Digital Garden Lab

An exercise in Appropriate Accelerationism
Paul Chaney and Digital Garden Lab


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Paul Chaney


Speculative Ecologies


Digital Garden Lab

Paul Chaney offers an alternative to the tendency of contemporary accelerationism. He wonders, by what means might it be possible for accelerationist politics to be moved toward a more responsible, beneficial and necessary goals? Through the example of the Prague-based project Digital Garden Lab, Chaney shows what Appropriate Accelerationism (App/Acc) looks like in action.


Part 1: Appropriate Accelerationism

A lot of investment attention has recently focused on urban vertical farming12 — hi-tech hydroponic growing systems sealed off from the environment and communities. While these systems claim ecological benefits and efficiency, many of the claims are questionable and there are many other ways to grow food in the city. In this sense, urban vertical farming is an example of an adaptation technology that can be described as ‘lite green.’ Although sensible at first glance, the reliance of these technologies on massive transportation and industrial infrastructure at scale — if they are to have measurable impact on our overall energy consumption — makes them only a weak contender to current fossil-fuel and high-energy solutions. Even if we manage to come up with modification and adaptation measures that make these technologically and materially complex renewable energy sources and food production infrastructures more effective, more energy in itself is no longer enough. When the Jevons paradox meets the worsening EROI of finite resources (energy return on investment) and more efficiency leads to more consumption without affecting the increasing rates of depletion, the only solution is to decrease depletion and invest into finding low-energy (non-lite green) solutions. We propose this is where new forms of accelerationism and deep green thinking could cross-fertilize.

In their book Inventing the Future3, the accelerationist theoreticians Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams offer a useful critique of the populist movement towards localized low-impact food production, saying they are unscalable and limited by underlying ‘horizontalist folk politics’. This is one of the realizations that emerges through the ‘naming’ of accelerationism: We were always already accelerating, and our current situation is a lock-down that can only be solved by working with the processes of acceleration itself. Among the extremes of the accelerationist position we find everything from an unshakable belief in high-technology and industrial process all the way down to the school of thought known as ‘zero accelerationism’ (or ‘ZeroAcc’), which claims that our current bottleneck reality as a species will result in the halting of the accelerating processes and usher in a species-wide stagnation. The power of the accelerationist idea, however, lies in its insistent razor-sharp focus on pushing for some deeper realization for a way to take change itself into account, allowing space for critique of the very notions of ‘progress’ and ‘development’. We propose this impulse towards change could be applied ‘appropriately,’ i.e. be informed by historical experience, to our eco-industrial environment, our digital technologies and scientific methods.

Crunching the numbers on urban vertical farming, we can begin to see cracks emerge in a technology widely accepted to represent the physical form of accelerationist thinking. The claims of the vertical farming industry just don’t add up. Yes, vertical farms are good at producing localized salad, but a vertical farm big enough to provide the current world population with its daily requirement of carbohydrate and protein would completely cover an area approximately the size of Europe. Vertical farm companies claim space saving efficiencies of anywhere between 10 and 200 times compared with conventional agriculture. Currently 26% of the world’s land surface area is used for livestock production, and 11% for arable crop production. If the world population converted in its entirety to veganism, we might assume 20% of the world’s surface area would be needed for agriculture. At a ten-fold spatial efficiency, 2% of the World’s surface area would be needed — the same area as Europe. The hermetically sealed warehousing, LEDs, and solar panels required would consume vast quantities of the world’s remaining technical resources and would represent the biggest single engineering project ever undertaken by humanity (a surprisingly common feature of lite-green proposals, usually requiring another global mega-industry to be founded and run for many years). In the realm of agricultural production, the vertical should never be posited as a full alternative to the horizontal. Vertical farms will never feed the world.

This techno-optimist and populist form of localized food production is confined by its own resource and energy requirements, just as other lite green technologies. An appropriate accelerationist approach would thus be a push towards harnessing the proximity and activity of humans regardless of their politics and social connections, and taking advantage of the ability of the Sun to power all known life on Earth up to this point, without the need for cheaply produced Chinese solar panels (as the vertical farm industry proposes). If we see local, low-cost, low-maintenance and nutritious food production as one of the solutions to our overall energy problematic, we must use designs and methods that are appropriately complex and rapid enough to scale well and not get caught up in politics, economics and silicon valley startup fads.

An appropriate accelerationism would take the technologies and organizational models available to us at the moment and pick the ones that have the lowest negative impact and highest positive yield. This approach carves the techno-social landscape into categories where high-tech meets low-tech in various ways, eliminating obviously unsustainable models first and then initiating brute force tests of everything that looks like it might scale. Using digital models and small research projects to quickly prove the feasibility of various designs, the result could be a set of tools and strategies that proactively try to adapt to their specific environment and undergo further evolution based on their ability to provide yields with minimal environmental costs and labour inputs. Every such appropriate result is an acceleration of the overall process, interlocking with other systems following the same paradigm rather than locking itself and the surrounding system down in isolation. Its end result is a balanced, highly effective application of human, digital, natural and engineering resources in ways that make them deployable and adaptable to any Earth environment — including technologically and culturally complex societies living in urban landscapes (as is the case in the global north and west). As an open-source, multi-layered database of appropriate accelerationist models and blueprints, ‘AppAcc’ should function as a ‘rapid gradualist,’ scale-focused teaching and instruction tool. It should also try to acknowledge that we do not know what exactly needs to be done about our degrading environments and decreasing quality of life, but it suggests that we start with approaching at least one of the most basic needs every human can get involved with — food — and see what happens. Through this emphasis on immediate results and increasing long-term benefits, appropriate accelerationism could address the issue of ‘What is to be done?’ without resorting to hope or dread.

The key feature of an appropriate accelerationist approach would be its potential ability to adapt to any environment. Given our ability to measure and predict basic environmental states and conditions, we can provide a set of solutions and ways of their modification that is ready to evolve as needed. The surprising result of such an experiment, as explained later in this document, would be its ability to combine many different existing approaches into one — from robotics to the methods of applying human work used during the peaks of pre-industrial modernity. Suddenly, many futuristic as well as primitive options become viable again, improving together and interlocking with each other. Instead of the horizontality of a forced technosocial monoculture limited by its access to resources and energy, appropriate accelerationism seeks the verticality of an immediate polyculture expanded through its frugality and interoperability.

Part II: Three parameters for interfacing nature

In 2004 I was lucky enough to be able to buy a two-hectare improved grass meadow in Cornwall, in the southwest of the UK. There I set about researching, designing, and establishing a complete system for self-provision, inspired by a life-long fascination with autonomy, low-carbon living, and mutualism with the non-human. For eight years I lived at the site (which became known as FIELDCLUB) completely disconnected from public services while I attempted to provide as many of my daily physical necessities from within the boundaries of the plot. I wanted to experience survival on the smallest piece of land possible, grow the most efficient sources of complete nutrition, and install a future carbon-negative fuel system (by planting trees). I make no claim to the overall success of the endeavor — by the end of the eight years, exhaustion, both mental and physical, had taken its toll. However, the project generated some useful insights and presented a unique opportunity to become part of a geographically restricted food web, sharing the majority of material inputs for life with a visible wider community of non-humans occupying the same biotic space, and to use and share materials originating in the ‘solar contemporary’ (by which I mean materials solely generated by the biota’s ability to capture some portion of the Sun’s daily shower of excess energy toward the Earth in our present time). Here was a rare chance for a post-industrial human living in the post-fragmentary age to re-enter the problematic arena of mutualism and interdependence with the non-human.

Having already spent most of my time as an adult living various forms of off-grid existence, I knew that my human experience didn’t really matter to the non-human. My attempted return to the land was not going to be a transcendental endeavour, and I had no intention of generating another Walden (although I will admit to talking to the animals on more or less a daily basis). From the beginning, I was determined to maintain a critical distance from the act of living and ‘working’ on this small piece of land and avoid the pitfalls of the romantic. With so many artists suddenly concerned with Nature (big ‘N’) it was important to me that I somehow circumvent the problem of ‘nature feelz’ — that dissonant cognition exclusively allowing Homo sapiens to feel deep love and affinity for seal puppies, but also drive a Hummer. Neo-materialist analysis was to be the main theoretical vector of the investigation, and the means with which to refuse the conceptual separation between human and non-human.

The seasons passed. The minutiae of daily existence in the biospheric web gradually revealed themselves with each thrust of the spade into the soil — the granular causality at play within complex non-human systems dependent on growth and decay, bifurcation and reabsorption, life and death on all scales from bacteria to Mammalia, and of course necessarily extending to the geologic and the cosmic.

My artistic practice obsessed around these physicalities as the experiment progressed. The more my actual survival depended on that small plot of land, the less the usual canons of art held sway. My creative practice became solely focused. The initial practice of attempted pre-postcollapse survival became subject to the secondary practice of artistic investigation. In doing so, over time, a categorization of experiences and methodologies emerged. This categorization defines three basic elements, each of them constituting a way of sensing and understanding relationships with a crucial part of reality or with the thing which might be called ‘the real’ — that which lies outside of the human mind and its sphere of technorealities. This categorization helped me cut through the personal ‘greenwash’ of my activity, gave me a framework that went beyond romantic middle class reasoning, and allowed me to understand the function of my activity on a theoretical level, allowing analysis and useful retrospection. This categorization could form an ethical framework for an AppAcc praxis, and answers the call of this publication — to think new ways through the confusing and ethically murky deep-end of interdependence.

First category: The Sun and geological materials

Standing in the garden, between earth and the sky, day in and day out for eight years and observing. Seeds burst, leaves unfurl, fruits swell, bacteria, fungus and virus multiply, haulms turn brown and fall back to the earth in a never-ending cycle of life and death, theft and gift, dominion and defeat. Each leaf optimized to absorb sunlight and gas to produce glucose power for cellular function. Carbon dioxide enters, and oxygen and water vapour exit through a thousand tiny puckered stomata. In the spring, when the Sun shines strongly and there is water for roots to suck, the plants grow. When a cloud momentarily passes in front of the Sun on a warm spring day, the flow of gas through stomata reverses. The plant turns upwards towards the source of all power, either in a show of flamboyant extravagance, or in desperate competition. Lay on your back, watch the canopy of the forest and see how no space is left. All life on Earth is a product of the Sun — an expression of solar excess.

This solar view shines a light of cold-blooded, naturalistic-capitalistic reason on all of the systems humans have developed so far. Some of them crumble under this type of Sun-focused scrutiny, others prove to be amazingly reliable and robust. Our current civilization’s over-reliance on fossil fuels is an example of the former (stagnating through reliance on a static form of ancient ‘dead’ Sun energy). Polyculture and naturalism informed by systems theory and process philosophy is an example of the latter (adapting to dynamic forms of Sun energy). Capitalism, from this point of view, is a naturalistic system infected with an abundance of energy and ignorance — but it is a tool like any other, a socioeconomic instrument of assessment, production and distribution that can be appropriately accelerated if we recognize where/how it kills and where/how it heals. This is where AppAcc connects to politics and economics by addressing the building blocks of our bodies (and through brain nutrients also our minds), from the psychogeographical and deep green baseline of all life, all the way to the explosive extremes of science and progress. Whatever vision or ideology one follows, AppAcc is there to define its most optimal grounding in nature.

The material building blocks of human life are tragically mismanaged in our era — consider peak phosphate and the fact that most human bones, through a forceful and scale-ignorant industrial agriculture, are built from materials extracted from a single mining complex in the western Sahara. This is humanity making itself weak and fragile, vulnerable to dramatic shifts in its quality of life. If this unimaginably irresponsible one-source system is creating our bones, what about the rest of our bodies? This is not a defense of some naive anti-industrial model, but a call to re-evaluate the relationships of the synthetic and the organic, of solar economics as a scaled and balanced discipline required to keep us healthy and productive for as long as nature lives. AppAcc’s first parameter is supposed to guide us towards using and developing systems whose metabolisms operate in the solar contemporary and don’t predicate on the solar past. It’s that simple.

When a plant lacks an element necessary for its function, it withers and becomes sick — a host for necrotizing pathogens and colonizing insects intent on disassembling the elements the plant has gathered into itself. The structure of the dead plant is returned to the base substrate. A layered assemblage of ancient bodies and oxidized decayed rock, writhing with bacteria and parasite within parasite, hugging the contours of eroded lands, filling crevasses, spilling out across ancient sea beds and floodplains. The heaving black mass of rotten flesh sighs great puffs of gas. Roots force downwards, pulling up traces of phosphorus, potassium, calcium, sulfur, magnesium, iron, boron, chlorine, manganese, zinc, copper, molybdenum, and nickel.

Every day, hour, minute, second by second, the labyrinthine metabolics of the system are disclosed within the garden. Through analysis, careful at first and then more intuitive and automated with each season, the human becomes a direct participant and co-creator in the systems around it. Understanding is achieved through interaction, with an accelerationist questioning of things emerging from the substrate and essence of the cycles themselves — can the technosphere appropriately plug into the biosphere? The nature-informed noosphere into the techno-formed anthroposphere? How many applications of our know-how and instruments are yet to be explored and tested? The solar and the terrestrial both become allies of the human, providing nourishment and a sense of rational embeddedness. The act of balancing the need for control with the feeling of ‘thrownness’ (the Geworfenheit, the birth-launch of each new human being into an unknown natural world) is possible if we see the Sun as our most immediate and powerful source, and the living leaf as the most efficient device for capturing that power. Consider Liebig’s barrel: A visualization of mineral requirements for plant growth based on barrel planks where each plank is a component needed for growth — if one is too short, the barrel can’t hold enough potential for the plant to grow. The human equivalent of this model starts with plant growth, where the plant is a ‘plank’ of the human-supporting structure. The solutions to ‘peak X’ (peak oil, peak phosphorus, peak people…) is not necessarily to stop our current activities, but to make them appropriate to our ground of being by combining them with hyperlocal, hypereffective sources existing in the living biota, rather than the fossilized past.

Marx’s notion of the metabolic rift is another useful tool in conceptualizing what is at stake and how AppAcc could approach the problem of material finitude within the realm of agricultural production. Marx’s idea grew out of observations of English colonial agriculture in Ireland (a period of intensification in agricultural technology that coincided with the globalized extraction and transport of guano from South America to Europe in the mid-19th Century) and the new science of plant nutrition being published by Liebig and his contemporaries. Cereal crops grown in Ireland were shipped to England and consumed in London. The consumers of the crop defecated into the extensive sewer system under the city and the human effluent was then washed out to sea. The fertility of the Irish landscape was effectively being stripped out and shat into the English Channel. Marx protested that the English should at least be polite enough to take the shit back to Ireland where it could be returned to the soil and re-enter the cycle from whence it came. The metabolic rift therefore describes the removal of a material from its native cycle, and its rerouting through the anthropic technosphere where it is ultimately lost. The cyclical becomes linear, pared away by the thrust of some machinic blade or colonial drive.

Post ‘Anthropocene concept’ there is further definition needed within the framework of the metabolic rift. The industrialized human world is defined by an unbinding of stratified materials accumulated over time by ancient metabolisms and biotic processes. Using the framework of solar analysis outlined earlier, we might call this ‘the metabolic past’. In the case of phosphate in modern agriculture, dinosaur bones extracted in the disputed territory of Western Sahara are ground up and shipped worldwide to temporarily boost the fertility of global agricultural systems before again being washed out to sea. Mineral concentrations such as these accumulated over millions of years in great ocean bed strata, and have no possibility of reforming within the span of human civilization.

The case of nitrogen complicates matters further. Nitrogen is the most abundant gas in the contemporary atmosphere, and constitutes one of the most important plant nutrients. However, as an atmospheric gas it exists in an extremely stable form (N2) but is only usable by plants in its more redactive form (NO3). Within the metabolisms of the biosphere the conversion to nitrate is performed by lightning strikes and cyanobacteria, the occurrences of which once limited the quantity of protein locked within the biospheric system as a whole (nitrogen being the main constituent of all amino acids). This limiting factor was broken by Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch in 1909, who are held by some to be jointly responsible for the exponential scaling up of industrialized agriculture and the unsurpassed growth of human populations in the twentieth century. The Haber-Bosch process requires vast amounts of heat and pressure to ‘crack’ the powerful nitrogen bond, making the ammonia industry heavily reliant on fossil fuels. The nitrogen content of food grown in our conventional agricultural system is dependent on extracting and burning the bound excess of the Sun. Therefore, an unbound excess from the metabolic past is used to cause a rift in the contemporary metabolism of the Earth.

To return to the problem of the vertical farm — where do the nutrient formulations necessary for plant growth in hydroponic systems come from? Are the sources any more stable or create less rifts in the biotic metabolisms of the Earth than conventional farming practice? The main question emerging for AppAcc at this point: Is it possible to optimize and upscale the procurement of plant nutrients from the restricted geometric footprint of the site of production itself without creating further metabolic rift, or relying on the solar past?

Second category: The Non-human

While living at FIELDCLUB, the issue of ‘Tierischer Lebensraum’ or ‘animal living space’ became monstrously visible. More so than herbicide and pesticide, the simple plough itself is the most effective tool for the complete sterilization of complex biodiverse habitats, and the removal of biological niches. In the conventional heavily mechanized agricultural system, there is no living space for the non-human animal.

My experiment in self-sufficient living quickly unfolded into a veritable killing field (for communities of individual animal and plant species as well as for whole ecosystems). The agricultural system I implemented allowed far more living space for the non-human than the surrounding farmland. A horrific double bind emerged: The more living space I left in the system for the non-human, the more non-human individuals perished during my efforts. The farmland surrounding FIELDCLUB was ploughed and harrowed up to three times a year, sprayed with large amounts of herbicide and pesticide, planted with monocultures and hard-grazed during three seasons. Conventional farmland is continually stripped of its biodiversity, and mechanical and chemical strategies continually disallow its return. In comparison to this ‘green desert,’ the FIELDCLUB site quickly became a haven for wildlife. Nature does indeed abhor a vacuum, and as soon as agricultural technics are withdrawn, the land is re-colonized by multiple wild organisms and their complex interdependent systems. As I made my efforts to grow my own ‘sustainable’ food within the recently recomplexified landscape, I inadvertently dealt death with every small act of self-provision. Worms were chopped in half by a humble garden spade, field voles made homeless by the conversion of permanent pasture into biofuel production. My implementation of deep green principles had a far from benign effect on the local fauna and flora’s attempts at recolonization.

I had deliberately ‘allowed’ the local environment to complexify and the increased biodiversity to develop mutualisms and competitions with me for use of local minerals and solar resources. Biodiversity and mutualisms are important from the perspective of complexity theory and system stability. Monocultures are prone to collapse, and are only ‘propped up’ by extensive use of pathogenic chemicals, genetic engineering, and fossil fuel intensive mechanization. These observations may be formulated into an argument against most of the ‘lite green’ solutions explored by humanity today — they are not appropriate to our situation. Hydroponics (once again our ‘go to’ topic for comparison and critique) is a system based on isolating human food production from the non-human world. Isolation of this kind must be avoided when possible if we are trying to develop truly efficient systems. Systems that isolate require expenditures and maintenance of the isolation itself, burning up precious resources and work energy.

At FIELDCLUB I initially implemented a conventional system of semi-organic (semi-bio) horticulture. The crops were planted in rows and blocks, the ground was dug every year and compost made and added to the soil. The minerals and nutrients the crops needed was provided by a mix of animal manure sourced from local farms, and recycled kitchen waste. Since leaving the UK I have converted the system to perennial forest gardening — a form of permaculture that requires minimal labour inputs and absolutely no external sources of minerals.

Permaculture, forest gardening, and other forms of agroecology are designed to self-regulate. These systems are ‘polycultural’ and build inherent stability through interspecies dependency. Individual plants and insects provide ‘ecological services’ to each other within a carefully designed matrix, resulting in low maintenance productivity. Nitrogen fixing plants capture nitrogen from the atmosphere through bacterial symbiosis, and ‘dynamic accumulators’ send roots deep into the sub soil and decaying rock to unlock trace elements and bring them to the surface. The result is an abundant and intricate system of self-regulating plant growth that can support insects, birds, animals, and people.

Isolated techno/biotic systems unnecessarily reject the proven homeostatic stability of complex biotic systems that have evolved over millions of years. The way humans insist on doing things their own way and for their own purposes, ignoring the work nature is already doing (and still can do if managed well), is stupefying to anyone who was able to study the science as well as work in a non-static, direct-contact food production environment. Humans ignore this work and implement their own solutions in pursuit of economic, demographic, geopolitical or opportunistic goals because we do not yet understand, as a species, how a healthy nature translates to a healthy civilization. The work which the ‘natural slaves’ do for us already is hard to measure, but one method used to make us feel its immensity is to imagine the costs of keeping the International Space Station in orbit and capable of supporting life — according to ESA as well as NASA statements, the cost of the ISS, including development, assembly and running costs over 10 years, comes to roughly 100 billion with current technologies.4

The cheap work done by nature, as well as other secondary benefits of having a healthy home world, should not be ignored. An AppAcc approach to space exploration and other high-tech endeavours is based on science, the need for more knowledge and exploration, as well as for humanity to not have ‘all of its eggs in one basket’ in case of some cosmic catastrophe. But any ideas based on near-term space migration or that we can ‘burn the Earth if it means we will be able to leave it successfully’ must be rejected. Our focus must be on science and our current home world first, the backbone of whatever we may become or achieve in the future.

The extreme example of imagining a humanity forced to live in space and on less hospitable worlds is a thought experiment that is supposed to make us realize what riches we are ignoring when we rely on primitive industrialism and globalized appetites in our approach to agriculture. In this way, AppAcc cuts through many other disciplines of human activity — medicine, communication, computation, transportation, research, exploration, design, economics, production and even art and politics. The AppAcc world is a pyramid with the high-tech projects of the 21st century on top, supported by a cultivated pyramid of appropriately accelerated wild nature. A vision of a lush world with access to the maximum of human technological potential emerges, the AppAcc informing our treatment of the most gross and common as well as the most refined and rare phenomena our world has to offer. In order to explore the possibilities of the potentially emerging NBIC complex (the interconnection and cross-fertilization of nano-bio-info-cogno technologies) and other wonders of the technosphere, each of these ‘peaks of technology’ must be supported by nature. This AppAcc vision is inaccessible and immediate at the same time, reaching an almost hyperstitional quality in the hands of some and becoming a simple everyday tool in the hands of others. Human beings are not ready for the former, while they have always been using the latter in order to survive and thrive.

This question can be summarized to ‘do we want to allow the non-domesticated non-human to exist, utilizing the benefits of wild as well as AppAcc-cultivated landscapes? Or do we want to live in a world without any non-domesticated non-humans, where we cannot benefit from the work done by wild nature and we continually need to move towards a more synthetic-industrialized nature?

Third category: Labour — the acts that mediate all relationships with the previous categories

In her infamous 1958 book The Human Condition5, Hannah Arendt describes a ‘vita activa’ composed of three elements: labour, work, and action. The act of gardening for self-provision is the summation of all three elements. A person inexperienced in gardening can be forgiven for thinking the tasks involved only fall within the first category. But to provide for yourself requires more than a never-ending cycle of physical brute-force labour expended to merely stay alive. Tools need to be made and maintained, systems devised, crops accounted, rotations planned, varieties bred, pathogens out-thwarted. The garden itself is a tool. Improvements can be made, indeed they must be, if leisure and pleasure-time are to be gained.

Growing food by hand for your own consumption exposes and confronts the relationships between Arendt’s three elements, at least as they are normally experienced by someone who has been alienated not only from their species’ essence, but also from their means of production. The ability to grow food, through the expenditure of energy that has been gained by the consumption of the food you have grown, is as close to emancipation from the forces of capitalism as is possible for a modern human to achieve. Labour expended in the realm of the biota is very different to labour expended in the realm of technics. With access to land a person can be free from the alienating grind of capitalism. This truth is one of the major factors contributing to the popularity of the recent ‘grow your own’ trends. However, partial emancipation from capitalism does not resolve the problem of the physical body and its needs. In the context of the garden, relinquishing the tyranny of capital reveals other long-forgotten tyrannies: The tyranny of corporeal fragility, the tyranny of climate and weather and, most important, the tyranny of the soil itself — its cloying weight, and its propensity to crush the human spine over the course of a day’s digging. Work and planning can be destroyed at any moment by unpredicted drought, frost, inundation, insect epidemic, or influx of migrating birds — meaning the investment of labour in the garden is as volatile as any globalized market economy. Making a productive garden is a complicated and creative game of contingency, attempted prediction, and black swan events.

If these forgotten tyrannies have become obscured by technics, then the task of AppAcc is to develop an approach to using technics that doesn’t refuse them or, as is the case with current globalized systems, merely shift the problematics to distant populations of low class workers in the third world. The romantic notion of 'meaningful work’ that existed before industrialism is not to be operated here, but instead AppAcc could be applied to explore smart contracting principles and cashless systems of labour exchange to optimize ‘back to the land’ endeavors.

The concept of labour and its meaning for the human is, at the moment, in the process of re-evaluation. This re-evaluation is entering our world thanks to the realizations of the Anthropocene — that process of shifting from a view of the human as an animal chassis with a self-aware brain into an even weirder view of a larger anthropic force6. The humanity we are now is, as never before, on par with the other biogeological titans active on our planet (humans being the perpetrators of the Sixth extinction can be seen as our entrance onto the stage of forces). Our existence on the planet has a new meaning, a new scale of impact, and our every act must be quick enough to react to the changes and balanced enough to survive them. The AppAcc approach can introduce, at long last, a new concept of labour: One that sees labour as something that must be a part of a larger system, a larger reality, not for ethical or ideological reasons, but for reasons of seeking pragmatic efficiency and an improved quality of life on the planet. The fact that both of these goals can be pursued and fulfilled at once while also reinforcing each other is a pleasant secondary benefit of AppAcc.

These three categories form an approach to creating and understanding an interface layer between humans and nature. Through location-specific utilization of software and skills, the three parameters define and refine the ways an AppAcc system could gather and apply data. Although the interface created by the three parameters could be applied to any context. My current proposal is to apply this thinking to a new project being launched in Prague — Digital Garden Lab. DGL will attempt to inform a specific implementation aiming to resolve the problem of growing nutrition in the urban centers of human activity.

Part III: Why a Digital Garden?

Over the last twenty-five years I have visited observed many community gardens and ‘back to the land’ projects around the UK and Europe. Beyond an inhibiting and retrograde romanticism (that can easily be refused using the three parameters outlined above) the main problematic phenomena limiting productivity and upscaling seems to be transgenerational knowledge gaps and mismanagement of human labour. Over the last three or four generations, the vast majority of humans have lost all connection to horticultural knowledge and praxis. Industrialization, and its propaganda campaign to move populations into urban centers have effectively severed the link.

Urban food production efforts in the first world tend to focus on adding to the quality of life of urban citizens. Community gardens are seen as places to meet, relax from stressful occupations through limited amounts of hard labour outdoors. They are seen as places where the participants can exercise creative control over some small part of their life and express themselves through individual choice making. In terms of actual food production, they tend to fall far short of the efficiency and yields of similar scale horticultural efforts in the third world. Our current crisis demands more than this. This is not the time for wooly experimentation and self-expression within the realm of localized sustainable food production. We need to develop radical and efficient alternatives to the rapidly failing conventional agricultural model that work within the vectors of the parameters above and account for the fact that the majority of the populations in the global north and west are urban-based.

Complex polycultural systems such as permaculture and agroforestry have the potential to convert every green space in the city into productive low-maintenance horticulture. Every sidewalk, square, and park could be filled with fruit and nut trees, vegetables, and fragrant herbs ready for communities to harvest and share. But designing and managing successful interspecies polycultures is complex. There is a lack of experts who can design such systems. Detailed management is required during propagation and establishment, and ongoing targeted micro-scale care needs to happen at critical moments. The digital has potential to increase the scalability of horizontal urban food systems by closing knowledge gaps and optimizing systems through data gathering and systems modelling, solving both the micromanagement and massive infrastructure problems at once with digital tools and human networks. By careful application of appropriate tech, the advantages of localized community food production could be brought equally within the grasp of ordinary urban citizens in rich as well as in poor nations — because a sustainable green future has to be for the whole world, not just a plaything for a hi-tech first-world elite.

Part IV: The Digital Garden Lab in Prague

The lab’s main areas of research will cover a range of digital technologies and their application in small scale urban agriculture. These include: Algorithmic training and machine learning; photogrammetry and geodata capture; digital twinning, modelling and BIMs; Augmented Reality; Real Time Location Systems; social media integrated notification; real time geodata sensing; crypto-economics and smart contracting; farm-scale robotics.

The Digital Garden Lab will be a peripatetic drop-in, drop-out project happening at various locations at once and quickly reinforcing each iteration with information, and sometimes even resources, from its neighbours. In its ideal form, it allows one to use the DGL as a platform to start an AppAcc food production operation tuned and modified by one’s available time, money, space and values in the context of the available resources and their quality. A rich person may use DGL to create the best possible system for their needs, just like a poor person can. A community of hippie-types can use DGL just as well as an international conglomerate can.

The extremes of DGL should be able to allow for underground, para-terraformed, off-world or seaborne food production. AppAcc treats nature as it is apolitical. Thus, AppAcc is also apolitical. This universalism also means that DGL will attempt, in the long run, to face the issue of feeding the human population. Since our bottleneck as a species seems to be approaching faster and faster, it is crucial to bring in as many brains and bodies to the table in order for the species to be able to face what is coming. And we need to first feed these people before we can talk to them. Other uses of AppAcc are secondary to making sure there is a balance between feeding humanity and allowing nature to work with us. This may require chemicals and machines, or it may require alternative communities. Some people will hate and even oppose one or the other or both, but if applied in smart and sensitive ways, every method and tool has its place in the overall scheme. Since AppAcc only supports solutions optimized to work together within nature, it is expected to slowly phase out all inefficient and maximalist projects through its mechanism of naturalistic capitalism. Only the solutions that support the whole pyramid of life (local sourcing of nutrients, resource and labour monitoring, free flow of data between sites, balancing of wild and cultivated zones, utilization of high-tech as well as low-tech, new uses for systems already in place) can survive once AppAcc is under way.

Images courtesy of BCAAsystem.

Works Cited

Erik Kobayashi-Solomon, ‘Investing In Vertical Farming: Five Take-Aways.’ Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 9 April 2019, accessed 20 October 2019.

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