Earth as common ground - to compare, contrast, and connect permaculture and vertical farming

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
Degree programme
Collaborative and Industrial Design
In the Helsinki metropolitan area, the first permaculture designed farm and the first vertical farm focusing on microgreen production were both registered as companies in 2016. Both concepts respond to the environmental damage caused by the abuse of pesticides and artificial fertilizers in conventional farming. Despite their current relatively small scale, their emergences are opening new paradigms for food production in Finland, which provide potential solutions to the environmental crises we are facing, including climate change, biodiversity loss, and land degradation. My master’s thesis combines ethnographic and action research to investigate permaculture and vertical farming practices and interpret sustainability from the perspective of food producers. By ethnographically studying routine, situated practices, the study investigates the values and knowledge embedded in both practices. The data originate from participant observation, interviews, and co-design workshops. Eco-modernism can be considered as the philosophical background of vertical farming. Although both public-facing discourses are built on the notion of environmental friendliness, permaculture and eco-modernism have drastically different perceptions of the relationships between human activities and nature. This work explores the mechanisms of permaculture and eco-modernism in practice. By comparing and contrasting permaculture with vertical farming, this thesis aims to reveal the complexity of sustainability. Multiple perspectives prevent the study from being constrained to one narrative. A relational ontology motivates the exploratory step to study the connection between permaculture and vertical farming through boundary objects. Two boundary objects were designed and utilised: growing media made of side streams; and mapping data on the geographical location of farms. Narrative analysis and thick description show the multiple layers of the concepts regarding sustainability, such as “local” and “organic”. Furthermore, the study shows that ethnographic research, co-design, and scientific exploration have great potential to benefit from each other. Further research includes more centralised research on how to identify and value the immeasurable contributions of farming practices.
Julier, Guy
Thesis advisor
Kallio, Galina
Kotilainen, Titta
permaculture, vertical farming, sustainability, ethnography, boundary object, eco-modernism, growing media
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