This month, I finished work on a story called “Permacultures,” which I wrote for the Tomorrow Project. This one’s pretty special, because it was inspired by the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy Grand Challenges. Here’s an introduction I wrote (which may not make it into the final book):
I focused on the food-security Grand Challenge because I know that the issues of food production, nutrition, and health are important to the Obama Administration, and the Obama family. I also fancy myself a foodie. But the more I learned about this issue, the more complicated I understood the global food system to be. For inspiration, I looked to TED talks on the subject, and found the work of Dan Barber, a champion and innovator in organic farming and a member of President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition. I knew I wanted to re-imagine the techniques of organic farming in a context dis-associated from privilege or hipsterism. So I started thinking about the least privileged place on earth: a prison. I also thought about Detroit, because I once exhibited at the Detroit Design Festival. I feel like Detroit could be ground zero for American innovation, the way it used to be — but only if the tools and technology required can go back to the communities still engaged in trying to make things work. If we want urban farming to become as popular in this country as victory gardens once were, we have to let small-scale farmers experiment with DIY GMO technologies, without fear of violating intellectual property regulations. Moreover, we need to think not only about how to make more food, but how to waste less. We waste 1.3 billion tons of food annually. That’s between thirty and fifty percent of the world’s supply. The solution to world hunger isn’t just making more food — it’s empowering farmers with the knowledge to work smarter, not harder.
And here’s a snip from the story:
The rest of the ride was silent, as they wound their way through downtown. The tower was north of the 3D district in the Cass Corridor, where all the fabbers and printers made their living churning out whatever the manufacturers had stopped making. You could buy a whole car kit, out there. They’d print out the panels and the dash and the bumpers and rims, and you’d snap it together over whatever chassis you liked. Like those primo Japanese hobby car kits, only bigger. At least, Hobson had heard that was how it worked. He’d heard about it right before he first entered San Quentin. It was a nice thought, people doing something like that for themselves. Making something they used to have to buy. It was like watching the auto industry return to Detroit in cottage form. Once upon a time, stereos and furniture worked that way, too, so he guessed things were just coming full circle.
Through the tinted glass, Hobson tried to spot some of the printed cars. He thought he saw some likely candidates: Impalas and Corvettes and Camaros and El Caminos, all with that odd surfboard texture that indicated a glossy print job. They drove lighter and more nimbly than their original source material. They weren’t carrying that old weight.
They pulled up to the tower from around the back, via an alley. Hobson wondered if he’d ever see the building from the front. Probably not. That was the employee and visitor entrance. Inside, they were led through a series of back hallways. Hobson guessed they’d once been maintenance passages. He had no idea what the old building used to be; the floor-to-ceiling windows he’d glimpsed indicated it was once an office.
He was about to become a farmer on the set of Die Hard. Yippe-ki-yay.