits on the environment and society. I began researching and blogging about the topic and that’s how the Agritecture blog was born in 2011!
Why is urban farming important?
Urban agriculture can provide the global population with at least 20% of its fresh fruit and vegetable supply. Also, it creates pathways for urban residents to engage in (now mostly rural) agriculture. It’s important that at least 10% of a population is engaged in agriculture. If 80% of our food globally is consumed by cities, then we need some city dwellers to also know how to farm! There are so many different ways to grow food in the city and each has its own important impact but in general, urban farming provides fresher food, improves local economies, greens our grey cities, and improves food access for those in need.
“Urban farming provides fresher food, improves local economies, greens our grey cities, and improves food access for those in need.”
Can you explain the idea of bringing food closer to the people who are consuming it and why that is important?
I think it’s important that we don’t build and live in cities without having the resources needed for their basic wellbeing nearby. In addition to the points I made above, urban agriculture improves a city’s resilience to system shocks like climate change and COVID-19.
“I think it’s important that we don’t build and live in cities without having the resources needed for their basic wellbeing nearby.”
You travel a ton for work what is your favorite city?
Hmmmm…that is a tough one. Amsterdam is still in my top 3 cities because of its beauty, nature, and innovation. If the weather was better it would always be at number 1. I also love Mexico City and Lisbon.
What city do you think is doing the best at bringing agriculture into the architecture of their city?
Paris is the leader right now in this regard. They have an urban agriculture competition that has created 100’s of new urban farms across the city. They are strict about sustainability and aesthetic in Paris so it’s really developed an interesting variety of methods, business models, and architectural integration. There are basement farms, rooftop farms, farms in city parks, and even container farms in Paris!
How is COVID-19 is impacting food supply and urban farming?
Read this: https://www.agritecture.com/blog/2020/3/23/6-impacts-of-covid-19-on-agriculture
What’s your advice for someone who wants to start growing some of their own food but is a total newbie?
First you have to recognize that it’s easy to start but harder to maintain. Prepare yourself for the time needed to care for your own garden or small urban farm. Visit (or zoom) some others that are doing it now and ask them about what they do daily to care for it so you manage expectations. From there, start to estimate the space you have available including understanding where the sun track is, is it indoors or outdoors? Then start thinking about what you want to grow and eat! Find out how much space you need and how to care for them by searching online. Then you want to sketch out your garden and build a list of materials and budget. If you want some help with that (commercial garden/farm) you can use Agritecture Designer software or if you want to grow indoors and start small, check out agritecture’s DIY veritcal farm.
Being around plants can be a mood boost. Do you think working with plants makes you a happier person?
Here is a great article that explores the benefits. In short, research has shown that being around plants can speed up your body’s ability to heal and yes, they also improve your mood. Think about it: we came from nature so imagine the shock to our mind and body when we are looking at computer screens and grey buildings and cold glass all day!
“Research has shown that being around plants can speed up your body’s ability to heal and yes, they also improve your mood.”
You deal with some important and sometimes heavy topics like climate change and food shortages. How do you stay optimistic?
I am actually a realist and very concerned about humanity’s ability to collectively adapt to climate change. It doesn’t look good. However, we perform our best when we are optimistic. Our endorphins flow and our mind is clear. Practicing optimism for me is about doing those daily activities that make you happy. For me it’s dancing to a song I can’t get out of my head, indulging in a bit of dark chocolate, and playing Sim City on the weekends. It’s my life to live so no matter what the future holds, living optimistically each day by seizing the opportunities ahead of you is worth the extra effort.
“Living optimistically each day by seizing the opportunities ahead of you is worth the extra effort.”
What’s your favorite fruit or vegetable?
What’s your favorite color?
Red. Haha I see a trend here.
Favorite song to dance to?
Right now? Callaita by Bad Bunny
Do you have any pets?
I used to have a dog and later two cats. With all my travel I can’t keep pets these days 🙁
Favorite TV show?
Suits. I like to watch and pretend I am a high powered lawyer walking into meetings looking like I came out of GQ magazine and ready to win whatever deal is in front of me.